Tonight will be remembered as a melancholy event for American fans of boxing.
That is because in just a few hours the premier cable network HBO will broadcast their last fight card for the foreseeable future.
The network’s decision, announced via press release on September 27, shook both the media and sports worlds. HBO Sports head Peter Nelson cited a push towards original programming, production costs, and boxing not being a determining factor for new subscribers as reasons for the move.
In the months since the news broke until tonight HBO’s decision has become more understandable but still heartbreaking for fans. Losing long time partner Top Rank Inc. in 2017 and watching the promotion solidify a new deal with sports network ESPN that includes building an ever growing streaming service showed the ways to watch the sport are more open than before. The rise of other streaming services like DAZN being fueled by the trend of consumer ‘cord cutting’ of cable services showed that Nelson was in a sense right about the move.
However, leaving the sport with tonight’s card featuring two of the best female fighters (undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus and unified middleweight champion Clarissa Shields) on separate bouts has left a portion of fans bitter. That section of boxing fans would’ve preferred a more robust card for the finale.
That is looking at the situation through the lens of nostalgia. HBO has been a staple in boxing for nearly five decades. It has raised more than two generations of fans while showcasing some of the sport’s most prolific fighters like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, and more recently Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. That type of fight catalog would make it bewildering for some to see HBO walk away.
The simple fact is that the taste of the average American viewer has changed along with how that viewer wants to consume media. HBO didn’t help their own cause over the years by relying too much on the Pay-Per-View formula in recent years.
HBO has not closed that door on the sport completely, but with nearly every major promoter the network has worked with already finding new broadcast homes a new card will not come for some time.
So for tonight fans will rejoice on the history that HBO has given to the sports of boxing and will remain hopeful that the network will one day come back home.