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HBO Boxing And Top Rank Have A Problem And They Know It

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November 23, 2013 - Source: Nicky Loh/Getty Images AsiaPac
November 23, 2013 – Source: Nicky Loh/Getty Images AsiaPac

When a layman looks at the sport of boxing and its’ current ‘Cold War’ between Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Promotions and by extension HBO and Showtime, they would likely see slight stability. Both promotions and networks actually enjoyed great success in 2013 despite not working with each other. Some analysts like Showtime’s Al Berstein have even called 2013 the best year in boxing in the last quarter century.

Even with this success there is a problem caused by the ‘Cold War’ that is becoming more apparent by the day. This problem impacts HBO and Top Rank in particular and it explains their activities this year.

To put it simply neither HBO Boxing nor Top Rank believe that they have a ready made star successor to their best attraction, Manny Pacquiao, and they are trying to manufacture one in a hurry.

This is the reason why HBO and Top Rank hyped up Vasyl Lomanchenko‘s failed shot at winning a 126 lb. title in his second pro fight on March 1, (although one can argue that it technically wasn’t his second pro fight.) It’s the reason that the HBO Boxing non Pay-Per-View schedule will be barren for April. It’s also the reason the recent situation involving WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson that ultimately saw his next fight going to Showtime has many feathers ruffled.

Kathy Duva of Main Events, the promoter of WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, thought that she had an agreement with Stevenson for a much anticipated title unification fight later this year. When Stevenson signed with Al Haymon, a very influential boxing power broker, those plans flew out the window due to HBO’s flat out refusal to deal with Haymon. Duva, while accusing Stevenson of ducking Kovalev, also criticized Showtime by touting HBO as the network where boxing’s biggest stars are shown.

Looking at history, Duva is correct.

HBO Boxing has a well earned decades-long reputation as the place where boxers become superstars . Fighters such as Julio Cesar Chavez, Lennox Lexis, Arturo Gatti, Oscar De La Hoya, and currently Pacquiao have enjoyed great success making HBO their home. This allowed the network to weather the early days of the ‘Cold War’ due to its’ prestige, but a catalyst changed that.

That catalyst was pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather‘s decision to leave HBO and sign an exclusive contract with Showtime.

Very likely as retaliation against Mayweather and Haymon, who was key in getting the Showtime deal done, HBO severed ties with the promoter that both men do business with the most, Golden Boy. That left the network with Pacquiao as its’ top fighter and Top Rank as its’ main supplier for top fights.

Two things are wrong with that move.

One is that most of the fighters that HBO was hoping to make into their post-Pacquiao stars such as Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, Danny Garcia, and Adrien Broner are promoted by Golden Boy.

The other is that Top Rank and its’ CEO Bob Arum themselves do not have a strong post-Pacquiao plan.

Pacquiao has been such a huge revenue generator for Top Rank that Arum has likely not seen it necessary to full heartedly build another young fighter to the same level independent of him. There have been attempts by Arum to build other fighters such as Nonito Donaire and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. but both suffered setbacks. Donaire was soundly defeated last April by Guillermo Rigondeaux, a fighter that Arum has come to loathe despite being his promoter.  Chavez Jr. has lost many fans due to his aloofness and lack of preparation in the lead ups to his loss against Sergio Martinez and his first fight with Brian Vera.

Another Top Rank fighter, Terence Crawford, has been getting sporadic attention despite being portrayed as a priority by Arum & HBO. He recently became the WBO lightweight champion on March 1 but HBO was nowhere to be seen.

The situation has put Top Rank in a bind when it comes to finding credible opponents for Pacquiao.

HBO for its part has achieved some success in building non Top Rank fighters, the two best examples being Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin. Even then though the success has been almost entirely among diehard boxing fans and neither road looks to be smooth coming up.

With Golovkin HBO did not broadcast his last fight on February 1 because the network didn’t view the production value in the venue hosting the fight as up to their standards. This act is viewed by many as a mistake on HBO’s part. The sudden recent death of his father caused Golovkin to scrap a scheduled fight on April 26 to observe a 40-day mourning period, a tradition in his native Kazakhstan. This leaves HBO with no non-PPV fight card on the books for the next two months.

Kovalev’s situation mainly hinges on his desire to unify the light heavyweight division, something he expressed to be a goal in his victory last Saturday. If he truly wants to hold multiple belts and if HBO wants to keep featuring him the network will have to rectify the Stevenson issue. Should HBO leave the Stevenson situation as is Kovalev, despite his promoter’s obvious objections, might actually have to look into making the jump to Showtime himself. With the two other two light heavyweight belt holders, IBF champion Bernard Hopkins and WBA champion Beibut Shumenov, being Golden Boy fighters and fighting each other on April 19 the options are slim.

This is the box that HBO and Top Rank have put themselves in whether it’s by their respective hubris or looking only at the short-term bottom line. Both benefitted by having Mayweather on HBO because it hid the problem. Once he left the problem is more visible and will become unavoidable should Pacquiao choose to hang up his gloves in the near future.

Reputation can only take one so far.

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