Monday, August 08, 2022  |

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Dougie’s Monday mailbag (HBO’s woes and boxing’s new platforms)

13
Aug

BOXING ON TV, MYTHICAL MATCHUPS

Hey Doug!

First off, thank you for your work with the mailbag and The Ring in general. I really enjoy the website. I haven’t written in a long while. Maybe because I haven’t had anything to complain about these past few years.

There so many fights being aired on different tv networks, I’ve been content with my boxing fix. HBO and Showtime, ESPN, NBC, Fox, FS1, sometimes CBS and Spike, NBC Sports Network, and even BOUNCE. I get to see young, hungry fighters coming up in the game and even championship bouts! If the major fights happen, that’s great. If they fall through, I don’t let it affect me anymore.

But I still dream. And that’s why I have some Mythical matchups here:

John Mugabi vs Kassim Ouma 154

Wilfredo Benitez vs Sergio Martinez 154

Wilfredo Benitez vs Winky Wright 154

Chris Byrd vs Roy Jones Jr. (heavyweight)

Jorge Paez vs Prince Nazeem Hamed (Featherweight)

Lomachenko vs Azumah Nelson 126 and 130

Mark Breland vs Vernon Forrest 147

You’re doing a great job, Dougie! Truly awesome. – Steve, NYC & Bay Area

Thank you for the kind words, Steve, and for checking back in with the mailbag column. 

I think some of the networks you mentioned have been out of the boxing world this year (Spike, CBS, NBCSN), but ESPN+ has emerged and another subscription service, DAZN, will soon join it along with other streaming platforms, such as Facebook Watch (which had a shaky launch on Saturday with the technical issues, but delivered quality matchups). It’s an interesting time to be a boxing fan. 

Speaking matchups and interesting things, your mythical matches are solid. Each one made me scratch my head a bit, but I’ll go with: 

John Mugabi vs Kassim Ouma 154 – the pre-Hagler version of The Beast (who campaigned at middleweight but often fought between 153-157 pounds) by close but clear decision in a thrilling high-volume slugfest. 

Wilfredo Benitez vs Sergio Martinez 154 – Benitez by decision in a competitive but sometimes awkward and uneventful boxing match. 

Wilfredo Benitez vs Winky Wright 154 – Benitez by close but unanimous decision in a solid but unspectacular contest. 

Chris Byrd vs Roy Jones Jr. (heavyweight) – Byrd thoroughly outworks Jones to an unpopular but fair close decision. 

Jorge Paez vs Prince Nazeem Hamed (Featherweight) – Hamed struggles to a mid-to-late rounds KO in a wild and entertaining bout that features lots of showman antics, awkward-but-accurate power punching and heart. 

Lomachenko vs Azumah Nelson 126 and 130 – Nelson by close but clear decision in a stirring featherweight bout; Loma by close, maybe majority decision in a hotly contested junior lightweight dust up. 

Mark Breland vs Vernon Forrest 147 – Viper by late stoppage in a tit-for-tat jab battle.

 

HOLLYWOOD FIGHT NIGHTS

I am thankful for your thoughtful response to my last email (about how you would structure a Boxing History 101 college-level class). To say the least. Please let me know when you have your course ready to go. You seem ready now!

By the way, I caught you on the Hollywood Fight Nights stream on Wednesday. That was a great event! It seemed like each match was well made and from where I was, it looked like a special venue. Also, the camera work was basic but somehow better than some of what you see on Showtime and ESPN (definitely nothing against them). It really captured a lot and I didn’t feel I was missing anything. Something to be said about keeping it simple.

Thanks again. I wish you the best of luck. If you’re ever in Austin and need some recommendations for food or entertainment, let me know. – Gregory M.

Will do, Gregory. I haven’t been to Austin since the late Edwin Valero won the vacant WBC lightweight title with a wicked second-round stoppage of tough Antonio Pitalua in 2009.

I had a great time there and would love to return. Do me a favor and talk James Kirkland into making a comeback starting with a hometown fight.

I’m glad you enjoyed my response to your interesting question in Friday’s mailbag.  I was shocked to see the positive response to your college boxing course query in the comment section and social media. Y’all are some high-minded fight fans.

Ali Akhmedov (right) nails Jorge Escalante with a right hand. Photo by Tom Hogan-HoganPhotos / 360 Promotions

I’m also glad you enjoyed the third Hollywood Fight Nights show, which packed The Avalon with an overflow of L.A. fans. I thought the club had a great energy and the card moved quickly and featured a fun variety of club fights – the four-rounder between debuting Adrian Corona and 0-1 Teodoro Alonso was my favorite – plus a look at two solid pro prospects with welterweight Brian Ceballo and light heavyweight Ali Akhmedov. I agree that the matchmaker (Charles Bosecker) and the Hollywood Fight Nights production crew (Joe Pajar and Paul Rivera) led by director Oliver Richardt did a great job. Promoter Tom Loeffler, who says the next show will likely fall in late October or early November, has got a club series he can be proud of.

 

BOXING FOR “OLD” PEOPLE

Dear Dougie,

I hope you and your family are enjoying the summer heat; here in NYC it has been too hot for just too long. Regarding Kovalev, I am not one of his fans or detractors and I strongly believe if he were to have a rematch with Alvarez, he would win provided he can believe in himself again. The power of belief has been established over the years in boxing and is best illustrated by John The Beast Mugabe’s fight with Marvelous Marvin Haggler where he nearly won. After that fight, he was entirely different because he lost his faith in himself. Did you notice during the fight, his corner told him how well he was doing, clearly winning, I believe because his corner knew he was worried about failure. Nevertheless, the secondary reason for his loss was clearly his inability to grab and hold; he probably never trained to do that.

As someone over 65, I still enjoy watching boxing on a real Big TV and not a cell phone or on Face Book. In fact, I have never tweeted and I don’t have a Face Book account and I am sure I am not alone (although I may be part of a dying breed of boxing fans). When will the big cable companies decide to provide a subscription boxing service, just like they do for many other sports, where the more you pay, the more events you see, even repeats would be worth some bucks (I also don’t use You Tube). For example, I never had the pleasure to see the Cruiserweight championship fights or those on ESPN+, even though the subscription cost is only $5 per month and I do have a smart phone. The idea of watching a boxing match where I can’t stop the action, rewind or watch it when I have the time is unacceptable. Please tell me whether I am the only fan with this problem. Thank you. – Robert

You’re not alone, Robert, but I believe that you and the other fans waiting for the cable companies and networks to provide a “subscription service” similar to what exists with other sports are going to have to come to grips with the frustrating reality that it ain’t gonna happen and that streaming content is the broadcast future for boxing.

I understand your desire to watch boxing on a big TV screen. I’m the same way (although I’ve become more tolerant of viewing boxing on my laptop and smart phone screens in recent years). May I suggest that you explore the purchase of one of the established Digital Media Players, such as Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast or Fire TV (which I currently use).

If you’ve got the disposable income to purchase a subscription boxing service via your cable company (if it existed in the U.S.), you’ve got the money to buy a DMP and load it up with all of the network apps and streaming TV platforms that regularly or occasionally feature world-class boxing – such as Showtime, ESPN, ESPN+, Bounce, AWE, KlowdTV, and DAZN when it becomes available in the U.S.). You shouldn’t have had to miss the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight final, which I watched on my flat screen TV via KlowdTV on my Fire Stick. You shouldn’t miss the second season of the WBSS on DAZN. Those are going to be quality fights.

The setup for these devices isn’t as complicated as some websites seem. If it gets overwhelming just ask your kids or younger neighbors to help you out. (If eventually figured it out – and it took some time and tips from helpful fans who reached out to me through Twitter – you can definitely do it. I’m not terribly bright.)

By the way, you can record, pause and rewind live events with DMPs, and most of the apps archive old fights that you can watch on demand.

Your opinions on Kovalev and your Mugabi analogy are duly noted, Robert. I’ve said all I’m going to say on the subject in previous mailbags.

 

HBO BROADCAST CREW

How’s it going Doug hope all is well. I hope you enjoyed your vacation.

I just wanted to vent to you about the HBO commentary crew. It’s getting to the point where we have decided to cancel our subscription. Max Kellerman is not even watching the fights anymore he is just reading the notes that he wrote the day before or perhaps some executive producer handed him. His crush on Andre Ward is just pathetic. He belongs on First Take to yell nonsense back and forth with Stephen A. Smith. I think Jim Lampley is incapable of commenting on a round without the aid of Combubox and Roy Jones may have had his brain scrambled by fighting in too many carnivals.

I never thought I’d see the day when Paulie Malignaggi would be the voice of boxing but apparently we have arrived in the Twilight Zone. I hope all is well. – Sean from Washington

I’m a huge Twilight Zone fan, Sean. Have you ever seen the episode entitled “The Big Tall Wish”? It’s a must for all boxing fans. You got to believe, Sean!

But I digress. You hate the HBO broadcast booth (at least tell me you like Harold Lederman). You’re not alone in that opinion among hardcore fans, but it seems like the majority of diehards (at least the ones on social media) are irked by most of the boxing commentators on the major cable networks. That’s just the way it is. Boxing’s hardcore heads either have really high commentary standards or they’re just extremely irritable people.

The HBO crew used to occasionally bug me back when it was Lamps, Larry Merchant (who I generally enjoyed) and George Foreman (with RJJ replacing Big George for the Boxing After Dark shows), but at some point – probably 10 years ago – I started tuning out things that got on my nerves during HBO’s boxing broadcasts, including the commentary from time to time. Also, around this time, I started dabbling in live boxing commentary (mostly for small Top Rank PPV shows and late some of HBO and HBO PPV’s international broadcasts) and in doing so, I gained an appreciation for the polished professionalism Lampley, Merchant (both deserving hall of famers) and Kellerman (a young veteran) possessed. And I always appreciated the fighter’s insight that Foreman and Jones brought to their broadcasts, even though both could say some weird s__t at times. Every now and then the prize fighters would drop amazing pearls of boxing wisdom.

As critical as I was of parts of Jones’ career, I consider myself a fan of his commentary. I like his energy and laidback enthusiasm. I know that he has a much deeper understanding of the sport than I do, and I trust his observations (although I don’t always agree with them – he’s got his biases as we all do).

But if you think Jones is punchy and you believe that Lampley and Kellerman are mailing it in, and if their combined commentary is so bothersome that you were moved to cancel your HBO subscription, that’s a bad sign for the network’s boxing program, which has struggled in recent years.  

The network probably should have tried mixing some new blood into their commentator line up years ago, as well as experimenting with different boxing programs, but it might be too late now.

 

THE SLOW DEATH OF HBO BOXING

What’s up, Dougie?

HBO put on a pretty good boxing card (and far superior to PBC’s offering) recently, but it seems to me like these sorts of offerings from HBO–especially the non-PPV cards–have become few and far between.

I remember a while back in one of your mailbags, you told another reader that you didn’t think HBO boxing was in trouble (paraphrasing here), but rather that it was just part of a cycle, and that there would come a time where they were on the upswing again.

But I’m wondering if you still think this is the case? Right now, HBO has a very small stable of regular fighters who can actually draw in viewership. Even fewer of them are younger–Canelo is still in his twenties, and Bivol and Munguia seem like their best hopes for new young finds going forward.

But ever since Al Haymon had his fallout with Oscar and took his stable to Showtime, it seems like HBO boxing has been in a steady decline. PBC was a huge blow, but it wasn’t the last. A slashed budget and reduced fighting schedule didn’t help matters (and honestly, with the money generated from May-Pac, the money was there to continue with a robust boxing schedule). Top Rank’s move to ESPN deprived HBO of some of its best talent, namely Manny, Crawford, and Loma, and also cut them off from any future stars Top Rank might produce. Then it seemed like HBO might get back in the game a little bit with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing USA; signing Daniel Jacobs seemed like the beginning of a new boxing relationship for them, perhaps with an eye toward ultimately bringing in Anthony Joshua. But then Eddie turned around and made his DAZN streaming deal and that was the end of that. Yes, Jacobs-Dervyechenko is on the horizon with HBO, but my understanding is that is the last fight in Jacobs’ contract with HBO. Would it really surprise anyone if after that Jacobs becomes a DAZN fighter?

The one thing HBO still has going for it is that outside of the heavyweight division, they probably have boxing’s two biggest stars in GGG & Canelo. It gives them leverage over the entire middleweight division. Even with DAZN putting out a great fight like Saunders-Andrade, ultimately all middleweight roads go back through HBO.

But sadly, HBO has very little beyond this. I mentioned Jacobs-Dervyechenko (another middleweight fight), but that is four months from now. So HBO is going four months between quality match-ups on its non-PPV arm. Yes, they’re also giving us Superfly 3 and it seems to have some good matchups, but without Gonzalez and/or SSR, it is lacking the star power of the previous two offerings. I suspect the ratings on this one will take a dip as compared to the other two.

And speaking of SSR, he is a perfect example of HBO’s recent attempts at adding talent only to have them vanish a short while later. SSR, Demetrius Andrade, and Jarell Miller were all recent additions to the HBO stable and they’re all gone. Daniel Jacobs may soon follow suit. Maybe SSR will come back, but goddamn it, HBO, he was an exciting commodity. Why aren’t you throwing money at him to ensure he isn’t taking multiple fights in his home country, but rather fighting in the U.S.A.? Don’t you want to keep marketing this guy?

From where I’m standing, in recent years HBO boxing’s setbacks have far outnumbered their successes. So I ask you: do you still think HBO boxing is going to be fine, or are we witnessing the slow death of HBO boxing? – Doug

I think the word I used in that previous mailbag post was “rebuilding,” Doug, but it doesn’t seem like the network has built anything lasting in the past year, so it doesn’t look good for HBO’s boxing program.

The network’s sports budget was limited during AT&T’s merger with Time Warner, which hurt its boxing programming and turned away hardcore fans, and with AT&T’s zeal to compete with Netflix it wouldn’t surprise many in the industry if HBO was forced to get out of the boxing business within the next year or two.

I used to take these rumors with a grain of salt because I’d heard them for almost 10 years, but things are different now. There have been radical changes in recent months, including HBO being acquired by AT&T, Top Rank’s move to ESPN (and the recent seven-year extension of their partnership), the launch of ESPN+, and the emergence of DAZN in the U.S. market. The corporate pressure/budget limitations and network/streaming competition might be too much to overcome. Personally, I felt that HBO needed to land Anthony Joshua to turn things around, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen now.

HBO has two major attractions with Canelo and GGG, as you noted, but all the other boxers that move the needle seem to be tied up with network rivals or other promotional/media ventures. These middleweight stars need other dance partners.

Saunders (right) easily defeated David Lemieux in December. Photo by AP

But despite the gloomy forecast, I still think there’s time for HBO to right the ship. They should start with the 160-pound division and do business with Frank Warren for Billy Joe Saunders’ services. If the unbeaten WBO titleholder beats Demetrius Andrade (not an easy task), he can be made into a marketable B-side to the Canelo-GGG2 winner. HBO viewers witnessed him take David Lemieux to school in December, so they know he’s for real. Plus, Billy Joe’s got the gift of gab. He can help promote any major showdown.

I think the network should work closely with Zanfer, too, and showcase Jaime Munguia (who looks set to appear on the Canelo-GGG2 PPV undercard) as much as possible. At some point — probably sooner rather than later – the young Tijuana badass is going to move to middleweight where a showdown with the redhead would be one of the biggest all-Mexican prize fights in recent memory. If the Canelo-Golovkin winner seeks to fulfill the WBC mandatory defense against Jermall Charlo, I think it would behoove the network to help his promoter win the purse bid so they could broadcast that very attractive matchup.

Other potential mandatory title bouts HBO should try to snag include the Sor Rungvisai-Juan Estrada rematch (natch!), Dmitry Bivol vs. Badou Jack, Eleider Alvarez vs. Anthony Yarde, Golovkin vs. Ryoto Murata (if GGG beats Canelo next month), Berchelt vs. Mickey Roman, and Isaac Dogboe vs. Diego De La Hoya.

Warren also promotes (or reps) Tyson Fury, Carl Frampton, Josh Warrington, and Yarde, all of whom are could help make for significant fights on HBO. (Sign me up for Frampy or Warrington vs. Joseph Diaz Jr.)

Zanfer also promotes Berchelt, who can make for some excellent scraps at 130 and 135 pounds. Berchelt vs. Roman, Francisco Vargas (rematch) or even up at lightweight vs. Jorge Linares are all good fights.

I think Bivol is a keeper for the network. Bivol vs. Jack, Yarde, and Joe Smith Jr. are all scorchers.

WBC 115-pound titleholder Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (left), promoter Tom Loeffler (center) and Juan Francisco Estrada (right) pose with THE RING title at the final press conference for “SuperFly2.” Photo by Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos / 360 Promotions

And down at “SuperFly,” I think along with the SSR-JFE rematch, getting the winners of McWilliams Arroyo-Kazuto Ioka and Donnie Nietes-Aston Palicte to fight should be imperative, along with getting the return of Chocolatito Gonzalez and some new 115-pound blood (such as former WBC flyweight titleholder Daigo Higa and Australian standout Andrew Moloney) to join the franchise.  

Oh, and Alexsandr Usyk, who fought twice on HBO prior to entering the WBSS tournament, is out there.

Beyond the established fighters, there are a dozen young, marketable prospects with real potential that are available (half of whom fight for Golden Boy, such as Ryan Garcia, Vergil Ortiz, Lamont Roach Jr. and Alexis Rocha) and could use HBO’s help in their pro development and exposure (once they prove themselves ready and worthy on other platforms).

I have no idea if any of these suggestions are feasible but I do know that time is running out for HBO.

 

Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer

 

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