Friday, March 24, 2023  |


HBO closes curtain on boxing with uninspiring show topped by Cecilia Braekhus’ win

HBO's final live boxing broadcast featured the reuniting of hall of famers Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley.

CARSON, Calif. — So this is it.

After almost 46 years, most of them at the forefront of the sport, HBO closed the curtain on their coverage of boxing Saturday with a tripleheader from StubHub Center, the site of some of the most savage fights over the years.

The three HBO bouts on this card were anything but. You could toss a beach ball into entire sections and be in no danger of hitting anyone. There were several hundred fans on this 58 degree evening here to witness HBO boxing for the last time, a Boxing After Dark show that was a far cry from what the series was created to deliver: evenly matched bouts that would catapult the winners into bigger bouts.

HBO never featured a single women’s matchup until May, when Cecilia Braekhus competed. She now also holds the distinction of being the A-side in the main event of the final show in HBO’s history, a dominant unanimous decision over Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes to retain her unified welterweight championship.

It’s a step forward for women’s boxing, and Braekhus, The Ring’s No. 1 female fighter, deserves to headline her own shows. But for HBO to go out this way, with no investment in the women beforehand, is an uninspired choice. Naturally, the female fights cost far less money.

There were women fighting in the opener, too. Claressa Shields scored a unanimous decision over Femke Hermans to retain her middleweight titles. Sandwiched in between was junior bantamweight contender Juan Francisco Estrada’s seventh-round stoppage of Victor Mendez.

There was no atmosphere whatsoever; you could audibly hear the cornerman’s instructions and make out every word. This was a funeral in every sense of the word. The fight fans cared about Saturday took place more than 3,000 miles away in New York, an ESPN show headlined by a lightweight unification fight between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jose Pedraza.

What transpired on HBO was more club show than big-event, and that’s exactly why the network is exiting the sport under executive Peter Nelson’s leadership. HBO stopped televising marquee fights with regularity years ago, but they still could be counted on to deliver the occasional fight that moved the needle.

They did just that with a July light heavyweight title bout between Eleider Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev. And then there was the Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin rematch, a terrific bout that generated roughly 1 million pay-per-view buys in September.

The legendary Larry Merchant, who always told the truth during a 35-year run on HBO telecasts, returned for one final show; he hadn’t been on the network since 2012.

The final post-fight interview was conducted by Jim Lampley rather than by Max Kellerman because the broadcaster lost his voice.

After the interview with Braekhus, HBO aired a 10-minute retrospective to close out the final broadcast. There was no sound in the arena, but the team of Lampley, Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr. watched together with headsets on.

Lampley broke down in tears he recounted his first HBO telecast. He was so nervous his hand couldn’t stop shaking, and later he realized why: this was the holy grail to him, to be the blow-by-blow man on HBO.

He signed credentials for fellow HBO employees. He placed his autograph on a HBO microphone flag. When he completed an interview with reporters, everyone cheered his final words.

But just maybe, his last on-air appearance should have taken place during the October broadcast of Daniel Jacobs-Sergey Derevyanchenko, a middleweight title fight, and a worthy bout that delivered in the ring.

Instead, we were left to witness a depressing event filled with boring mismatches. One silver lining: a step forward for the women, perhaps.

“This is not only big for me, it’s a big deal for young girls,” Braekhus, 37, said. “The next generations will look at this night and say you know what, there was a woman, there was a girl headlining the last HBO show, can you imagine that?”

HBO crashed through the gates of boxing in 1973 with George Foreman’s second-round knockout of Joe Frazier in a heavyweight championship fight. The networks leaves with a whimper 1,118 fights later.

Mike Coppinger is the Senior Writer for Follow him on Twitter:@MikeCoppinger