ShoBox: Introducing a generation of champions
When exciting Romanian puncher Leonard Dorin outlasted the gritty Martin O’Malley after nine rounds in front of a lively crowd in Bally’s on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, it marked the start of a new era.
Not necessarily for Dorin, who won the battle of 17-0 prospects and would only fight for another three years, or for O’Malley, who won four of his next nine fights before retiring, but for the network that screened the fight.
One boxing journalist at the time called the new program it headlined “a Godsend.”
As the debut episode of SHOWTIME’s innovative phenomenon-to-be, Dorin-O’Malley was exactly what the mission statement called for: a battle of well-matched prospects fighting for the right to be on the next level. It was the sort of bout that would define ShoBox: The New Generation.
It was a good, honest fight and appreciated by all those on hand to cheer the momentum swings until O’Malley finally wilted at the end of the ninth.
The date was July 21, 2001, and two decades later, SHOWTIME staffers are preparing to celebrate the extraordinary 20-year anniversary of a date that opened up a doorway into boxing’s future, one which luminaries – including Andre Ward, Carl Froch, Tyson Fury, Timothy Bradley, Chad Dawson and Nonito Donaire, among many others – passed through.
The formula was simple but really untapped. Prospects would meet prospects in a bid to elevate their career standings. The winners would move on and the losers would have to rebuild or, depending on how they fought, be brought back.
There would be thrilling wars, shootouts, controversies and stories.
Calling the action and relaying those stories for the viewer was a decorated commentary team that would eventually become part of the ShoBox lore.
Veteran broadcaster Steve Farhood had been the editor of KO and The Ring, and he’d been on SHOWTIME Boxing broadcasts, but he feels that his 20 years behind the microphone on ShoBox (missing only one show, due to a niece’s wedding) were the chief contributing factor for his 2017 induction.
“I don’t think I’d be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame without ShoBox,” admitted Farhood. “I had a career beforehand as a print journalist and I’ve done a lot with SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING, but I think that ShoBox is so clearly defined in the minds of boxing people – and I’m associated with it because I’ve been at every show except one. And I think it’s done tremendous things for my credibility and, as much as I hope I’ve given it, it’s given back to me, because every show has been exciting and every prospect is worthy of attending.”
The one he missed was the 2016 headliner between Jaime Herrera and Taras Shelestyuk.
It was 15 years before that night in California that ShoBox was born, the brainchild of a conversation between then-SHOWTIME executive producer Jay Larkin and promoter Gary Shaw, then of Main Events. There wasn’t an overwhelming sense that it would be a hit, and of course it wasn’t started to fail, but there was a feeling that it was a new idea, it was fresh and that a TV format centered around pairing prospects in competitive fights had not been tried. Often prospects will be featured in gimmies or matched soft on their way up to maintain and pad that overhyped unbeaten record and will then be matched tough on a big bill or as a co-feature that sees them step up in class. ShoBox gave them that step, and invaluable experience, early in the fighters’ careers. They would earn their hype.
“The fighters who were repeat fighters on the show, they wanted to graduate,” Farhood explained. “For Andre Ward, he graduated against Edison Miranda … They get a little anxious [if they stay on ShoBox], but for the most part they are very appreciative of what ShoBox gave them, to the point that they could become multiple world champions and they never forget ShoBox, because it was the initial exposure on national television and to the lights, to the press and to the media. And to this day, the young fighters appreciate that. I’m sure there were fighters who thought they were above it, but to us they all seemed appreciative.”
SHOWTIME wanted to know what they had with their prospects and they wanted to get behind fighters who were prepared to take a chance and back themselves.
“The fact of the matter was that if you have the goods, if you’re a legitimate prospect who has the ability to advance to contender status, then you’re only going to benefit from tough matchmaking. Because how many times have we seen inferior prospects babied, and then as soon as they fight someone at a higher level, they crumble,” Farhood continued. “We’ve seen that many times, because not every prospect is meant to be a contender or future champion. With ShoBox, the idea from the beginning was to match them tough and have a weeding-out process, separate the wheat from the chaff and see who had a future and who didn’t.”
The losers, however, were not just tossed onto a boxing scrapheap. If they’ve been good to deal with, if they’d fought their hearts out or shown something different, they could be brought back. Fifteen fighters who lost on ShoBox went on to win a world title at some point in their career, like Robert Guerrero, who lost to Gamaliel Diaz in 2005 on ShoBox but was able to gain revenge on the same fighter before moving on, eventually fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. on SHOWTIME Pay-Per-View.
“Losing, whether it’s on the A or B side, has never been a death sentence on ShoBox,” said Farhood. “It’s how you lose that’s much more important than the outcome of the fight.”
And Guerrero was at the center of a sad human-interest story. His wife, Casey, mother of their children, was fighting leukemia even harder than her husband was fighting inside the ropes. SHOWTIME told the story with delicacy and compassion, and Guerrero would tell his wife in his post-fight interviews that he was coming home to her and fighting for their future, like she was. The stories on ShoBox have been memorable, like Edwin Rodriguez, the super middleweight who had premature twins, one who was very sick around the time of his ShoBox fights.
Rodriguez would eventually fall to the brilliant Ward, but ShoBox has seen them all: prospects who were tabbed for stardom and achieved it, those who made it but perhaps not to the level predicted, and those who were touted for greatness but did not make it.
Farhood covered boxers from each category.
“In our early trips to England, we exposed Ricky Hatton to an American audience,” he recalled. “Ricky had had a number of fights before he was on ShoBox, but there was not a doubt in my mind that he was going to make it because of the electricity he carried with him, the enthusiasm the fans had for him and his ability. Jeff Lacy, who I, along with a lot of my colleagues at the time, we thought he was a can’t-miss prospect as well. Now, he went on to win a world title, but as a result of the [Joe] Calzaghe fight and others after that, it’s safe to say he was not what we thought he would become. Francisco ‘Panchito’ Bojado, who was generally considered just about the hottest prospect in boxing, went undefeated and fought on ShoBox once or twice and scored early knockouts, and as soon as he moved up in class, he crumbled.
“We’ve had all levels of prospect, many who made it and some who waited years to make it, others made it very quickly. It’s been a mixed bag, but 84 fighters who appeared on ShoBox went on to become world champions, and that’s a very high number given the number of shows we’ve done.”
Throughout ShoBox’s 20 years, Farhood has seen it all. Founder Jay Larkin died in 2010 and was in the 2021 class of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. A year later, in 2011, lead commentator Nick Charles passed away following a battle with cancer. Farhood didn’t just lose a colleague, he lost his best friend.
“Nick was a wine connoisseur,” he said. “No matter where we were, didn’t matter if we were in North Dakota or Dagenham, he would look for a wine store. We would always eat an early dinner or a late lunch the night of the show and he would never drink wine, because he said he was being professional and he wasn’t going to drink liquor just before he goes to work. Well, before his last show with us, we had lunch in his hometown of Chicago and he said, ‘You know what? I’m having a glass of wine.’ And as soon as he said that, I broke into tears at the restaurant and I realized this was it; he realized he was going to die and he had that glass of wine that he’d never had before. That was tough. He lost his life with dignity and went out on his terms.”
Charles, a broadcast giant, had given the show instant credibility with his early involvement.
In front of the camera, the concoction of prospects often resulted in fireworks. There weren’t just great fights, there were great rounds. It was astonishing when Jaidon Codrington was bombed out in 18 seconds by Allan Green, and Codrington’s brother sparked a riot afterward. It was unique when Sechew Powell and Cornelius Bundrage went down simultaneously with the first punches they threw before Bundrage was stopped in 22 seconds . “My memory,” said Farhood, “is Bundrage pretty much didn’t know what had happened in the fight, it all happened so fast and violently. It was over before he realized.”
Then there was the rematch between Ricardo Torres and Kendall Holt, when the latter shelled the former into defeat in a fight that featured a headbutt, both fighters on the deck, a cut and much more, all crammed into 61 chaotic seconds.
ShoBox has also had world title fights, like the stay of execution Lucian Bute received when he was allowed to survive a traumatic 12th round and escape to victory against Librado Andrade .
The aforementioned Shaw and English Hall of Famer Frank Warren were heavily involved at the start, but now ShoBox has worked with more than 40 promoters who have used the show as a platform to showcase their fighters. It might no longer be The New Generation it has covered, but the 20-year show has become a staple that should still have a very active role to play in The Next Generation.
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