The times they are a-changin': Manny Pacquiao heads to Showtime. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
For years, the American televised boxing landscape has been dominated by HBO Sports, which has brought you pretty much all of the biggest boxing pay-per-views and major fights since the retirement of Mike Tyson.
No more. After rumors circulated in a brief media whirlwind, it has been confirmed that the May 7 fight between Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley won't be carried by HBO pay-per-view, and there will be no HBO 24/7 this time. Instead, Showtime has closed a deal with Top Rank for the bout, and a series will air on CBS -- which is available in 115 million homes in the United States, as opposed to HBO's 28 million. Lem Satterfield has more, including quotes from Emanuel Steward and Michael Koncz, at BoxingScene.com.
Folks, the boxing TV war is on in America.
This is not the first blow struck by Showtime. Last year, the company made a deal to bring Lucian Bute back to their airwaves after a brief and relatively flopped sting for Bute on HBO. As Satterfield says, it's customary in recent years to see guys build up minor names on Showtime and then head to HBO for the bigger paydays and more glory. But with Bute and Juan Manuel Lopez notably moving to Showtime last year, things started turning. The March 12 PPV fight between Miguel Cotto and Ricardo Mayorga is also a Showtime event. For years now, Cotto has been one of HBO's flagship fighters.
And now, Showtime has taken the biggest money man in the sport, whose only competition for that title is a guy who isn't fighting and is embroiled in one legal controversy after another. For all intents and purposes, if you don't count Mayweather as an active fighter right now (which I think is fair), Showtime has taken the three biggest draws in American TV boxing: Pacquiao, Cotto and Mosley.
Quotes from folks at HBO may be stoic, but they have to be feeling the sting, and you'd almost expect a certain level of panic setting in. Without Pacquiao, who is the HBO flagship star? And with Top Rank taking its fighters (Pacquiao, Cotto, Lopez, Brandon Rios) over to Showtime, could HBO see themselves forced into another sweetheart deal with Golden Boy Promotions, a company that right now is badly lagging behind Top Rank in the development, cultivation, and securing of major names? The biggest fighter left on the Golden Boy roster is Juan Manuel Marquez, who is going to fight Erik Morales in a bout that has limited appeal beyond the Mexican audience and perhaps a portion of the diehard boxing audience. Last word was that that fight was being worked out as a Golden Boy PPV. That might change now.
This isn't to say that Top Rank won't work with HBO or anything like that, but they're showing that there's more than one game in town now. Top Rank has their Montiel-Donaire bantamweight super clash set for HBO on February 19, which now stands as the biggest fight on the coming HBO calendar, with other notables being Bradley-Alexander on January 29, Martinez-Dzinziruk on March 12, whatever Amir Khan does in April, and maybe the Saul Alvarez fight on March 5.
Right now, Showtime is cooking with gas. With the Super Six, the bantamweight tournament, and the acquisition of Pacquiao and Cotto fights, things are getting a lot more interesting. I'm not saying that Pacquiao-Mosley or Cotto-Mayorga are the most interesting fights, but both are major bouts from a notability standpoint, particularly the Pacquiao fight which now will have more exposure than any boxing matchup has had perhaps since Lewis-Tyson.
What's most interesting to me is the spark here. What sparked all of this? There are a lot of things, but what strikes me as particularly thought-provoking is that this wouldn't feel like a big change, really, without Manny Pacquiao. OK, so Showtime picked up Cotto-Mayorga. That's nice for them, Cotto's a good name to pick up. But Pacquiao? Pacquiao's a global superstar of the highest magnitude in all of sports. And when you break it down, he's just a fighter. Yeah, he's got plenty of great media push from the PR folks, but he's not a guy who seems like he's trying to be a media icon, like Oscar de la Hoya was, or a guy playing a character, like Floyd Mayweather. Their appeal was great, truly great, and both are/were major, major stars. But their appeal topped out at a certain level. Pacquiao's may not have peaked yet, as unbelievable as that sounds.
When you get down to it, Manny Pacquiao, without even really knowing he's doing it, may be causing an enormous shift in American boxing coverage. Nobody else in the sport could do that.
We're going to have a lot more on this in the coming days and weeks, I suspect. CBS is clearly showing a serious interest in combat sports, MMA and now boxing, and it just feels like something very big might be happening here. So stay tuned for more as this situation develops further.