Ray Austin will be back on HBO on June 25, facing Bermane Stiverne as part of a triple-header. Is HBO getting back into the heavyweight game? (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Dan Rafael reported a slightly surprising update to the June 25 HBO card from St. Louis earlier today, as it now appears the show will be a triple-header -- with one potential development that could mean a shift in philosophy for the network.
The show is still being headlined by the 140-pound bout between Devon Alexander, who fights in his hometown again, and Lucas Matthysse. Both are top 10 fighters in the junior welterweight division and it's a strong main event. Alexander has also received good support from the fans in St. Louis, and this should be no different as he returns home following a loss in January to Timothy Bradley, with his short-term career prospects hanging very much in the balance against Matthysse.
HBO will also televise a light heavyweight trinket bout between Tavoris Cloud (22-0, 18 KO) and Yusaf Mack (29-3-2, 17 KO), the IBF mandatory challenger. Most last saw the 31-year-old Mack get demolished last February by Glen Johnson, which set up Cloud's August nailbiter against Johnson. But Mack was placed again into an IBF eliminator in March of this year, escaping Woodland Hills, Calif., with a split decision win over fellow fringe contender Otis Griffin. The 29-year-old Cloud will be a big favorite here, as Mack has generally crumbled in the past against good pressure fighters (Johnson, Librado Andrade) and guys who pack some punch (Alejandro Berrio).
The other fight is maybe not as interesting on paper to many, but could signal a big development at HBO. 32-year-old Haitian (by way of Canada, now living in Vegas) heavyweight Bermane Stiverne (20-1-1, 19 KO) will take on 40-year-old Ray Austin (28-5-4, 18 KO) in Austin's 323rd consecutive WBC eliminator. Stiverne's record is fairly light, but if you get a chance, check out some of his more recent fights on YouTube. He's got some real skill and has a punch. Austin lost his last fight by DQ to Odlanier Solis, and is probably most famous for being a Wladimir Klitschko victim in 2007, a fight Klitschko won in the second round without ever unleashing his right hand. Austin is, for whatever reason, a favorite of promoter Don King. I'd say this will be his last chance to get back to the big dance, but I'd have thought that after Solis, too.
What could be happening here is what's interesting. With HBO buying into the next two Klitschko brothers fights -- David Haye v. Wladimir on July 2, Tomasz Adamek v. Vitali on September 10 -- the network might be looking to jump back into the heavyweight boxing game. I personally don't care for the heavyweight division much at all, but facts are facts, and people are naturally attracted to the biggest guys in boxing. With Showtime making such a massive push this year -- landing Pacquiao-Mosley, bringing in Miguel Cotto, bringing back Lucian Bute, their tournaments, etc. -- HBO might well be feeling some pressure to amp it up. If Showtime is going to be good at pushing the "little guys," then HBO could go big. The Klitschkos are name fighters and simply look impressive on TV -- both because they're imposing physical specimens and because they fight in front of giant crowds every time out. And the heavyweight division still carries some TV clout, even diluted. If you say something is for "the heavyweight championship," a lot of people will tune in.
Stiverne-Austin is by no means some big, marquee fight. But the winner will be in line to face the holder of the WBC belt, which is currently Vitali Klitschko, and they're featuring Vitali in September. Letting your audience see who might be next seems a good way to ensure that they're looking to stay in the heavyweight game, or at least in the Klitschko game.