Khan vs Garcia was a rare highlight for HBO boxing this year. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Earlier tonight, we discussed the dreadful HBO show from last night, and whether or not HBO kind of hit bottom with such a poor offering. There was also some discussion about the fact that it seems to me that neither HBO nor Showtime are really having strong years overall right now, with a dearth of quality fights on either network.
So here's a quick recap and breakdown of what we've seen this year to date, not counting pay-per-views and not counting your normal Friday night ShoBox events. I'm not counting pay-per-views because that's more money you're spending, and you could get those without subscribing to either channel. I'm not counting ShoBox because it's (largely) a different animal, an inexpensive series run for diehard fans.
2/4: Chavez Jr vs Rubio, Donaire vs Vazquez Jr
2/25: Maidana vs Alexander, Broner vs Perez
3/17: Martinez vs Macklin, Rodriguez vs George
3/24: Morales vs Garcia, Kirkland vs Molina
4/28: Hopkins vs Dawson II, Mitchell vs Witherspoon
6/16: Chavez Jr vs Lee
7/7: Donaire vs Mathebula, Pavlik vs Rosinsky
7/14: Khan vs Garcia
7/21: Broner vs Escobedo, Thurman vs Lora
The 2/4 card was decent -- Chavez vs Rubio was an OK fight, and Donaire vs Vazquez wasn't bad, but we're talking about Marco Antonio Rubio in an HBO main event, too. Chavez can do just about anything because he brings in as many viewers as anybody does. C+
The 2/25 card was shoddy. I wasn't one of those people who thought Eloy Perez had a hope in hell, so I wasn't buying the Broner fight that night. It seemed an easy mismatch to me, and was. The main event had some mild intrigue on paper, but Alexander's buzz had long since faded and Maidana really fought poorly. C-
Martinez-Macklin show had some excitement in the main event, which was solid. Macklin made an upset believable for much of the fight until Sergio flipped the switch and got cooking, resulting in a memorable finish. Edwin Rodriguez-Don George was a really forgettable fight, though, and weak for HBO in the first place. B-
The 3/24 Texas double-header was interesting. Morales-Garcia and Kirkland-Molina were both solid fights, on paper and in practice, but most memorable from the card was Morales missing weight and Kirkland's crappy DQ win. C+
After a month off, the 4/28 show had some heavyweight fireworks with Mitchell and Witherspoon, and the main event was everything you could have expected from Hopkins and Dawson over 12 rounds. In terms of significance, there's some weight to Hopkins-Dawson. In terms of a fight, there isn't. It was pretty bad as expected. C+
Almost two months after that, HBO finally aired another live fight, and it was Chavez Jr vs Lee, the post-Pacquiao bump. I thought it was a good fight -- not much better in matchmaking than Chavez Jr-Rubio, really, but a good action bout at least. Docked a bit for being one-fight card, which I find unacceptable, personally. C+
The 7/7 card had Donaire back in the main event against an unknown opponent. The fight was OK but nothing to write home about. The Pavlik-Rosinsky co-feature was an emergency sub, basically, when Rios-Herrera was called off, but while there was a little interest there, it wore off by the late rounds. C
The 7/14 card wasn't planned, but HBO made room for Amir Khan after his 5/19 fight was canceled. In this case and this case alone, I understand the single-fight card, since this started at 11. Fight was exciting. Opinions seemed split going in -- some thought Khan would cruise, some thought Khan would Khan. Khan Khan'd. B+
The 7/21 card was really abysmal, and honestly becomes worse the more you think about it. D
2/18: Williams vs Ishida, Cloud vs Campillo (Extreme: Arreola vs Molina, Scott vs Releford)
3/10: Salido vs Lopez II, Garcia vs Concepcion (Extreme: Arroyo vs Maldonado)
4/21: Mares vs Morel, Moreno vs De La Mora (Extreme: Ramos vs Attah, Andrade vs Rowland, Vargas vs Lora)
6/2: Tarver vs Kayode, Quillin vs Wright, Trout vs Rodriguez, Santa Cruz vs Malinga (Extreme: Bika vs Davis)
6/23: Ortiz vs Lopez, Matthysse vs Soto (Extreme: Charlo vs Douglin, Figueroa vs Hernandez)
6/30: Bundrage vs Spinks II, Lara vs Hernandez, Russell Jr vs Perez
The 2/18 card was Haymon getting Paul Williams an easy main event fight. The co-feature was good, and someone got robbed. But I can't count the robbery against the network. I can, however, count the crummy main event against the network. C
Salido vs Lopez II is almost certainly going to wind up the HBO/SHO Fight of the Year. Garcia-Concepcion was a crap fight on paper and a bore to get through, since Concepcion stopped fighting a while ago but keeps showing up to be in fights. B+, would be A with better co-feature
Mares-Morel was a mismatch between a young, outstanding fighter and a little old dude three weight divisions heavier than his prime who hadn't done anything notable in years except rob Penalosa. It was an OK fight though. As watchable as a near-shutout can get, I guess. Moreno wiping the floor with De La Mora was sort of fun to watch, in that way that Anselmo Moreno can be sort of fun to watch. Still, this felt like a "favor" card. C
The 6/2 quadruple header was a novel idea that I loved going in. Then people complained about me complaining once it turned out the show was a 73-hour crawl of hopelessly uninteresting fights. Trout-Rodriguez was terrible, Tarver-Kayode wasn't a whole lot better, and Quillin-Wright was merely adequate and a decent footnote as Winky's "retirement" fight. Santa Cruz was fun, though. C-
Ortiz-Berto II in February was gonna ROCK, and then Ortiz-Berto II in June was gonna ROCK, but instead we got Josesito Lopez, and a promise that Ortiz would fight Canelo, and then Lopez broke Victor's jaw and ruined Golden Boy's party. Also, Matthysse-Soto kicked ass. Top to bottom, counting Extreme, I think this was by far the best US TV show of 2012 so far. A
The "special" ShoBox on 6/30 was about exactly what anyone could have expected it to be, which was thoroughly average. C
So Who's Better?
I'd say it's been Showtime on the strength of two great main events, and one great full card. Every HBO show this year has been passable at best, and if you throw ShoBox in the mix, then I think it's a very, very clear win for Showtime.
That said, both networks have problems right now, and both are accepting fights that just shouldn't be considered good enough. And to chuck ShoBox back in for a moment, Showtime let Jermain Taylor vs Caleb Truax headline a ShoBox -- that doesn't fit the show's mission statement, and didn't even give us a decent card at a lower budget, the way the 6/30 "special" ShoBox did. That show was junk on paper (Lara-Hearns was awful, too) and junk in reality. Unless Al Haymon paid Showtime to air it, the network overpaid.
HBO's only advantage at this point is that they're the home of Floyd Mayweather PPVs, and once again the home of Manny Pacquiao PPVs after a brief one-off at Showtime for the Filipino superstar last year. But like I said before, PPV is its own world. It's good for them to say they're the home of the two biggest fighters in the sport, but HBO itself isn't home to either fighter. You can see them on a week-long delay if you're a subscriber, but otherwise you're popping $60-70 to see them fight live, no matter who produces it.
Potential Changes, Potential Stagnation
Overall, HBO might have more "star power" at their disposal, but:
- Does Canelo's jump to Showtime, and the possible migration of Golden Boy fighters to that network, change that in the near future, if not already? I know HBO snagged Andre Ward, but believe me, if you asked either side which fighter they'd rather have going forward, it's Canelo, and that's nothing against Ward. It's just that Canelo is already a bigger star, and projects to be a potential superstar. Ward is a tremendous fighter, could be a fairly big star, but he's more of a risk to count on as part of your foundation, because Canelo can lose fights and probably not lose much popularity, or at least not enough that he'd even be "even" with Ward in that regard. Ward not only has to keep winning, but they have to find him interesting opponents. He's not the type of fighter who can sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves.
- One of HBO's biggest TV draws right now is Bernard Hopkins. At 46, that's not lasting long. Maybe one more fight. Maybe no more fights if he changes his mind there.
- If Chavez Jr beats Sergio Martinez and does a good buyrate on 9/15, you can probably forget about him headlining "normal" HBO shows.
HBO has positioned Amir Khan for the last two years or so as one of their top fighters. He's now lost two fights in a row. Maybe Danny Garcia becomes a go-to guy, but that's still way up in the air. Same for Adrien Broner, another guy HBO is incredibly high on.
More likely than not, your leading HBO main eventer this year, in terms of main events fought on the network, will be Danny Garcia. That's wild. Anybody who says that they saw that coming into this year is a liar. The good news is that if Garcia keeps winning, he just might have star quality. Donaire is another guy they seem to be banking on. Some of the culture is changing, some of the stars are changing, and that's a good thing.
I'm not sure Showtime has much going in terms of potential quick fixes in their main event scene, so to speak. They've pushed Tarver and Williams as lead guys this year, both mistakes in my estimation. Neither guy was a hot commodity at the time. They may be leaning on -- besides Canelo -- the likes of Peter Quillin sooner than later. I think they were hoping Victor Ortiz (or Andre Berto) would be a reliable star going forward. That's probably not going to be the case.
SHO has also been a bit snakebit this year, as their Ortiz-Berto buy fell apart on them, though we wound up with a different great fight, and their move to bring Canelo Alvarez has come to Canelo fighting for a split audience against a fourth choice opponent.
Miguel Cotto is a factor here, too, potentially. If he does stay working alongside Golden Boy Promotions, maybe he moves to SHO for his next fight. What happens with the main event level fighters, the real ones, is going to determine a lot of where both networks can go. If it gets stagnant, both could be in trouble.
What Al Say, You Must Obey
The biggest player in all of boxing today, period, is Al Haymon. Anyone who looks at what has happened on both networks this year and doesn't believe that Al Haymon is pulling a lot of the strings is blind, in my opinion. The man is nearly a puppet master at this point. I don't really have a lot more to add to that, but it has to be said.
Showtime has a Guerrero vs Aydin and Shawn Porter vs Alfonso Gomez show lined up this weekend. After that, both networks are off for August, which is pretty much standard, and very normal in Olympic years.
In September, HBO has Gennady Golovkin likely facing Grzegorz Proksa on 9/1, with a Dzinziruk vs Gonzalez co-feature. The next weekend, they have Ward vs Dawson and DeMarco vs Molina, plus Vitali Klitschko vs Manuel Charr on delay. Apparently HBO wants to bring in those heavyweight fetishist eyes again. Epix has been hogging them all.
That same night, Showtime has Bailey vs Alexander with a Matthysse vs Olusegun co-feature. It's a decent card.
On September 15, Showtime has Canelo vs Lopez, plus Gonzalez vs Ponce De Leon and a crappy Maidana vs Soto Karass fight. HBO has Chavez Jr vs Martinez on PPV that night.
On 9/29, HBO has a three-fight show featuring Edwin Rodriguez vs Jason Escalera in the main event. This is entirely because they owed Lou DiBella the money for their scrapped prospect series. And HBO will likely have Donaire vs Arce on 10/20, with Golden Boy at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn seeming probable for Showtime on the same night. It's expected at the moment that Orlando Salido vs Mikey Garcia will be on the Donaire-Arce show, too.
Who knows what other fights could be signed, what fights might beat the expectations, and what all might not even happen? Boxing is unpredictable, for good and bad, and this entire argument could look totally different by the end of the year.