With a new boss whose cozy relationship with a power promoter made a big transition year possible, Showtime Sports expanded their boxing coverage, brought star names to the network, helped bring boxing back to CBS, and has now been named the 2012 BLH Boxing TV Network of the Year.
Stephen Espinoza, a former Golden Boy lawyer, replaced Ken Hershman (now the head man at HBO) and had big shoes to fill this year. Though the move has been criticized by some, Espinoza and Golden Boy have teamed up nearly exclusively, which would be a bad thing if the end result hadn't been bigger, better cards for the network, and the hope that they just might be ready to truly compete with the richer and more historically prestigious HBO.
With undercard bouts airing on Showtime Extreme and triple- and quadruple-header cards becoming the norm on Showtime, the network is changing the way boxing has been presented for too long in the States, normally with one- or two-fight cards on television.
In second place was HBO, still the biggest boxing network in the U.S., and still the home of the majority of the sport's biggest stars, like Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Nonito Donaire, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, and Sergio Martinez. HBO put on the four richest fights of the year (Mayweather-Cotto, Pacquiao-Marquez IV, Pacquiao-Bradley, and Chavez Jr-Martinez), and they're still the home of the true big-time events.
Coming in third, just behind HBO, is upstart network WealthTV, which decided to invest in boxing and by the end of the year, seemed to have a pretty good handle on what they want their coverage to look like. With dedication to airing fights from the United Kingdom and Canada, plus great U.S. cards like Viloria-Marquez which otherwise would have gone to a non-selling independent PPV platform, WealthTV became a surprising player in the American boxing game.
BoxNation and Epix also received votes.
I went with Showtime. As much as I don't think Golden Boy deserves big credit for constantly aligning themselves with TV networks on sweetheart-type deals (they did it at HBO, it ended, and now they've taken over Showtime with their friend in charge), the fact is that SHO and GBP delivered on their partnership this year. Bigger televised cards meant more bang for your buck, and a nod to the diehard boxing fans who just want to watch as many fights as they can. Plus, with Al Bernstein, Steve Farhood, Barry Tompkins, Paulie Malignaggi, Mauro Ranallo and the sadly departed Antonio Tarver, they've presented the best boxing commentary, higher on discussing the action than in weaving a narrative that may or may not be reflected in the ring. I wrote a piece about the year Showtime had in late October. I was really impressed that they defied odds and expectations this year, and so ably overcame the loss of Hershman.
WealthTV came in second for me. They started rocky in their boxing ventures with the deplorable Mundine-McKart fight, but it seems as if they may have learned that was a mistake, and they've just gotten stronger since then. Viloria-Marquez was their highlight card of the year, but their partnerships with Channel 5 in the UK and the GYM series from Canada mean that American fans can legally see good streams of notable international fights for a whopping dollar per month.
WealthTV put on the best card of the year with Viloria-Marquez and had some other very good ones like Stevenson-George and Bute-Grachev. And the keyword there is card; they showed every fight on every bill. You get to see fewer fights on HBO PPV than WealthTV provided. They also only charge $1/month for the most reliable live streams you'll find online. So not only do you get to see the best fights, you barely even have to pay for them. All around it's just an amazing deal.
It gets its fair share of criticism for its production values, lack of HD, and - still - not getting every fight it can, but on the whole BoxNation, and its very concept, should be admired. A few years ago - especially in the UK, where the die-hard fan would so often be left to rely on dodgy streams for any fight not picked up by Sky Sports - the notion of a channel that focused entirely on boxing was unthinkable. Now, we've never had it better.
With - as the PR blurb says - 65 live shows, 289 fights and 57 world title fights - and a loaded schedule already set for the first quarter of 2013, this was an easy decision.