HBO and Showtime are at real TV war right now in the boxing business, and UFC President Dana White caught a bit of both broadcasts last night, coming to a conclusion: Right now, Showtime is better.
White has history with Showtime. After Zuffa, UFC's parent company, bought Strikeforce, Showtime eventually ended their relationship with that promotion and with MMA overall, as boxing became a bigger and bigger piece of the Showtime Sports puzzle under new boss Stephen Espinoza, a former lawyer for Golden Boy Promotions.
White, though, believes that HBO has fallen behind, and that Showtime is seeing the fruits of their labor, a long-term plan to take over boxing, come to a head:
"I'm not the biggest Showtime fan on Earth, but I'll tell you what Showtime blew HBO out of the water tonight," White stated when speaking with Bleacher Report. "With the presentation and all the things that they did, I never thought I'd see the day where I would say Showtime is actually looking better than HBO. It's crazy. ... Their plan was to get everybody that they could get away from HBO into Showtime and they're kicking HBO's ass right now."
HBO did have the disadvantage last night of an unfamiliar location, as it was their first trip to Argentina, not to mention a massive, open air stadium (which sometimes mutes crowd noise on TV), and some pretty bad weather conditions.
Showtime, though, has really beefed up their presentation, and I think White is absolutely correct that they've made this a real fight. There are still viewers who will instantly prefer the HBO presentation, but is it really notably better in any way, other than perhaps the frequently-voiced opinion that Mauro Ranallo (who I personally enjoy) makes Showtime seem second-rate?
The commentary teams are even at best. Showtime has Al Bernstein, the excellent Paulie Malignaggi, Steve Farhood, Barry Tompkins -- these are all legit boxing commentators. Brian Kenny has given the broadcasts some extra credibility in a host role. Ranallo is an acquired taste, I will admit, but I've been very pleasantly surprised not just by how smooth a transition he's made to the boxing world, but by how dedicated he is to it. I know a lot of folks won't believe it, but this is a guy who does his homework and cares about more than the fights he calls. I think he's quite good, but for the sake of argument, let's consider him a "weakness."
At HBO, you have Jim Lampley, who is, you know, Jim Lampley. He's a highly credible broadcast journalist and a consummate professional, but he also adds flavor to a broadcast. I have no problem saying that Lampley is the better broadcast leader than Ranallo. Lampley's been doing this a long, long time. He's a giant in the field.
Max Kellerman receives mixed reviews. Roy Jones Jr is a great guy, and I don't mind him, but he has a lot of, "What did he just say?" moments, too. Bob Papa is a pro on the BAD broadcasts, and I think he's solid. Andre Ward is a fine color commentator, and probably has a long-term future in that role.
At best, they're even. Personally, and this is my taste, I prefer the Showtime squad. It's not that I hate the HBO team, I just think the Showtime team is better right now.
Production values are about the same. Showtime has upped their game in that regard, to their credit. HBO is great as always. Things like All Access are now right on par with 24/7, and I mean that as a compliment to Showtime and All Access, because 24/7 is still the measuring stick.
Here's one key fact, though, about White's statement: Showtime won't truly be kicking HBO's ass until they draw the same amount of viewers. Now, I think we're getting to a point where that might actually happen in the next couple of years. But it's not there yet.
Has Showtime pulled even or better with HBO yet, in your view?