HBO Boxing 2013 Year in Review: No 'Money,' mo' problems in underrated transitional year

Doug Pensinger

There was a lot of talk that HBO Boxing had a down year, but did they really, or was it just that with Showtime's improvements, HBO's transitional year just wasn't fully appreciated?

Results

January 19
Mikey Garcia TD-8 Orlando Salido ... Gennady Golovkin TKO-7 Gabriel Rosado ... Rocky Martinez D-12 Juan Carlos Burgos.

Garcia wound up headlining three HBO cards in 2013, and is being positioned as a potential top star. His year started off right with a dominant (if somewhat questionable with the ending) win over Salido. Golovkin showed his dominance once again, and Martinez escaped with a debatable draw.

February 17
Adrien Broner TKO-5 Gavin Rees ... Sakio Bika UD-12 Nikola Sjekloca.

March 9
Bernard Hopkins UD-12 Tavoris Cloud ... Keith Thurman UD-12 Jan Zaveck.

These were the last two Golden Boy cards on HBO. Broner's fight was basically a parting gift as he took a few rounds to create a false sense of competitiveness before destroying the gritty but undersized Rees. Thurman took another step forward in his last HBO outing, and B-Hop broke his own record as the oldest man to ever win a world title in boxing by outboxing Cloud.

March 16
Timothy Bradley UD-12 Ruslan Provodnikov ... Jessie Vargas UD-10 Wale Omotoso.

A strong and unexpected contender for Fight of the Year broke out in the main event, as FNF regular Provodnikov took the fight to Bradley, who was outgunned but not outboxed, surviving a brutal beating to win a deserved decision.

March 30
Mike Alvarado UD-12 Brandon Rios ... Terence Crawford UD-10 Breidis Prescott.

The rematch couldn't top or equal their first fight, but it was another terrific fight, this time with Alvarado boxing smart and frustrating Rios from range. There was plenty of action, too, but it was no Rios-Alvarado I, and it was no Bradley-Provodnikov, so it suffered in comparisons to both the first fight between the two and the most recent HBO main event.

April 13
Guillermo Rigondeaux UD-12 Nonito Donaire.

A clinic from Rigondeaux, the guy HBO demanded that 2012 Fighter of the Year Donaire face, even though that fight wasn't high on Donaire's list during all of 2012 when the fight came up in conversation. There was no debating it: Rigondeaux was better, and even though Donaire and Top Rank went into spin mode immediately, even Nonito couldn't deny that he was simply beaten by a better man on the night.

April 27
Sergio Martinez UD-12 Martin Murray ... Bermane Stiverne UD-12 Chris Arreola.

In a rainy soccer stadium in front of an incredible crowd, Martinez got a controversial decision win over the visiting Murray, who dropped Martinez once officially and more than that in reality. It wound up a survival for Martinez, who sat out the rest of the year with injuries.

May 25
Carl Froch UD-12 Mikkel Kessler.

A very good and very significant fight that HBO originally meant to pair with the Bute-Pascal fight from Montreal, which was postponed until 2014. Froch-Kessler II wasn't a great fight, but it was very good, and it was another international sporting event, rather than just another fight. Plus, we got the bonus of Andre Ward on commentary, taking a dump on everything Froch did.

June 8
Adonis Stevenson KO-1 Chad Dawson ... Yuriorkis Gamboa UD-12 Darleys Perez.

One of the big shocks of the year was not Stevenson beating Dawson so much as the fact that he did it in 76 seconds, smashing a guy who'd been at the top levels since 2007 at 175 pounds. Gamboa was rather dull in his co-feature win, his only fight of the year. G-Unit!

June 15
Mikey Garcia TKO-4 Juan Manuel Lopez .. Terence Crawford TKO-6 Alejandro Sanabria.

A bit of a sham main event both on paper and in practice, as Garcia missed weight and had an even bigger physical advantage against an already smaller opponent. The fight would have gone this way no matter if both showed up in top shape, too. Crawford went to 2-0 on HBO.

June 29
Gennady Golovkin KO-3 Matthew Macklin ... Thomas Oosthuizen D-10 Brandon Gonzales ... Willie Nelson UD-10 Luciano Cuello.

What was booked as a step up against a real contender and real middleweight, Golovkin opened Macklin's eyes wide in round one with some heavy shots, and finished him off with a vicious body attack in the third round.

August 17
Darren Barker SD-12 Daniel Geale ... Kiko Martinez TKO-6 Jhonatan Romero ... Sergey Kovalev TKO-4 Nathan Cleverly.

Geale-Barker was a unique HBO pickup that turned out to be a bit of a flop in terms of potentially creating an opponent for Golovkin, but it was a really good fight that was significant in the division, and in terms of potentially creating an opponent for Golovkin. In the end, Geale lost the fight, and while Barker won, his career came into doubt with a December loss to Felix Sturm. So this fight didn't do what HBO wanted, but it still wound up a fun night of action. Kiko Martinez came alive in a world title shot, ripping Jhonatan Romero, and HBO also had rights to tape delay for Cleverly-Kovalev, which created a new HBO star in Kovalev.

September 28
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr UD-10 Brian Vera ... Adonis Stevenson TKO-7 Tavoris Cloud.

The main event was a pretty entertaining affair which saw Baby Boy Chavez get the usual benefit of the doubt over the more deserving winner in Vera. There was enough outrage about this decision that a Chavez-Vera rematch with stipulations on weight that actually favor Vera, is scheduled for March. Stevenson's win in Montreal over Cloud was thorough, and took Cloud out of the picture at 175.

October 5
Miguel Cotto TKO-3 Delvin Rodriguez ... Terence Crawford UD-10 Andrey Klimov ... Wladimir Klitschko UD-12 Alexander Povetkin.

Cotto's return to HBO was a bounceback fight that saw him return to a ferocious offensive attack, particularly to the body, in his first fight under Freddie Roach. It was a dominant enough beatdown over a bigger and credible opponent that Cotto's name was right back in the mix for all the big money fights.

October 12 (PPV)
Timothy Bradley UD-12 Juan Manuel Marquez ... Orlando Salido TKO-7 Orlando Cruz ... Vasyl Lomachenko TKO-4 Jose Ramirez ... Seanie Monaghan TKO-3 Anthony Caputo Smith.

HBO's first of just two PPV efforts in 2013 pit 2012's victors over Manny Pacquiao together for a welterweight title fight. It was a big event, but certainly no more than a small blip on mainstream sports media's radar. And expectations for PPV buys were suitably realistic and met. Also, the fight was good, which made up for a rather lousy undercard, which did at least feature the impressive pro debut of top amateur and two-time gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko.

October 19
Ruslan Provodnikov RTD-10 Mike Alvarado.

Another all-action fight, and how couldn't it be? Wear and tear after a series of rough fights seemed to get the better of Provodnikov on this fight, as the Siberian mauler just would not let Alvarado get into the sort of comfort zone he had against Brandon Rios in March. In the end, Provodnikov had Alvarado physically and mentally exhausted when the fighter chose to stop the bout after 10 rounds. Provodnikov went 1-1 in an eye-catching 2013, emerging as a potential star.

November 2
Gennady Golovkin TKO-8 Curtis Stevens ... Mike Perez UD-10 Magomed Abdusalamov.

Golovkin was at it again, knocking Curtis Stevens down so hard at one point in this fight that Stevens looked like he had no idea what reality was anymore. He did recover and may have poked a couple holes in the Golovkin hype, as he had some success in the bout that may have gone overlooked. The co-feature was a war of attrition between Perez and Abdusalamov that left Abdusalamov in a medically-induced coma. It was a great heavyweight fight, but nobody can focus on that when we are served another sad reminder of how dangerous one of our favorite activities can be.

November 9
Mikey Garcia KO-8 Rocky Martinez ... Nonito Donaire TKO-9 Vic Darchinyan ... Demetrius Andrade SD-12 Vanes Martirosyan.

Garcia moved up to 130 pounds this year, meaning that he went from winning a world title to losing a world title but winning a fight to winning a different world title in 2013, all in HBO main events. Donaire's return was going very poorly until he found the sweet spot and beat Darchinyan a second time. Andrade could be a really notable fighter at 154 for a long time, but it's going to take some work to get him there. He can fight, though.

November 16
Andre Ward UD-12 Edwin Rodriguez.

Ward fought just once in 2013 and may not fight at all in 2014 depending on how his latest attempt to split from promoter Dan Goossen goes. This was a watchable and dirty little brawl that Ward pretty handily won, as usual. So desperate to find Ward a suitable fight, HBO even bent their own rule to pay the Haymon fighter Rodriguez to fight on their network.

November 23 (PPV)
Manny Pacquiao UD-12 Brandon Rios ... Evgeny Gradovich TKO-9 Billy Dib ... Andy Ruiz Jr RTD-3 Tor Hamer ... Zou Shiming UD-6 Juan Tozcano ... Felix Verdejo UD-6 Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan.

500,000 buys is not enough buys for this fight, Pacquiao's only outing in 2013. But don't worry, a newspaper said recently that Roy Hibbert was "boxing out" Chris Bosh so that means boxing is alive and well. The undercard was forgettable, though the opener and Gradovich-Dib II were both decent fights. Pacquiao-Rios was the one way sparring contest many feared it would be, as Rios really couldn't do much at all with Manny.

November 30
Adonis Stevenson TKO-6 Tony Bellew ... Sergey Kovalev TKO-2 Ismayl Sillakh.

Clearly an attempt to bring these two together for a big fight, Kovalev and Stevenson blasted their opponents out and made statements. It's obviously the best fight to be made at 175, but we'll see.

December 7
Guillermo Rigondeaux UD-12 Joseph Agbeko ... James Kirkland TKO-6 Glen Tapia ... Matthew Macklin UD-10 Lamar Russ.

HBO's final show of the year saw a late FotY buzz for Kirkland-Tapia, and then fans actually leaving before and during the main event. They were smart, because Rigondeaux-Agbeko was dreadful, mostly because Agbeko either couldn't or wouldn't do what he usually does.

Five Best Fights

5. Mike Perez vs Magomed Abdusalamov (November 2)

I doubt anyone feels good about saying this was a good fight but to me that's worth remembering. I can understand not listing this in a best fights countdown, but I'd almost feel worse if I didn't credit them for their effort.

4. Brandon Rios vs Mike Alvarado (March 30)

Not as good as the first fight and not outstandingly special as a viewing experience, but a really good fight that saw Brandon Rios mostly neutralized by the more cautious and patient Alvarado.

3. James Kirkland vs Glen Tapia (December 7)

Kirkland's return quickly reminded us of the kind of fighter he can be. His latest comeback attempt could be his last, but he looked like good old James Kirkland in this one, overpowering a gritty young fighter.

2. Mike Alvarado vs Ruslan Provodnikov (October 19)

Maybe a spot or two higher than mots would have it, but I loved watching Provodnikov. He'd clearly scouted or his team had scouted the Rios rematch from March, as Alvarado promised to box more and stay outside, did so, and won. Then Ruslan didn't so much game plan against that as he did make up his mind to hurl himself, fists flying, toward Alvarado at all times, no matter what.

1. Timothy Bradley vs Ruslan Provodnikov (March 30)

Stiff competition from the other fights, but Bradley-Provodnikov was a thrilling and sometimes uncomfortable show of guts (mostly from Bradley) and determination (mostly Provodnikov). The fight was in doubt until the very end. Bradley did enough to nick it, and both men boosted their reputations.

Five Key Stories

5. Nonito's got a baby

Nonito Donaire having a child was the "Juan Diaz goes to college" of 2013.

4. The Rigondeaux Problem

Speaking of Donaire, he got schooled in April by a superior professional boxer. That boxer was Guillermo Rigondeaux, who clinically took Donaire apart with such ease that you'd think he was fighting some also-ran and not one of the highest-regarded fighters in the world and defending consensus Fighter of the Year from 2012. Rigondeaux didn't have star quality going in, and if he might have been able to gain it going out, that was essentially sabotaged immediately as his co-promoter Bob Arum shouted from mountain tops that Rigondeaux was boring and makes HBO want to vomit whenever his name is mentioned. HBO never said much of anything about it and then brought Rigondeaux back for a main event on December 7. Now, let's be clear: Rigondeaux is not a draw and his style is not going to make him one. But it was an odd way to handle what should have been a big win for a fighter, to basically make sure he wasn't a star by putting it into everyone's heads repeatedly that he cannot possibly be a star. Arum also once thought Floyd Mayweather couldn't be a star. And again, he's flat-out just right about Rigondeaux, but it's still a bizarre way to handle someone's career.

3. Build-a-star workshop

With Floyd and the GBP stable gone, and Top Rank lacking in too many big names, HBO looked around for more unlikely possibilities, which seems something that HBO Sports head Ken Hershman should be suited for. For years as the main man at Showtime, Hershman did some of his best working thinking "outside the box" with interesting ideas that included fighters not always familiar to U.S. audiences. Now with Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Ruslan Provodnikov, and Adonis Stevenson as key HBO brand fighters heading into 2014, we're seeing HBO adjust to life without the biggest star in boxing and without the availability of several of the biggest names in the sport due to their Golden Boy affiliation. This is a proper rebuilding process, and thus far, being handled very well. There's a transitional period going on and if they play their cards right, they'll have more name players because they've made them name players.

2. Manny's no Money

At one time, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather were right about neck-and-neck for PPV buys as A-side headliners. This year, that changed, and it's unlikely to head the other direction. Even though Mayweather's May 4 win over Robert Guerrero on Showtime PPV had disappointing buys, it still blew out the returns for Pacquiao-Rios on November 23, and those could be seen as fights of a similar stature. Coming in at a suspected 500,000 (or so) buys, Pacquiao-Rios did well enough to break even and made money over in Macao and all that, so it wasn't a financial disaster or anything, but it was a pay-per-view dud in the States, and it's hard to believe that in 2013 with the internet as the most valuable media outlet for boxing by far, there was anything missing from the media coverage that wasn't usually there, or at least anything significant. The fight just didn't churn up much by way of buzz.

1. No more Floyd, no more Golden Boy

It was definitely the biggest story at HBO as well as Showtime. It changed the American boxing landscape incredibly, made for a real rivalry between the brands, and drew battle lines for the near future.

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