Showtime's 2007 was not spectacular, no matter what the network itself will tell you. Well, OK -- Weeds and Dexter are quality shows, but those hamfests Brotherhood and The Tudors are like HBO dramas taken to soap opera school.
We're just talking sports, though, and more specifically, boxing. The network that dominated the cable boxing fight in 2006 was manhandled by HBO in 2007, as only a handful of truly notable fights took place on the network, while HBO gave us major bouts on Championship Boxing (Taylor-Pavlik, Calzaghe-Kessler, Hatton-Castillo, Margarito-Williams), Boxing After Dark (Diaz-Diaz, Freitas-Diaz, Mikkel Kessler's American TV debut), and pay-per-view (Mayweather-de la Hoya, Mayweather-Hatton, Cotto-Judah, Cotto-Mosley, Pacquiao-Barrera II, Barrera-Marquez).
Stack that up against Showtime. Seriously, just give it a try. The two Vazquez-Marquez fights were electric, and Nonito Donaire scored the memorable upset of Vic Darchinyan in July, co-headlining with the totally forgettable junior middleweight title bout between Travis Simms and Joachim Alcine. And they ended their year with a useless triple-header that had one semi-intriguing fight (Donaire-Maldonado) and two horrible mismatches that the network tried to hype as important.
They made stars of Chad Dawson and Nonito Donaire, and Shobox continued to showcase some of the best young talent in the sport in fights that aren't just the usual prospect v. journeyman fare that we get from ESPN.
But this is Showtime. Showtime came into the year with a legitimate claim to being America's No. 1 boxing network. While HBO politics gave us crap fights, Showtime brought the goods.
HBO listened to the audience, and gave us an entire year worth of great stuff in boxing's comeback year. Showtime did not, focusing on a faded Antonio Tarver for two awful cards, and they still seem to be promoting Tarver as their ace card despite the glaring evidence against the idea.
But the calendar has turned. It's 2008. And with a hot start to the year on Friday with the Peterson brothers in action on Shobox and Saturday night's highly competitive and entertaining 140-pound title scrap between Paulie Malignaggi and Herman Ngoudjo, it looks like Showtime is ready to get back in the game.
It's not that HBO is taking it slow. They've got their own outstanding schedule on tap. But it's good to see the competition going back to what works: Good fights between two good fighters.
The March 1 rubber match between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez is as hotly anticipated a fight as there is, and that's counting the long-awaited rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Rafael's brother, Juan Manuel, or the rematch between Pavlik and Taylor, both on HBO pay-per-view in the first quarter of '08. Vazquez and Marquez have been shown tremendous loyalty from Showtime, and it's one area where I will do nothing but praise the network. Not a single one of their 13 rounds in 2007 was anything less than scorching, and despite poor attendance at both fights, the network promoted those two blistering contests better after the fact than they did in the build-up. Showtime played a major hand in Vazquez-Marquez II being almost unanimous declared Fight of the Year.
But they don't have just that, and that's what's promising. The night before Vazquez-Marquez III, Showtime has a featherweight title bout between Robert Guerrero and Jason Litzau, two exciting young-but-established fighters, in one of their "special" Shobox telecasts that takes the bar up a notch. I'd happily take Guerrero-Litzau over any fight with Antonio Tarver, I'll tell you that much.
On April 12, Chad Dawson makes the first substantial defense of his 175-pound title when he faces veteran Glen Johnson in what could be Johnson's last chance at glory. Dawson looked phenomenal in his dominant title win over Tomasz Adamek last year, and rightfully cruised past Jesus Ruiz and Epifanio Mendoza. Those guys were marginal contenders at best; Johnson, though age may catch up with him in the bout against Dawson, is legit, battle-tested, and figures to give Dawson challenges he hasn't faced yet. As poorly as Adamek fought against Dawson, this is probably going to be the toughest test of the 25-year old champ's career.
It's too bad Showtime doesn't have more dates for Championship Boxing or even pay-per-view cards, but they'll always be working at a disadvantage against HBO there. And I'm not even saying that Showtime is suddenly on a level playing field with HBO -- they aren't. HBO's lineup (Jones-Trinidad, Palvik-Taylor II, Marquez-Pacquiao II, Klitschko-Ibragimov, Maskaev-Peter, Diaz-Campbell, Williams-Quintana, Povetkin-Chambers, Casamayor-Katsidis, Hopkins-Calzaghe, Oscar-someone) still thumps Showtime's schedule.
It's encouraging to see that Showtime, like HBO, must have listened to their critics. Boxing fans are a very loyal breed. We'll tune in. All we really ask is for good fights, or at least an attempt at them. Tarver-Muriqi, Tarver-Santiago, and Forrest-Piccirillo don't fit the bill.
I could be jumping the gun, but welcome back to the fold, Showtime. It's good to see you again.