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HBO not warm to Zab Judah; has the network really repented?

Zab001_medium Rick Reeno of reports that HBO is cold to the floated idea of a 140-pound fight between Nate Campbell and Zab Judah, and that Campbell is "not the problem."

HBO -- which would prefer Campbell against Paulie Malignaggi or unbeaten St. Louis prospect Devon Alexander to Judah -- has said over and over since the debacle cards to close 2008 that they are not interested in bad fights, that they're focusing on the future of the sport more, and that promoters have to give them good, competitive matchups or they aren't buying the fight.

Campbell-Judah at 140 pounds would honestly seem to me to be a pretty good TV fight, a nice step up for Campbell in weight, and a much-needed step back down in weight for Zab, who (as I always have to point out) hasn't won a big fight in years.

It makes me wonder what the issue with Judah would be. It could be something like he's difficult in negotiations, which would be an "is what it is" sort of thing, or it could be that HBO simply isn't going to pay for Judah fights anymore.

Two years ago he was on PPV against Miguel Cotto, and the fight was really good. He had a pretty entertaining, competitive fight against Josh Clottey last August. He lost both. There's also, maybe, the time he cancelled his May 31 fight last year against Shane Mosley, which sent Mosley up to 154 pounds to fight Ricardo Mayorga off PPV, and put Judah into the Clottey fight. Judah last fought on the wretched Calzaghe-Jones undercard in November, winning a bore of a fight against Ernest Johnson where Judah seemed to lack fire. It was like he was sparring and had no intention of impressing anybody or finishing the fight.

If HBO would rather have Campbell-Malignaggi (which isn't as good of a TV fight, I don't think) or Campbell-Alexander (which is a much smaller bout, albeit cheaper, and with a top prospect), it really makes me think that Ross Greenburg and Co. are very serious about their boxing schedule. They gave us a lot of good stuff in '07 and '08, but 2008 ended with a dire series of fights and cards.

For $59.99 in December, we got to watch Manny Pacquiao dismantle an Oscar de la Hoya who looked like he left his fists and heart somewhere in Puerto Rico, but that happens, and it was a huge, intriguing fight nonetheless. Underneath that, though, was the pathetic sham of an undercard that featured three gross mismatches that all played out as expected. I said that night that if anyone at HBO, Top Rank or Golden Boy tried to say they didn't see something like that coming, they were full of it. As far as I recollect they didn't try to lie. They knowingly served us a terrible show.

The month before that, $50 bought you Calzaghe's one-sided rout of ancient Roy Jones and another terrible undercard, highlighted by Judah's snoozer and a bunch of club fighters.

HBO took some huge shots for these cards, and it seems like they've listened. The fact that 2008 officially ended for them with Wladimir Klitschko systematically taking apart yet another guy that didn't seem like he was interested in fighting back (Hasim Rahman) didn't help. And in the meantime, the tiny Versus Network aired a Fight of the Year candidate between cruiserweights Steve Cunningham and Tomasz Adamek for a fraction of the cost of anything HBO had going on.

So far in '09, HBO has delivered on their promise to give us only competitive matchups (at least on paper). This has been the schedule:

  • Jan. 17: Berto v. Collazo (BAD). Legit fight.
  • Jan. 24: Margarito v. Mosley (WCB). World-class fight.
  • Feb. 14: Campbell-Funeka (BAD). Legit fight, and a snakebitten-card that was supposed to have this as an undercard with Martinez-Cintron, main evented by Mayorga-Angulo. Even Angulo-Rivera, for a fight on four days' notice, was perfectly acceptable.
  • Feb. 28: Marquez-Diaz (WCB). World-class fight between the #1 and #2 lightweights in the sport. Even if Campbell had stayed at 135, it's #1 v. #3 at worst.

And here's what they have coming:

  • Mar. 7: Kirkland-Julio tripleheader (BAD). Legit fight. They're focusing on guys they want to use for years, like Kirkland (or Julio if he wins), Guerrero and Ortiz, and Guerrero and Ortiz are facing decent opponents. It's sink or swim for Daud Yordan, and Ortiz is up against a guy that's been a legit contender in the recent past. This is what Boxing After Dark is about.
  • Apr. 4: Lightweight Lightning PPV. HBO is distributing, Golden Boy producing. If you ask me, HBO should send their broadcasters and be there. Four legitimate fights on one PPV show.
  • Apr. 11: Williams v. Wright (WCB). Legit fight. Winky's comeback, and a stern test for Big Paul. Plus an undercard bout between the brawling heavy that HBO is big on (Arreola) and a veteran stepping stone (McCline).
  • Apr. 25: Lopez v. Penalosa (BAD). A great young fighter against a good veteran with a lot of tricks up his sleeve. Legit fight.
  • May 2: The Hatton-Pacquiao show. HBO does not have an official "HBO Pay-Per-View" on the schedule until May 2. Not one in January, February, March or April.
  • May 9: Dawson-Tarver II. Not an exciting fight, but a pretty legit fight considering the options, and it's happening because they want to showcase Chad Dawson as another piece of the future.

It's also still likely that Wladimir Klitschko will fight David Haye on HBO, I'd guess, and Miguel Cotto will be fighting someone, somewhere on June 13. Arum says they're shopping Clottey, Cintron and Berto as opponents to both HBO and Showtime.

This has happened before, where HBO tries to calm backlash by saying, "no more!" But right now, there's nothing on the schedule to really complain about. The closest you get is the Dawson-Tarver rematch, and Tarver is still a top five light heavyweight.

Nixing Zab Judah also comes on the heels of HBO passing on the Pavlik and Cotto PPV from February 21, which sent Top Rank out to broadcast it on their own. HBO felt there was no intrigue in either fight, or at least not enough for the asking price, and Pavlik and Cotto have been HBO staples the last couple years.

For now, HBO is doing right by the fans, and they deserve to be commended.

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