Dan Rafael reports that without explanation, HBO has withdrawn approval of the scheduled July 9 main event between Paul Williams and Nobuhiro Ishida.
The fight, which as Rafael notes drew harsh criticism (including ours), was downgraded from "World Championship Boxing" main event to "Boxing After Dark" main event, and has now been pulled entirely. Williams is tentatively keeping the date, but the search is on for a new opponent.
Here's what we said when the fight was announced on May 15:
I don't think there's really any getting around the fact that this is a pretty weak comeback fight for Williams, particularly when you consider that this is an HBO main event. All respect to Ishida, who got here with a credible and shocking victory, but he was not a real contender a month ago, and even though he's had a solid career, there were better fights that could have been made. ... But this is clearly about getting Paul back in the ring in a fight that isn't supposed to be too dangerous for him. It's a rehab fight, a "get well" fight, and while those happen all the time, I can't help but think that HBO agreeing to this as a main event is a first-class example of some of the problems at the network, which has been criticized for buying fights less often than buying single fighters or their management teams.
Williams is managed by Al Haymon, a particular agent noted for HBO favoritism by many writers, fans and critics, and Ishida is working with Golden Boy Promotions, a particular promoter noted for HBO favoritism by those same people. The fight simply felt transparent and appallingly weak, and seemed to speak to a troubling symptom in matchmaking that has led HBO down a pretty dark road with slipping ratings for its boxing in the last few years.
While there was once a time when the viewership for Joe Calzaghe vs Mikkel Kessler (1.591 million in 2007) was considered panic button-worthy, we now live in a world where Andre Berto vs Victor Ortiz (1.5 million on a free preview weekend) is considered a huge success. Last year's top-rated HBO fight (Yuri Foreman vs Miguel Cotto) did 1.6 million live viewers, so basically the exact same as the Calzaghe vs Kessler fight once considered a pure dud. Frankly speaking, the continued coddling of favorited HBO house fighters has simply turned off a lot of fans, and over time that has eroded the viewership of HBO's good main events, too.
And there's no getting around that Williams vs Ishida is simply not a good enough fight for HBO's budget and status, and the fabrication of any significant difference between "World Championship Boxing" and "Boxing After Dark" has long grown tired, too. This is not the day of "Boxing After Dark" being the home of fights that are truly different than what you find on "WCB." "BAD" is just the same show but with worse/less marketable (in the eyes of HBO) main events, and sometimes it comes on a little later than "WCB."
Even the withdrawing of approval for this fight speaks poorly of what's going on with HBO boxing right now, because we know for a fact that they approved this, seemingly before the criticism became too much. So what does that tell us? That the people making and approving the fights at HBO are now unsure of themselves and can be swayed by the wind?
I'm not "dumping on" HBO because it gives me any satisfaction, for the record. It's just that for years this has been by far the No. 1 boxing network in the United States, and the times they are a-changin', and this wind has been blowing for years now. The constant rumors that major changes are coming at the network can't be ignored, and when they start pulling back approval of bad fights, I think it might say something more than, "Well, now we realize this fight isn't so good, and we realize this on our own, and admit an error."