The HBO vs Showtime boxing war has really kicked into high gear in 2011, with Showtime taking a big leap forward by getting back into the major event pay-per-view game in May. So far, Showtime has been bigger and better than HBO, but this could be a month where the tide turns a little bit, and HBO's last two episodes of World Championship boxing have been highly-watched, with Berto vs Ortiz on April 16 drawing 1.5 million viewers, and Pascal vs Hopkins II on May 21 pulling in 1.8 million. Here's what the two big networks have for you in June.
(Key: A = Excellent, B = Above Average, C = Average, D = Below Average, F = Fight Night Club with a budget)
June 4 - Sebastian Zbik vs Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, Mikey Garcia vs Miguel Beltran Jr
Zbik is a relative unknown on American shores, but this is a significant card, as it's the first HBO appearance of the wildly popular Chavez. While Chavez's abilities (or lack thereof) have been criticized harshly by diehard boxing fans over the years, what's not up for debate is his status as a drawing card. With his father perhaps the most popular Mexican fighter of all time, JCC Jr has been received warmly by the enormous Mexican boxing audience. He's able to draw large crowds, and should be good for a TV audience. Garcia vs Beltran is a decent fight, and HBO is looking to make Garcia a star fighter, it appears. Unlike some cases, this one isn't a case of Garcia being shoved down the public's throats for too long. He's got real deal talent and star quality. Show Grade: C. The main event is meaningful in its way, but I think little of Zbik and though I "hate" Chavez less than some, I still don't think he's very good. Garcia is the fighter to watch.
June 18 - Saul "Canelo" Alvarez vs Ryan Rhodes, Adrien Broner vs Jason Litzau
Another young Mexican star, and would-be rival of Chavez if they didn't work for rival promoters, and didn't have rival Mexican TV deals. Alvarez has become massively popular simply due to his fighting, while Chavez has become massively popular because it was handed to him on his birth certificate. This is also a better fight than Zbik vs Chavez, as both Alvarez and Rhodes are top ten fighters at 154 pounds. Rhodes is a good fighter, a southpaw with some slickness, and though Alvarez will have home field, this is the best fight of his young career, and an upset wouldn't be all that shocking. Broner vs Litzau is a fine enough co-feature, though nothing special. Both are top ten in a poor division. Show Grade: B. Not great, but good. Competitive matchup in the co-feature, and a very intriguing main event. There will also be a rabid crowd.
June 25 - Devon Alexander vs Lucas Matthysse, Tavoris Cloud vs Yusaf Mack, Bermane Stiverne vs Ray Austin
The rare HBO triple-header, this one from St. Louis. This is a crossroads fight for Alexander, whose stock has dropped majorly in his last two fights, a disputed win over Andriy Kotelnik and a "quit" loss to Timothy Bradley in a dud alleged "superfight." Matthysse main evented on HBO last year against Zab Judah and nearly came away with the win, but that fight had a small TV audience and the Argentine is still pretty well unknown. The co-features are interesting in that HBO decided to pay for them. Cloud is an HBO fighter, but Yusaf Mack is basically a fringe contender who has been getting favors from the IBF for some reason. But those favors have nothing on Don King and Ray Austin's relationship with the WBC, as for some ungodly reason, the "sanctioning" body has now given the 40-year-old mediocrity a third straight "eliminator" fight, this time against Stiverne, who is 32 and has zero name in America, but does look like he has some actual talent. This fight is most intriguing as an HBO pickup because it could signal the network having renewed interest in the heavyweight division, which for whatever reason still manages to entice viewers more than, say, a lightweight fight of the same standard. Show Grade: C. The fact that it's a triple-header is great. But only the main event is all that interesting as a matchup. Cloud vs Mack could be a fun fight, though.
June 4 - Carl Froch vs Glen Johnson, Mikkel Kessler vs Mehdi Bouadla
Froch vs Johnson is the best fight either network has in June, and is the only Showtime Championship Boxing broadcast set for the month, as the network takes a big step back in activity in June. Obviously Froch-Johnson is a good fight, and while they do (hopefully) have a reason to air Mikkel Kessler's comeback, I really have very little interest in seeing it, particularly because it's on tape delay from Denmark, I'll know the result, the fight isn't competitive on paper despite Kessler's injury layoff, and it stacks up more as a rust-shaking exercise than anything. Still, the main event carries this one. Show Grade: B+. I'd probably give it an A- if there was so much as a solid co-feature, but my gut feeling is Kessler vs Bouadla is going to be more chore than anything.
June 10 - Lateef Kayode vs Matt Godfrey, Archie Ray Marquez vs Art Hovhannesyan
A decent ShoBox card, with powerful cruiserweight Kayode taking on east coast cruiser Godfrey. If Kayode is as bad as some people think, Godfrey might win. But frankly I don't think Godfrey is very good at all, so Kayode's power could be enough to get him past this test, as Godfrey really didn't respond to heavy punches well last year against Marco Huck. Marquez is another prospect with mixed reviews. Show Grade: C. But a ShoBox-level C. Different budgets, different expectations. This is a pretty run-of-the-mill ShoBox.
June 11 - Hector Sanchez vs Victor Arroyo, Luis del Valle vs Dat Nguyen
Why they're running back-to-back ShoBox nights isn't clear, but this is night #2 of back-to-back Puerto Rican-based shows in NYC, and Showtime has jumped on the second night. It's roughly as decent as the other card, just without the hype of Kayode or Marquez. Show Grade: C.
On paper, the winner for the month is HBO -- they've got more name fighters, more relevant fights than does Showtime this month, and by quite a bit. If you ranked the fights from best to worst, Froch vs Johnson would give SHO the #1 spot, but then you'd just list the HBO fights all in a row after that -- well, Kayode vs Godfrey or Kessler vs Bouadla might be better than Stiverne vs Austin.
Retroactively, let's look over the months of 2011.
January: HBO. Their Alexander vs Bradley show was about all that happened, regrettable as it was.
February: SHO. HBO had Montiel vs Donaire, which was definitely memorable, but SHO countered with Acosta vs Rios, which was just plain better.
March: HBO. Gamboa vs Solis, Martinez vs Dzinziruk and Alvarez vs Hatton trumps Bute vs Magee and the Cotto vs Mayorga PPV, in my view.
April: SHO. But a close call. HBO had Berto vs Ortiz, but SHO countered that exact night with the just-as-good Lopez vs Salido fight. They also had Darchinyan vs Perez. HBO did have the Morales vs Maidana show, and yes it was a good fight, but it was also a PPV that the boxing public flat-out rejected and didn't buy. Fact is, most people who saw Morales vs Maidana saw it on the internet after the reviews came out.
May: SHO. The Pacquiao vs Mosley fight sucked, but it was a big feather in their cap. And that show had a fight (Arce vs Vazquez) every bit as good as the HBO PPV main event in April, while the network also offered Ward vs Abraham and a good ShoBox on May 13. HBO's only show of the month was a memorable one, though, since it was the Hopkins vs Pascal rematch. Had HBO put on one other good fight in May, they could have nicked this round, so to speak.
Look, I've got Showtime ahead right now in quality this year, but just barely, and in all candor HBO has not done that badly, and the ratings are coming back. What the story has been, really, is Showtime truly competing with HBO instead of just having stretches where they have better fights. And even though ratings have overall been down at HBO, they still have more viewers (of course, more subscribers, too) than Showtime. It's not that Showtime is crushing HBO, it's that it's a legitimate competition in all ways now, and while HBO stagnates in some regards, Showtime keeps trying to push the envelope. HBO also has a great advantage on paper in July. So despite the criticisms, don't count the established No. 1 boxing network in America out yet.