Is HBO Still The “King Of Boxing”?

08.07.05 -By Michael Montero: There is no denying the fact that HBO has been the king of boxing in the U.S. for years – nobody even came close to competing with them. However other networks have been making noise as of late: NBC with “The Contender”, ESPN and it’s “Friday night fights”, even Fox Sports has given us a couple interesting fights with “The Best Damn Boxing Show Period” - and then there’s Showtime.

If you would have told me a couple years ago that Showtime would soon be right up there with HBO (in the boxing world) I would have called you crazy – but the boys at Showtime have made some great strides and are actually threatening to dethrone the king. If you split 2005 into a twelve round bout (12 months = 12 rounds) between HBO and Showtime then we’d be smack dab in the middle of round 7 – and I’ve have to say it’s anybody’s fight. Let’s look at the highlights so far. . .

Showtime’s highlights:

1) Spinks-Judah/Barret-Beck (02/05/05): We watched Judah become the king at 147 by beating Spinks in his hometown. Barret revealed Beck as another untested Don King contender with a bloated record.

2) Braithwaite-Mormeck (04/02/05): Important fight to unify the cruiserweight division, which seriously lacks media attention – mainly because it’s best fighters always go up to heavy and become punching bags.

3) Castillo-Corrales (05/07/05): Obviously the fight of the year to date. If a rematch ever happens (negotiations are in progress for an October bout) it’s going straight to PPV and it’s going to be big.

4) Tszyu/Hatton (06/04/05): Two O’clock in the morning, the young contender versus the old king and the electric Manchester crowd. The fight itself didn’t end the way we all expected it to - but what an event!

5) Tyson-McBride (06/11/05): Say what you will, but there were butts in the seats in DC and people actually paid for this PPV fight. I personally think they should have paid us to watch it. Tyson’s finally finished – right?

HBO’s highlights:

1) Morales-Pacquiao (03/19/05): Number two on the fight of the year list. It was full of action – simply a great fight. These two guys are warriors and always willing to fight the best - I see a rematch in the future.

2) Trinidad-Wright (05/14/05): Winky Wright moved up on everybody’s pound for pound list, and earned much deserved recognition, with his dismantling of the once again retired Puerto Rican.

3) Johnson-Tarver II (06/18/05): The much anticipated rematch between the two top guys at light heavy. Tarver got his respect back and the stage is set for a trilogy - we’ll all be watching I’m sure.

4) Gatti-Mayweather (06/25/05): One of the most lopsided PPV fights ever? Maybe. The coming out party for “Pretty Boy” Floyd (not to mention the biggest payday in both fighters’ careers)? Without a doubt.

5) Hopkins-Taylor (07/16/05): This fight hasn’t happened yet - but its right around the corner. Will we see a repeat of Hatton-Tszyu? Will there soon be a new middleweight champion? My money’s on Benny-Hop.

Perhaps the heavyweight scene will heat up in the months ahead. Hopefully we will see Vitali Klitschko fight somebody worthwhile in September – which would be great for HBO and for heavyweight fans alike. Showtime has the Rahman-Barret fight coming up in August but does anybody really care? Of course we never know what lies ahead towards the end of the year. Will there be any meaningful fights at heavy? And, if so, which network will get them?

I think it’s fair to say that HBO has lost some of it’s thunder. I think they still have the best commentators, but I do miss George Foreman. His replacement, Roy Jones Jr., speaks like a high school drop out – and just lacks the personality that Big George had. But the bottom line is they still have Larry Merchant - I love this guy! During the under card he’s sober and coherent, but by the main event he’s shit-faced and makes the strangest comments at the strangest times. The after fight interviews are great because he’s never afraid to get in a fighter’s face. I still remember when he gave Lennox Lewis some shit just after his fight with Vitali Klitschko. Lewis grabbed the microphone – and the old man tried to take it back – hilarious! Besides the commentators, the biggest advantage HBO has over the other guys is the Compu-Box punch stats. They break down the power punches, total punches, punches thrown and landed – a real treat for true boxing fans. Let’s look at some other comparisons. . .

Who has the best fighters? HBO has showcased a handful of stars: Floyd Mayweather, Winky Wright, Erik Morales, Bernard Hopkins and Manny Pacquiao (just to name a few); up and comers: Miguel Cotto, Jermaine Taylor and Kassim Ouma; and favorites like Arturo Gatti, Fernando Vargas and James Toney. Showtime’s given us Ricky Hatton, Kostya Tszyu, Jose Lois Castillo, Diego Corrales, Zab Judah, Jeff Lacy and the infamous Mike Tyson. Both networks have showed us Samuel Peter and Alamazbek Raiymkulov – two rising prospects. All and all – I give HBO the advantage here.

Who’s had the biggest fights? I would give the edge to Showtime. HBO’s Morales-Pacquiao fight was a classic, but it was on PPV – Showtime’s Castillo-Corrales bout was even better, and it was FREE! I think we can all agree that the biggest fights on both networks were brought to us by the little guys – the heavyweights have been a let-down.

Speaking of let-downs, the biggest in ’05 clearly belong to HBO. Two of their big PPV events this year, Trinidad-Wright and Gatti-Mayweather, were one-sided blow outs. They did show us a couple guys we wanted to see, Wladimir Klitschko and Fernando Vargas, but they were in fights that didn’t matter at all. They gave us two title fights at heavy, but one of them featured a wrestler named John Ruiz. The other, featuring a bipolar underachiever named Andrew Golota, was over in a minute.

So here we are heading into the late rounds and I have Showtime out-pointing HBO in the fight for “boxing network of the year”. We can no longer count these guys out. I have to admit that I subscribed to Showtime this March for one reason – the boxing. HBO still has more of the big boys however, and the big boys can always bring the big excitement. If they bring us the Klitschkos, Byrds and Brewsters of the world (in meaningful fights) over the second half of the year – then the king may just hold on to it’s crown for another year. So let the debate begin gentlemen – is HBO still the “king of boxing” – or is there a new kid on the block?

Article posted on 08.07.2005

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