Some weeks back, you published my letter in the mailbag about the “Slow Death of HBO Boxing.” This was before Golovkin-Canelo II and the announcement that HBO Boxing is indeed throwing in the towel with the end of 2018. Given that HBO boxing is more or less dead at this point, I thought I would write a follow-up.
So for years upon years HBO was the leader when it came to boxing. That dynamic shifted in more recent times, with Showtime gradually pulling into the lead. Now in the last few months battle lines have been clearly drawn. In no particular order, we have:
1) The PBC/Showtime/Fox alliance, with fresh lucrative deals struck for all involved.
2) ESPN/ESPN+/Top Rank with a fresh deal struck for all involved, and the recent addition of rights to broadcast BoxNation.
3) DAZN/Matchroom Boxing/Sky Sports, along with the recent addition of rights to broadcast the WBSS on DAZN.
Right now I would say the PBC is leading the way for boxing in the western world thanks to their sizable stable of fighters and the new deals they struck with Showtime and FOX …and it doesn’t hurt that they just added Pacquaio, hence strengthening their own position and weakening ESPN’s (at least when it comes to someone who drives ratings).
But that is just right now. The King is Dead, and it feels like the Wild West, with “prospectors” snatching up land and staking their claims to riches. And even though their roster severely deteriorated in recent years, HBO leaves behind/will be leaving behind a number of intriguing free agents that I’m sure the Big Three are salivating over, most notably:
3) Jaime Munguia
4) Dimitry Bivol
5) Roman Gonzalez
6) Juan Francisco Estrada
Kovalev appears to have already been scooped by ESPN, Rungvisai appears to have settled in with One Championship in Asia, and Linares’s last two fights have been on platforms other than HBO, so these six names strike me as the biggest free agents remaining from the HBO fallout.
Do you have any feelings (or inside scoops) about where these free agents might end up? And in two years from now, when ESPN and DAZN have more fully established their boxing products and all these parties are deep into their deals, who do you forecast leading the way in boxing now that HBO is no longer a player? Curious as always to hear your thoughts. – Doug
There’s a chance that we won’t have a clear leader among boxing-friendly platforms two years from now, Dougie, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Competition can be a very good for the sport, as you’ll learn if you read the cover story to the January 2019 issue of The Ring (currently in the works) penned by Fistianados podcast host Evan Rutkowski.
However, if I have to predict an industry “leader” two years from now, I have to go with the network or streaming platform that has a contract with the undisputed heavyweight champion. Of course, that won’t happen until Anthony Joshua faces the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury winner. But if that showdown does happen in the next 18 months, either Showtime (which is tied to Wilder) or DAZN (where AJ’s fights are viewed in the U.S.) will be getting huge push up the totem pole. (If Fury somehow manages to beat both Wilder and Joshua, he would likely remain a free agent, or retire, or … you know what? Who really knows with the ‘Gypsy King’? We’ll cross that bridge if we ever get there.) IF the platform tied to the undisputed heavyweight champ also happens to have a contract with Canelo Alvarez, the biggest North American attraction and a top money-maker, well… we’re probably looking at the new “HBO,” or “the Heart & Soul of Boxing” for at least the first half of the 2020s.
As of now, Alvarez, like his chief rival GGG, is a free agent. His promoter, Golden Boy, is talking with several networks and platforms (some of which may not have a history with boxing). I don’t have any direct information on the situation, which, like most boxing negotiations, is in constant flux, but DAZN and Showtime are the likely frontrunners. I’m certain that wherever Canelo goes, most of (if not all) GBP’s stable will follow. Showtime makes sense because they’ve got a past relationship with Canelo, they’re veterans in the PPV business (which is the Mexican star’s preferred primary platform), they’ve got plenty of viable challengers for Alvarez with the PBC stable, and they’ve got the ShoBox series, which would be beneficial to L.A.-based promoter’s mostly young-and-still-developing stable of fighters. However, there’s no telling if Al Haymon will be comfortable with that much competition for Showtime’s budget and TV dates. (The good folks at Showtime don’t want to alienate their main boxing provider and encourage him to move his talent over to FOX.) DAZN makes sense because they need another bona-fide star (next to AJ) to attract subscriptions, more American boxers and fight cards on their OTT platform, plus they’ve got limitless “dates” and arguably the largest annual budget to pay for an expanded talent pool for their venture into the U.S. market.
ESPN could be a player for Canelo and the GBP stable, but they’re committed to Top Rank, which has a big roster, and Bob Arum generally doesn’t get along with his former stars-turned-promoters. Still, even without a heavyweight champ and Canelo, ESPN (and ESPN+) could evolve into the top boxing network in the U.S. due to their powerful brand, nationwide “reach” (and I’m not just talking about households, but bars, hotels, airports, fitness centers, gas stations, etc.), Top Rank talent (Vasiliy Lomachenko, Terence Crawford, Jose Ramirez, as well as budding standouts, such as Teofimo Lopez and Shakur Stevenson) and, of course, the acquisition of key free agents (mainly Golovkin).
And we’ll have to see what happens with FOX, which has the widest reach of all the networks and platforms involved in boxing. If the right PBC talent is showcased and put into the right fights on that network, Haymon could finally create a bona-fide U.S. star.
Do you have any feelings (or inside scoops) about where these free agents might end up? I think Canelo is going to wind up with the network or platform that is willing to support and develop the rest of the Golden Boy stable, much of which is between 20-23 years old and in need of a lot of activity. Where Golovkin goes depends on who he decides to fight next (if he goes for Ryota Murata it will be ESPN, if he chooses Jermall Charlo it will be Showtime or FOX, if Danny Jacobs beats Sergey Derevyanchenko and is game for a rematch, the Kazakhstani hero will land on DAZN), and it might be a one-shot deal wherever he lands. At this stage of his career, it may be best for GGG to remain a free agent (which would make a third fight with Canelo easier to make). Chocolatito (along with the “SuperFly” series) could land on ESPN or DAZN (both platforms do business 115-pound standouts that would fit well with that franchise). Munguia (and other Zanfer standouts, such as Estrada and WBC 130-pound titleholder Miguel Berchelt) will likely work a deal out with ESPN and Top Rank. Bivol will likely go where most of his fellow 175-pound titleholders reside – Showtime/FOX (if Stevenson beats Gvozdyk and Alvarez beats Kovalev again), DAZN (for Beterbiev), ESPN (if Gvozdyk wins), etc.
Hey Doug. How are you?
Haven’t been watching too much boxing recently as I have unsuscribed to most of the classic channels while things get sorted out. I can see all the things HBO’s departure from the business of boxing is bringing and can only think one thing: it’s positive!
Manny Pacquiao in the PBC is one of my favorite moves yet. Pacman vs Porter, Garcia or Broner are certainly doable and are very good matchups. As long as he’s favored he’ll do it, so I don’t think Spence or Thurman are fights that will happen, and honestly, I don’t care. I’d rather see good competitive fights than a legend being crushed by a younger hungrier lion.
Which fight’s do you think will happen before the inevitable rematch with Floid M? Thanks! – Juan Valverde
I have no idea, Juan. My guess is that they put Pac in with one PBC player (probably Broner since he moves the needle the most, is beatable but also a marketable opponent for Mayweather should he win) and then get to the business of making #MayPac2. If Pac wants to remain active after the “Money Grab” sequel, then I can see him take on the other names of the Haymon stable (such as Mikey and Danny Garcia).
I can see all the things HBO’s departure from the business of boxing is bringing and can only think one thing: it’s positive! It could very well be. As I mentioned in the previous email response, the cover story to the next edition of The Ring (the January 2019 issue) will examine how the dedicated involvement of ESPN, Showtime, FOX and DAZN in boxing will likely benefit the quality of the fights we see on those platforms and the overall health of the sport (particularly in the U.S.)
Manny Pacquiao in the PBC is one of my favorite moves yet. I hate to be a “hater,” but I just don’t get how fans are still excited about the future first-ballot-hall-of-famer from the Philippines. However, that’s just me. I’m not mad at the Pac-fanatics. Bless you all, especially the soon-to-be-10-year-old senator.
Pacman vs Porter, Garcia or Broner are certainly doable and are very good matchups. All three would likely make for entertaining fights, which I’m all for. I think Porter does a much better job on the veteran than the awkwardly rugged Jeff Horn did, and Garcia (if you’re talking about Mikey) pulls a JMM IV on the “old man.” I can see Pac beating Broner on experience and footwork but if he and his team think it will be as easy as it was with the faded Lucas Matthysse they’re in for a rude awakening.
As long as he’s favored he’ll do it, so I don’t think Spence or Thurman are fights that will happen, and honestly, I don’t care. I’d rather see good competitive fights than a legend being crushed by a younger hungrier lion. Same here. I think even the semi-retired version of Thurman could make Pac look his age, and Spence would probably put him in the hospital.
GLAMOR DIVISIONS AND THE WBSS
Hope all is well. A few questions, do you think boxing fans could ever get a WBSS style tournament in the glamour divisions (welter, middle and heavyweight)? Granted this past weekend contests were a bit underwhelming, but in general I think most fans have enjoy the tournament. What would it take to pull that off? Even if you just have top contenders, wouldn’t a tournament in those divisions bring more spotlight onto the sport (especially if the good heavyweights are involved)? – D.W. from Boston, Ma
Of course, it would be awesome if boxing’s glamor divisions – heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight, even light heavyweight and junior middleweight – were involved in the WBSS or something like it; that would basically make our whacky business behave like a real professional sport.
It might be possible if enough standout fighters are under one promotional banner (such as the PBC) and/or network/platform (such as Showtime or FOX), but the top talent would have to be willing. I don’t see that happening with the elite welterweights (many of which are part of the PBC/Showtime “league”) but I can envision something like that with most of Haymon’s 154-pound players (Hurd, Charlo, Lara, J-Rock, Trout, etc.)
There’s too much money involved with heavyweights and middleweights. The two biggest stars in boxing – Joshua and Canelo – already have most of the belts and don’t need to prove themselves in a tournament. Bottom line, they’re in the lofty position to pick and choose who they defend their titles against. The only way I see a heavyweight or middleweight WBSS tournament is if the prospects of those divisions are involved. With welterweight, it could be higher-level fighters
but even lover-top-10 contenders that are in mandatory challenger positions with the sanctioning bodies (such as Ugas and Kavaliauskas) would likely hold off on signing up for a tournament. It would have to be former beltholders such as Jeff Horn, Jessie Vargas, Sergey Lipinets; fringe contenders like Thomas Dulorme, “Chia” Santana and our man Chris van Heerden.
They’d have to be hungry and unattached or affiliated with a flexible promoter/platform.
However, I’d like to state that I like that the WBSS is shining a light on overlooked weight classes and helping to create true world champions/potential stars in these divisions. And I’d be happy to see junior flyweight, junior featherweight and junior lightweight showcased in season three of the tournament series.
THE BOMBER’S PED COMMENTS
Hi Doug –
I’ve been enjoying your even-handedness in assessing fighters and “PEDs” (in quotes because the line between pharmaceuticals and steroids is blurred beyond recognition to fans like me), and I only wish that Tony Bellew would employ some of it. I’m a fan of Canelo and BJS both, and also a fan of Bellew.
“The Bomber” has harsh words for guys like Povetkin and Canelo, but lets BJS completely off the hook, because he says he knows him personally. That’s not good enough, and only adds fuel to the ever-growing tribalism we see that is eroding society as we know it. Some of my favorite fighters have tested positive over the years (James Toney), and some of my least favorite fighters have as well (Frans Botha, Jameel McCline), but we can’t decide their fate based on how much we like or dislike them personally.
Lastly, we have heard from Mia St. John and Jameel McCline and how they admit to having used PEDs during their careers. I think these two believe they are immune to consequences since they are both retired, but if I were an opponent who was badly beaten by either fighter, would that admission be enough to pursue legal action against them, even if only in a civil suit? It seems to me they are looking to profit from these “tell-all” admissions. I find it lowly and beneath the dignity of anyone’s chosen profession. Thanks Doug! – Gabe
I don’t think St. John or McCline are trying to profit from the interviews they’ve conducted. They’re not “lowly” or “undignified” people. They both intelligent individuals with their own codes of honor who are being honest about their past conduct while trying to educate the media and the public about a very serious problem in boxing (and other sports). You make a good point about their former opponents pursuing legal action. Maybe that’s why most retired combat sports athletes that used PEDs during their careers keep their mouths shut about it.
“The Bomber” has harsh words for guys like Povetkin and Canelo, but lets BJS completely off the hook, because he says he knows him personally. That’s how Bellew rolls. He’s very passionate and opinionated and calls things the way he sees them. That’s doesn’t mean he’s fair or balanced, and he doesn’t have to be. He’s not a professional journalist. He’s a prize fighter who’s entitled to his opinion, just like the fans. However, he should realize that his public condemnation of Povetkin and Canelo helped create the current climate in boxing where testing positive for a banned substance automatically equals being “guilty of cheating.” And now it’s his friend who is being condemned.
Email Fischer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer and on Persicope.
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