By Ivan G. Goldman
HBO says five fighters competing under its banner are fighting each other just like the old days when Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Wilfred Benitez mixed and matched in bouts across different years and weight divisions. But there’s a flaw in this claim. In fact, it’s about as lame as a broken-down cruise ship.
The five modern counterparts named in an article that came out Friday on the HBO website are Timothy Bradley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios, and of course Manny Pacquiao. “Five men, fighting each other,” the article declares, “and creating epic battles and unforgettable moments along the way. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?”
But the five warriors who made their mark in the 70s and 80s were the best out there. Although there were halts and missteps and troubled negotiations before many of their epic battles, none of the fighters were cut off from other top-of-the-line fighters through network or promotional obligations.
The five active fighters named — all talented and well worth watching — are separated by barbed wire entanglements and a no man’s land from bouts against another talented group that includes Devon Alexander, Canelo Alvarez, Adrien Broner, Robert Guerrero, Amir Khan, Paulie Malignaggi, Lamont Peterson, and Number One pound for pound Floyd “Money” Mayweather. Members of this second group have ties — with some contracts more iron-clad than others — to the Showtime network and Golden Boy Promotions.
The great split screws up other weight divisions too, not just welterweight territory. Abner Mares and Guillermo Rigondeaux is a match made in heaven and prevented by foolishness.
Very much a part of this warlike mentality on the business end of the sport is secretive Al Haymon, the most powerful manager in the sport. Haymon barely speaks to the media, is rarely caught on camera, and leans heavily toward Showtime and Golden Boy.
HBO has made the divide official. Its sports director Ken Hershman, smarting over the loss of Mayweather to Showtime, says his network won’t do business with Golden Boy.
“In order to achieve our goal of the best fighters in the most compelling match-ups, we’ve decided to focus our efforts and resources on those strategic relationships where we better share common goals and business philosophies,” said Hershman’s formal statement last March. Sounds thoughtful. Too bad it makes no sense.
Hershman may be even more upset at losing Canelo than Mayweather. After all, Floyd is 36. The extraordinarily popular Canelo, only 22, is the future. Meanwhile Showtime sports impresario StephenEspinoza and Bob Arum of Top Rank aren’t even on speaking terms. Arum is, of course, aligned with HBO, which means his fighters are too.
The blame for this stupid business-of-boxing war can’t all be heaped on Hershman and HBO. The rivalry is a two-way street, and the facts were already on the ground. Hershman just made them official. Still, you’d think that a network would at least pay lip service to trying to put on the best possible fights.
Both sides in this trench warfare can crow all they like about how great the fighters are on their side of the line. What they’re doing is ignoring the facts. The best can’t always fight the best because personal rivalries among non-fighters are hardening into cement through actual contractual language. This is crazy.
It’s bad for fans, bad for fighters, bad for boxing.
Ivan G. Goldman’s critically acclaimed novel Isaac: A Modern Fable came out in April 2012 from Permanent Press. Information HERE