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HBO Outshines Showtime (At Least For Now)

By Sean Crose

It’s funny how things can change. Six months ago, Showtime was the toast of the boxing world – and with good reason. For the cable network was providing fans with a great broadcast team, the biggest names in the sport, and terrific matchups.

Showtime’s competitor, HBO, in comparison, looked like a wilting rose. It had lost Floyd Mayweather, it had terminated it’s working relationship with Golden Boy Promotions, and the popular belief was that it’s boxing division had nothing to show that was worth watching anymore.

Again, it’s funny how things can change.

For the last few months have shown HBO playing the hand it was dealt expertly. It took some of the few big names it had and matched them up against each other. When you produce fights like Juan Manuel Marquez versus Mike Alvarado or Terrence Crawford versus Yuriorkis Gamboa, people are going to watch.

In an era where cable-worthy bouts were now costing fans an arm and a leg to see on Pay Per View, HBO came up with the earth shattering concept of keeping cable-worthy bouts on cable. You didn’t need a marketing degree from Dartmouth’s Tuck School to figure out that would prove to be a winning strategy, but the gang at Showtime couldn’t seem to grasp the concept.

Indeed, after capping off a winning 2013 with the brilliant Marcos Maidana versus Adrien Broner card last December, Showtime seemed to have suddenly developed an acute case of Haymonitis. A condition of unexplained origin, Haymonitis leads the sufferer to believe fans don’t care who their favorite boxers fight, so long as they get to see those boxers in the ring.

Many feel the condition originated in the mind of super-adviser Al Haymon, but there’s no proof of that being true, at least not at the moment. There is proof, however, that Haymonitis has led Showtime away from the warm embrace of boxing’s fanbase.

The ratings for at least some of Showtime’s recent outings, after all, have been arguably sub-par. It’s not difficult to see why. Light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, for instance, is a man who left HBO for Showtime, only to see the number of fans who watch his fights drop.

Stevenson is a tough mug, no doubt, but the popular belief is that he went to Showtime in order to avoid HBO power puncher Sergey Kovalev. Whether Stevenson truly avoided Kovalev or not is irrelevant. The truth is that HBO would have had Stevenson and Kovalev fight. Showtime, meanwhile, ended up tossing Stevenson in the ring against the virtually unknown Andrzej Fonfara.

Now Showtime will most likely have Stevenson fight the great but aging Bernard Hopkins. It will be a big, relevant fight, true, but it’s doubtful fans will be overly interested in the matchup. For Stevenson is now viewed by many as a man who’s afraid to fight a dangerous competitor.

And he’s all Showtime’s.

Yet Stevenson has proven to be the least of Showtime’s problems. Just a few short days ago it was announced that Showtime star Danny Garcia would be facing – wait for it – an opponent from a lower weight class. That’s wasn’t all, though. For this opponent, one Rod Salka, was shown to not even be a top ranked contender. To say fans were disgusted by the announcement of the matchup might well be an understatement.

Showtime boxing honcho Stephen Espinoza bravely tried to fend off the subsequent blistering criticism his network received on Twitter, but it was to no avail. Untreated Haymonitis had left his company rightly vulnerable to such a relentless attack. Meanwhile, HBO was treating the world to the Yuriorkis Gamboa-Terrence Crawford bout, a fight of the year contender between two top athletes.

It was clear who was now winning cable television’s superbout.

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