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BOXED OUT: Boxing Boss Ross Greenburg Exiting HBO

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For the last few years, HBO Sport’s president Ross Greenburg has done a lot of countering off the ropes, as fightwriters and industry powers have launched harsh criticism at the man who had final say over what boxing fight fans saw on HBO and HBO pay per view.

It became official on Sunday, after word leaked out Friday, via a BoxingScene.com piece by Lem Satterfield and Rick Reeno, that Greenburg is done fighting. He is leaving HBO, on his terms, he says, and is not being fired, as is the rumor du jour.

Greenburg, who has been with HBO since 1978, and took over in his current role from Seth Abraham in 2000, told the NY Times he “accomplished everything I hoped for. It was getting to the point where I wasn’t enjoying myself. Boxing taking up too much of my time.”

He certainly did not hope for what went down earlier in the year, when he lost the services of Manny Pacquiao, a pay per view golden goose, to rival Showtime.

Writer Thomas Hauser has been hammering away at what he deems the sad, diminishing state of affairs in the HBO boxing sphere annually, and in May, he floated a scenario that had Greenburg being ushered out the door by higher ups who weren’t pleased that viewership wasn’t as robust as the payouts going to iffy talent. The story was denied, heatedly by some, at HBO, but it looks like Hauser’s call was on target, overall.

Greenburg had a solid run at the cabler; he didn’t take heat or get flak from he fightwriter fraternity when Mike Tyson was reigning in the late 80s, and he was executive producer, and Abraham was a senior VP, above him.

Greenburg got Abraham’s chair in September 2000. At the time, he said, “The No. 1 priority for me is to maintain our pre-eminent position in boxing. We’ve had that ever since the late ’70s and we want to keep it that way.” And that position stayed where it was, with HBO letting Lennox Lewis, and Oscar De La Hoya and Roy Jones pull the moneytrain. As of 2003, Greenburg was seemingly enjoying the ride.

“The most enduring characteristic of HBO Sports is our tradition of boxing excellence,” he said  in February of that year,” while touting their 12 part documentary series “Legendary Nights.” But at some point, the nights became less legendary. Sure, there were epic tussles, when the majesty of the sport was on full display,  like Gatti-Ward I in May 2002. But with a decline in the marquee value of the heavyweight division came more hits to the HBO boxing armor. Vitali Klitschko fighting Danny Williams, those sorts of cruddy matchups were offered more frequently to subscribers.

Greenburg,  at the end of 2005, promised more. HBO, he said,  would be “stiff in our opponent approval in the coming years” and “these fighters have got to start thinking long-term.” But the flurries at Greenburg increased. “Boxing has changed. Promoters are being eliminated because the network is eliminating us. They are putting promoters out of business because they [HBO] are the promoters,” Don King said in January 2006. The following January, Greenburg was again promising to put the clamp down on promoters and managers who were impediments to making, he said, the best matches that were to be made. Also, he said, looking ahead there would be fewer pay per views, fewer fringe PPV shows which hurt the growth of the sport. Fans perceived that his goal wasn’t achieved.

By the summer of 2007, Greenburg wore some damage from media abuse. Hauser laced into him for mismanaging the demotion of Larry Merchant, and Merchant went public with what he viewed as shoddy treatment at the hands of Greenburg who he said tried to punt him out the door. The following summer, Greenburg was in the news, and not for the right reasons, to crow about sterling ratings or a PPV success. This time, HBO fighter Floyd Mayweather, who announced his retirement,  accused the HBO announce team of being racially biased. Greenburg was forced to respond: “Floyd is a tremendous athlete who gave his all to the sport,” Greenburg said in a statement. “We have nothing but admiration for what he accomplished in the ring. His remarks regarding HBO broadcasters and executives are unfortunate and we could not disagree more. We will not engage in a debate. We are very disappointed in hearing about this. We wish him well in retirement.” Greenburg didn’t drop the ball, really, but again, his superiors would have rather been hearing about the next great PPV attraction, the next transcendent talent, instead of juvenile squabbles.

But things looked a bit brighter when Manny Pacquiao started to get traction as something beyond a fightfan favorite. A scrap between him and Floyd Mayweather had everyone in the game gleeful, fans and suits. But Greenburg couldn’t get that no brainer to fruition. Of course, there is ample blame to go around on that front. By all accounts, he tried like the dickens to get the match made. But for two years, he couldn’t, and that more than anything might have paved the way to this exit.

If that match was made, it is likely that material that Hauser put out there in September 2009, on SecondsOut.com, would not have stung like it did.  “The problem,” one source says, “is that any plan Ross puts forward will be met with skepticism because, when it comes to boxing, his biggest initiatives have failed. His plan to hitch HBO’s wagon to Golden Boy and the Golden Boy output deal have been a disaster. And the idea of anointing Victor Ortiz, Alfredo Angulo, James Kirkland, Robert Guerrero, and Chris Arreola as HBO’s stars of the future doesn’t look so good.”

The faceoff between the sports’ two premier talents would’ve made it less likely that criticism from the Hauser pen would’ve stung to the degree it did. A June 2010 piece delved into perceived overpayment by HBO for fights that seemingly were worth in the open market a fraction of what was paid by the cabler. Then a month later Greenburg found himself in the middle of an idiotic he said-he said beef, as Floyd Mayweather’s advisor Leonard Ellerbe was quoted as saying no negotiations for a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight had taken place. Greenburg had to release a statement to the contrary, and by association, he looked that much smaller.

Hauser’s “holiday card” then came out in November 2010. Quotes like this one from Bob Arum trickled down, or up, to people above Greenburg. “It’s idiotic to throw money at unproven fighters to fight second-rate opponents,” said Bob Arum to Hauser. “But that’s what HBO does, and then they’re surprised when they can’t make the fights they want. They’ve created a totally artificial market based entirely on how much money Ross and Kery [HBO senior vice president for sports programming Kery Davis] are willing to pay for a fight.”

Then, this January, Greenburg absorbed what might have been the fatal blow, the shot that lead to his exit. CBS and Showtime outbid HBO for the  Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley fight. Hauser detailed the hows and whys of that deal, and one nugget in particular made Greenburg look out of touch, too distant, not attuned to the political necessities of the deal. Promoter Arum, Hauser said, was said to be miffed that Greenburg didn’t fly to a memorial for the promoter’s son, John, who died last August while hiking.

It looked like all that punishment took a toll on Greenburg in May, when Hauser wrote a story for BoxingScene.com that said Greenburg was being replaced by a Yahoo exec, Ross Levinsohn. The writer backtracked when Levinsohn stayed on with Yahoo, but the story had more than a whiff of truth to it, considering that Hauser’s sources within HBO are varied and deep.

In situations such as this one, many times a longstanding employee will be given the courtesy of stating publicly that the choice to leave was made by them, that nobody showed them the door. Greenburg on Sunday called several sports media columnists, and told them he was leaving on his own accord. Cynics and those that see themselves as realists are disputing his version of events in grapevine chatter.

That may all be immaterial for fight fans, who would simply like HBO, the most prominent buyer and broadcaster of boxing,  to show stellar fights, as often as possible. They don’t care if Ross Greenburg, or John Smith,  is the one in charge of making that happen. As a fight fan, I have to hope that any change is for the better, for the greater good of a sport that deserves it.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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