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HBO Boxing Looks Back With Pride At A Year of Transition

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It’s time to take pause, and ponder. The four titans of the industry, HBO, Top Rank, Showtime and Golden Boy went their separate ways, and decided nine months ago to divide, and conquer.

HBO set the so-called Cold War in motion, deciding that Floyd’s ask was too grand, and that they’d rather not pay such a hefty price to roll the dice for a fighter closer to 40 than 30, even one as majestically talented as maestro Mayweather. They chose not to match the Showtime buy-in, so they bid adieu to the talents and services and pay-per-view potential of the greatest fighter of his era. One might have figured they’d be quaking, or at the very least, their braintrust would be needing the odd Ambien or two to facilitate the shutdown of brain churning, as they lay awake, pondering what their identity would be. No more Floyd, no more business with Golden Boy, and by extension, minimal interaction with uber advisor Al Haymon.

To get some clarity on the subject, I headed over to HBO headquarters in Manhattan, where ex Showtime boss Ken Hershman steers the ship, and chatted with Mark Taffet, the PPV guru now in his 20th year at the cabler. Hershman was busy dealmaking, crafting the first quarter 2014 calendar, and the foundation of the year-long slate for his crew, so I listened to Taffet synopsize the eventful year, and peppered him with some queries, looking to get some intel on what’s next for the wrecking crew they are building around, in this post Floyd period.

First off, my overall takeaway perception: I didn’t get the sense that I was being spun, as Taffet, who can be a persuasive salesman, in a decidedly low-key manner, told me that this was “one of the most exhilarating, exciting, rewarding years” he’s had at HBO. “There’s been a lot of adrenaline flowing.”

Understandable, given that Mayweather jumped ship (was helped to disembark, maybe Team HBO would put it?) in February, and gleefully signed a six-fight megadeal with the Stephen Espinoza-led Showtime, for $250 million. Yep, I dare say adrenaline flowed when HBO in March filed divorce papers, and stated they’d no longer buy bouts from Richard Schaefers’ Golden Boy, because, after all, a re-invention would be necessitated. But, to hear Taffet describe it, it was adrenaline, it wasn’t the stress hormone cortisol which flooded their collective system post split. His evidence: just look at the top 25 bouts on cable TV this year. HBO presented 21 of them. The Miguel Cotto-Delvin Rodriguez bout on Oct. 5 drew 1.6 million eyeballs, with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (vs. Brian Vera on 9-28), Gennady Golovkin (vs. Curtis Stevens last month), and then” Mr. HBO” Adrien Broner (vs. Gavin Rees in February) just behind the Puerto Rican drawing card.

The shift in strategy, away from Floyd, and the focus on pay-per-view, he said, has been a revitalizer for HBO, because fight fans now get to see more must-see hitters on the regular channel. HBO did just two PPVs, featuring Manny Pacquiao, and the Juan Manuel Marquez-Tim Bradley tussle. They aren’t out of the business, Taffet said, but he seemed to be content with that number.

“Pay per view events are primarily an opportunity to reach a general audience which occasionally looks at boxing,” he said. That windfall primarily goes to the fighter, in the boxing realm, as opposed to the MMA realm, so, the message in between the lines was, it’s not like PPV is making boatloads of cash for the parent company when so much of it is diverted to the talent (and let’s not forget the cut going to the cable companies which offer the staging platforms.) I was reminded at this meeting that HBO heard similar sort of talk when Mike Tyson took his talents to Showtime, in 1991, and it forced them to work harder and smarter.

(I also got the sense there is, perhaps, in some circles at HBO, a degree of respectful skepticism about the ability of Team Showtime to continue the momentum woven during the Mayweather-Canelo promotion, which did a record $150 million in PPV revenue. I never pretend to be a master predictor, so I won’t even guess how a Mayweather vs. Amir Khan fight would do, but I will say I won’t demean the skillfulness at the promoters in these big leagues at whetting appetites for matches that some deride as sub-premium. I actually think Khan’s speed, combined with his iffy chin, makes for a more fun fight than the last two Mayweather scraps, so there.)

Listen, contrary to what the wife occasionally tells me when I put a red shirt in with whites in the wash and turn everything pink, I’m no fool. I get it that any entity is going to put that best foot, freshly manicured with painted nails, forward. It’s not like Team HBO is purely euphoric all the time post-Floyd. The man did generate 9.6 million buys and $543 million in television revenue, in nine PPV appearances on HBO. And he has looked as good, or maybe better, than ever in his last two scraps. And Showtime has surged in buzz, and they love their year over year numbers. Showtime Championship Boxing is up 24 percent in 2013 and 64 percent since 2011.

Maybe the lesson, or part of it, anyway, is that this so called cold war hasn’t been all bad for the fan, for the consumer. The titans are all battling hard to be the best, and yes, the rivalry sometimes veers toward the bitter. You get the sense that a Bob Arum-Richard Schaefer rumble wouldn’t look out of place as a curtain jerker on a Floyd PPV…

But from that consumer perspective, I dare say we can all agree that it hasn’t been a bad thing for HBO to be in that revision mode, which meant they put energy and funds into building up some fighters that we all can agree are fun to watch. Gennady Golovkin is top three in the pound for pound buzz category, and but of course you know I gave Taffet the third degree on when and if we will get that light heavyweight showdown we are craving, between Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson. “We are in conversations,” is all he would really say about where that bout stands. “It’s a fight every fan wants to see, and we have to talk to the fighters and promoters.”

Fans are curious to know if HBO might televise the next Golovkin scrap, Feb. 1 in Monaco against Osumanu Adama. “Right now, we’re not planning to show that,” Taffet said. The time difference would make such a choice harder, as it’s no slam dunk to spend dough on an overseas fight, when the location is in a time zone six hours ahead of EST, is my sense. I think Golovkin back on HBO in April is a better bet, fans.

You have to get the sense that HBO is casting their lot more so with traders and rumblers than cuties. It’s not like cuties and slickies and technicians can’t do numbers, but apart from Broner, who drew eyeballs as much probably for his personality as anything, and Bernard Hopkins, all the more popular principals in the top ten most watched bouts on cable this year were more so punchers than sweet scientists. So, if HBO continues that course, that could spell doom for a Guillermo Rigondeaux, whose fight with Joseph Agebko wasn’t universally embraced by the craver of trading. When I asked Taffet about Rigo’s future on HBO, he replied, “We’re going to listen to the fans. That’s going to be the watchword for us going into 2014.”

Speaking of listening to the fans, I’ve been a vocal proponent for many moons of packing cards, from top to bottom, with compelling matches. Resume builder squashes, especially on PPVs, always irk me, as a consumer. I asked Taffet about that, in context of the undercard of Pacquiao’s Macau appearance. “We listen to the fans, the fans have said they want value,” he answered, “in the main event and the supporting fights. Top Rank understands that.”

One thing that was clarified for me as I sat at HBO, I was under the assumption that it often takes about ten years for a fighter to get to a place where they can really reap the rewards of their name recognition. Cotto, Chavez Jr., Bradley, these guys are now at a place where their years of toil have resulted in solid name recognition. But I was surprised at the Golovkins, Broners, Stevensons, Kovalevs, and Provodnikovs topping the top ten most watched list. I do think the supporting programming, the 2 Days, the Faceoffs, etc., really helped accelerate the popularity growth of these guys, and resulted in HBO having a better year than many folks might have assumed back in February or March. Also, I was told, appetite for that support programming is growing nicely among millenials, which is a good thing for people who want to see the sport they appreciate continue to thrive.

That’s me, and that’s you. We want boxing to flourish. Looking forward, a lot of us will be clamoring the “give peace a chance” carol, and advocating for the titans to kiss and make up, or at least, shelve the animus long enough to make those handful of fights we all want, which can only happen if the Godzillas work together. As my sense is that isn’t happening in the near future, perhaps it’s best we wrap our brains around the dynamic as it presently exists. And as it presently exists, in my mind, Showtime has lifted their game, and is presenting some compelling programming, and HBO has pivoted skillfully in this year of transition, befitting their veteran status, with a 40 year history in the space, and proven that no Floyd by no means means their relevance is reduced.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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