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HBO Pushing Hard To Impress With Fall Season

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I plead guilty, your honor.

I spend too much time pondering, at times worrying about the state of the sport, about the fights we don’t see, the stars I fear aren’t going to be present to lead the way when the Mayweathers and Pacquiaos exit the stage, the nichification of the sport to which, I must remind myself frequently, all others aspire to.

I will state, for the record, that I’ve been doing less public and solitary kvetching of late, though, because the sport is doing what it does tend to do, decade after decade. The sport is replenishing itself, and athletes are doing what the best of them do: elevating themselves, performing at a level and with such drama that they demand our attention.

I was reminded of many of the positive aspects of the sport, and the athletes, and the programming options available to such shameless addicts of the savage art and science of pugilism on Thursday, when I visited HBO headquarters, and chatted with some of the boxing brain-trust there. I got some intel on their upcoming slate, which they are referring to as their “Fall Season,” and I left the building intrigued by the cablers’ year-end push, and impressed with the commitment to larger blocks of content, and value, they are offering.

While I am in confession mode, I will also admit found myself thinking of that Tony Soprano line, referring to his ever-dubious mother, Livia: “Livia is like the woman with a Virginia ham under each arm, crying ’cause she hasn’t got any bread.” That popped up when I picked up on the move towards bundling some of the 24/7s, Face Offs and 2 Days with live fights, and “forcing” me to stay up past a wise bed-time, or succumb to the temptation to DVR, for the next day. Yeah, I was feeling bad for myself because I don’t have the stamina I used to. Cry me a river, Woods…

HBO is kicking off this “Fall Season” on Saturday, Sept. 28. Julio Chavez Jr. gets back on the bus against a journeyman seeking to bury his “Friday Night Fights” tag, Bryan Vera.

One of those new brigade of bombers which HBO is making more of a push to feature, yes, perhaps at the expense of some of those pugilist-specialists who aren’t as likely to manufacture a SportsCenter highlight (cough cough Rigo), will also appear, Haitian-born Canadian Adonis Stevenson (21-1 with 18 KOs). The light heavy is in against Tavoris Cloud (24-1), who is in a semi-crossroads fight, after dropping a UD to Bernard Hopkins in March. And then fans of the heavyweights get a chance to exult in a heavyweight tangle, pitting basketballer size Tyson Fury (21-0) against David Haye (26-2), who always draws numbers, most of them eyeballs belonging to people hoping his foe will shut his cocky puss. The fights will unfold in CA, and Montreal and England, which tells me the company is, I could argue, perhaps somewhat re-energized, looking to hustle that much harder to go where they need to go to snag solid fights.

Do I love the slotting of Vera in against Junior? I don’t…but as was pointed out, Junior has been off a long time, a year come fight night, so if he’s got a coat of rust on him, 23-6 Vera could well be right there with the 46-1 son of the legend. As a fan, I’m hoping that Vera pleasantly surprises me.

I will have an extra Pepsi during those bouts, so I can stay up for first installment of the Marquez/Bradley 24/7, which is slated to begin at 12:30 AM, immediately following the three-bout slate. (The promo stuff says Bradley/Marquez, but I got to give a nod to the longevity of the Mexican, and place his name first, sorry for the indulgence.)

HBO comes back strong and hard with another tripleheader on Oct. 5, with old fan fave Miguel Cotto (37-4; 32 years old, one could argue perhaps an “old” 32) coming back to his old stomping grounds after dating Showtime for a spell. Some fans are thinking his opponent, Delvin Rodriguez (28-6-3), isn’t of the caliber to give Cotto a workout, but along the lines of the Vera choice, I suspect Rodriguez will be as amped for a fight as he ever has been. Sometimes, you give a “lesser” light a chance, and you get magic, because that “lesser” grade boxer gives the performance of a lifetime, as they are so eager to get to the next level. (See, Provodnikov, Ruslan). By the way, I do get thee sense that HBO is on board with a Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez tangle early next year. I’d like your thoughts, readers, on what you think of that pairing, in our Forum.

Nebraska’s top boxer, Terence Crawford (21-0), gets another crack on air, against Andrey Klimov (16-0), in a battle of unbeaten lightweights. And to satisfy the vocal souls who have bemoaned the lack of Klitschkos on HBO, the Wladimir Klitschko-Alexander Povetkin scrap will be shown, in an afternoon telecast, from Moscow. I could see Klitschko (60-3) showing more of a beast mode, trying to prove that the 26-0 Povetkin isn’t actually all that different, skills-wise, than the parade of lessers little brother has been hammering since he last lost, in 2004, to Lamon Brewster. The second Marquez-Bradley 24/7 will unspool after the bouts. The orgy of content continues with Max Kellerman’s “Face-Off” placing 34-1 Mike Alvarado and Ruslan Provodnikov (22-2) in close quarters. That we are seeing a “Face-Off” on a non-PPV fight is, again, a signal that a quest to provide greater value to fight fans is an HBO imperative. HBO just started collecting footage for that, I was told. For the record, this is the first time HBO will do live back to back tripleheaders, so read into that what you will, about their commitment to value and degree of competitiveness, what with Showtime stepping up their game, and budget, this year.

You can check out the weigh-in to the Marquez-Bradley event, which is being offered on pay-per-view on Oct. 12, at 6 PM Eastern the day before on HBO. That weigh-in spot will be an hour, not a half hour, as has been recent tradition. By the way, Orlando Salido will battle Orlando Cruz for the vacant WBO featherweight title in Vegas, on the PPV undercard. (Cue the Golden Boy devotees, who think Top Rank could and should dodo a better job stepping up their PPV undercard game lol. As always, I counsel those folks to see how the bouts play out, and reserve your contempt after proper investigation.)

The very next week, a bout that almost definitely promises ebbs and flows of the variety which conjures Fight of the Year chatter, Mike Alvarado-Ruslan Provodnikov, runs from the First Bank Center, in Colorado. Top Rank, the Marquez-Bradley packager, is the promoter. Both fighters were told that Legendary Nights: The Tale of Gatti-Ward will run following their bout, and I am told, both broke into a grin, cognizant of the symbolism and honor involved. You don’t think both Alvarado and Ruslan won’t entertain the notion that they’d like to surpass the immensity of drama found in Gatti-Ward I? After that threequel gets the Legendary treatment, a 2 Days: Mikey Garcia will run. A 1:15 AM start time is the tentative target for that.

Jim Lampley will do his sixth “The Fight Game” on Friday, Oct. 25. Note that will kick off at 8:30 PM; and you can bet Lampley will have an extra bump of adrenaline from having it on primetime. He’ll be able to look back at HBO’s recent run, and also ahead to marquee matchups.

HBO has a date locked in, on Nov. 2. The Bieber faced destroyer Gennady Golovkin (27-0; pictured above in HBO photo, prior to demolition of Matthew Macklin June 29) will meet up with Brownsville badass Curtis Stevens (25-3), himself on a KO run, having dropped and stopped three of his last four foes in round one. Stevens politicked hard and got this gig; will he come to regret that, and ask himself, I should have been careful what I asked for? There is an open slot for another bout on that doubleheader, which will unfold at Madison Square Garden’s Theater. I put on my matchmaker hat, and offered a name: how about Sergey Kovalev glove up on that night, as well? Golovkin, and Kovalev, who impressed with a thorough demolition job on Nathan Cleverly on Aug. 17…The buzz around that card would be ludicrous. The HBO gang was as intrigued by that Golovkin plus Kovalev doubleheader as I was, I dare say. It will be up to Team Kovalev, and promoter Kathy Duva to see if the concept could reach fruition, but since Stevens is a Main Events boxer, it seems a near no brainer.

Kellerman’s Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios “Face-Off” will air following the MSG fights, and I am told, to my relief, that Brandon the Badass appeared in this session. He looked like a happy tourist when he and Manny did their press tour, but his gameface and snarliness, I hear, kicked up in the studio with Manny and Max.

The momentum continues on Saturday, November 9, with 32-0 Mikey Garcia topping a Boxing After Dark. Nonito Donaire (31-2), too, will hop in the ring, in his first fight back after getting the short end against Guillermo Rigondeaux in April. Garcia and Donaire are both up against TBD as of this writing. WBO super feather champ Rocky Martinez, the 27-1 Puerto Rican, is in the mix to meet Garcia.

Donaire’s wife, Rachel, reports to TSS that the boxer is of top grade as a daddy to their baby, Jarel, born on July 16. “The baby is an angel,” she said. “And how is Nonito at changing diapers? He’s real fast at it!” Does she have any idea on who he will fight? “We heard November 9 but an opponent isn’t set because no one wants to fight him at 126. He can’t make 122 anymore.”

Demetrius Andrade gets the chance to up his buzz factor, against Vanes Martirosyan in the night’s TV opener. The Pacquiao-Rios 24/7 kicks off following this tripleheader, Manny-iacs must know. Part two of that documercial runs the following Saturday, Nov. 16. HBO has a date for a fight on Nov. 16, and by process of elimination, it seems like the return of Andre Ward to the ring seems a good bet to headline. It would be a year since he last fought for a fee, as the Oakland resident tore his right shoulder training to fight Kelly Pavlik, and has been rehabbing and getting the rust off since a Jan. 4 surgery. It looked like he had risen to another level, with an offensive extravaganza against Chad Dawson on Sept. 8, 2012 (TKO10) win and it’s a shame he wasn’t able to quickly capitalize on the momentum. I dialed up his promoter, Dan Goossen, to try and get some intel. “By early next week, Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest I should have a handle on Andre’s next fight,” Goossen said. “It would be premature to target any specific date right now.” Dmitri Sartison, a 30-2 Kazahkstani German resident who held the WBA world super middle crown, in 2009-2010, is in the mix to get the Ward comeback slot. Sartison fights tomorrow (Saturday), in Germany, against 38-14-4 Baker Barakat, and Goossen said he will have his eye on that one, and hopes Team HBO will too. Ward has been off for a year, the promoter said, and had a major surgery, so while he doesn’t seek an ESPN level foe for the Ward return, he also wants to factor in the layoff. “Nobody has had to twist Andre’s arm to fight the toughest opponents,” Goossen said in reference to anyone who might be seeking Ward to come back against a top 5 type. “But we have to make sure everything is fine with the shoulder.”

Whoever fills that Nov. 16 dance card, the second episode of Pacquiao/Rios 24/7 will run after the live event.

Anyone reading this likely knows that on Nov. 23, Manny Pacquiao will tell the world if he’s still a top tier fighter, or has been irrevocably altered, by age, and/or by a Juan Manuel Marquez right hand, when he meets Brandon Rios in Macau. Don’t worry yourselves over the time difference–Macau is 13 hours ahead of us EST–and just know that the Top Rank PPV will start at 9 PM, as per usual.

HBO is saving a time block for live fights for Saturday, Nov. 30, a doubleheader. Could Ward appear? Or Kovalev, perhaps? Perhaps. We are likely to get one more live card in December, I was informed.

Readers, talk to me. Thoughts? Are you feeling the HBO push toward adding value? What fights from that Fall Season that I touched on are you most pumped for? What suggestions do you have for some of the open slots? Weigh in, in our Forum!

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Haney-Garcia Redux with the Focus on Harvey Dock

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Saturday’s skirmish between Ryan Garcia and WBC super lightweight champion Devin Haney was a messy affair, and yet a hugely entertaining fight fused with great drama. In the aftermath, Garcia and Haney were celebrated – the former for fooling all the experts and the latter for his gallant performance in a losing effort – but there were only brickbats for the third man in the ring, referee Harvey Dock.

Devin Haney was plainly ahead heading into the seventh frame when there was a sudden turnabout when Garcia put him on the canvas with his vaunted left hook. Moments later, Dock deducted a point from Garcia for a late punch coming out of a break. The deduction forced a temporary cease-fire that gave Haney a few precious seconds to regain his faculties. Before the round was over, Haney was on the deck twice more but these were ruled slips.

The deduction, which effectively negated the knockdown, struck many as too heavy-handed as Dock hadn’t previously issued a warning for this infraction. Moreover, many thought he could have taken a point away from Haney for excessive clinching. As for Haney’s second and third trips to the canvas in round seven, they struck this reporter – watching at home – as borderline, sufficient to give referee Dock the benefit of the doubt.

In a post-fight interview, Ryan Garcia faulted the referee for denying him the satisfaction of a TKO. “At the end of the day, Harvey Dock, I think he was tripping,” said Garcia. “He could have stopped that fight.”

Those that played the rounds proposition, placing their coin on the “under,” undoubtedly felt the same way.

The internet lit up with comments assailing Dock’s competence and/or his character. Some of the ponderings were whimsical, but they were swamped by the scurrilous screeching of dolts who find a conspiracy under every rock.

Stephen A. Smith, reputedly America’s highest-paid TV sports personality, was among those that felt a need to weigh-in: “This referee is absolutely terrible….Unreal! Horrible officiating,” tweeted Stephen A whose primary area of expertise is basketball.

Harvey Dock

Dock fought as an amateur and had one professional fight, winning a four-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at a non-gaming resort in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. He says that as an amateur he was merely average, but he was better than that, a New Jersey and regional amateur champion in 1993 and 1994 while a student New Jersey’s Essex County Community College where he majored in journalism.

A passionate fan of Sugar Ray Leonard, he started officiating amateur fights in 1998 and six years later, at age 32, had his first documented action at the professional level, working low-level cards in New Jersey. The top boxing referees, to a far greater extent than the top judges, had long apprenticeships, having worked their way up from the boonies and Dock is no exception.

Per boxrec, Haney vs Garcia was Harvey Dock’s 364th assignment in the pros and his forty-second world title fight. Some of those title fights were title in name only, they weren’t even main events, but, bit by bit, more lucrative offerings started coming his way.

On May 13, 2023, Dock worked his first fights in Nevada, a 4-rounder and then a 12-rounder on a card at the Cosmopolitan topped by the 140-pound title fight between Rolly Romero and Ismael Barroso. It was the first time that this reporter got to watch Dock in the flesh.

Ironically (in hindsight), the card would be remembered for the actions of a referee, in this case Tony Weeks who handled the main event. Barroso was winning the fight on all three cards when Weeks stepped in and waived it off in the ninth round after Romero cornered Barroso against the ropes and let loose a barrage of punches, none of which landed cleanly. Few “premature stoppages” were ever as garishly, nay ghoulishly, premature.

With all the brickbats raining down on Weeks, I felt a need to tamp down the noise by diverting attention away from Tony Weeks and toward Harvey Dock and took to the TSS Forum to share my thoughts. Referencing the 12-rounder, a robust junior welterweight affair between Batyr Akhmedov and Kenneth Sims Jr, I noted that Dock’s Las Vegas debut went smoothly. He glided effortlessly around the ring, making him inconspicuous, the mark of a good referee. (This post ran on May 15, two days after the fight.)

Folks at the Nevada State Athletic Commission were also paying attention. Dock was back in Las Vegas the following week to referee the lightweight title fight between Devin Haney and Vasyl Lomachenko and before the year was out, he would be tabbed to referee the biggest non-heavyweight fight of the year, the July 29 match in Las Vegas between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr.

The Haney-Garcia fight wasn’t Harvey Dock’s best hour, I’ll concede that, but a closer look at his full body of work informs us that he is an outstanding referee.

While the Haney-Garcia bout was in progress, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman threw everyone a curve ball, tweeting on “X” that Devin Haney would keep his title if he lost the fight. Everyone, including the TV commentators, was under the impression that the title would become vacant in the event that Haney lost.

Sulaiman cited the precedent of Corrales-Castillo II.

FYI: The Corrales-Castillo rematch, originally scheduled for June 3, 2005 and aborted on the day prior when Castillo failed to make weight, finally came off on Oct. 8 of that year, notwithstanding the fact that Castillo failed to make weight once again, scaling three-and-a-half pounds above the lightweight limit. He knocked out Corrales in the fourth round with a left hook that Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole, alluding to the movie “Blazing Saddles,” described as Mongo-esque (translation: the punch would have knocked out a horse). After initially insisting on a rubber match, which had scant chance of happening, WBC president Jose Sulaiman, Mauricio’s late father, ruled that Corrales could keep his title.

Whether or not you agree with Mauricio Sulaiman’s rationale, the timing of his announcement was certainly awkward.

Haney’s mandatory is Spanish southpaw Sandor Martin (42-3, 15 KOs), a cutie best known for his 2021 upset of Mikey Garcia. A bout between Haney and Martin has the earmarks of a dull fight.

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In a Shocker, Ryan Garcia Confounds the Experts and Upsets Devin Haney

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Its good to be crazy. Like a fox.

Ryan “KingRy” Garcia knocked down WBC super lightweight titlist Devin Haney three times to remind everyone of his fighting abilities in winning by majority decision on Saturday.

“I just knew what I could do,” Garcia said.

Fans will not forget the lanky kid from Victorville, California now.

Garcia (25-1, 20 KOs) fooled everyone in playing crazy weeks before the fight, then showed shocking power to hand Haney (30-1, 15 KOs) his first loss as a professional at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Haney’s WBC super lightweight title was not at stake for Garcia because he weighed three pounds over the limit.

After Garcia seemingly acting out of control on social media, Haney’s guard must have slipped in the first round during the first few seconds as Garcia connected with that hellish left hook and Haney, with a look of shock in his eyes, almost went down. He barely survived the first round.

“He caught me with it,” said Haney.

During the next few rounds, Haney proceeded to advance toward Garcia seemingly fully aware of the lethal left hook. He used feints and rights to score with a busier approach as Garcia seemed cocked and ready to counter with a left hook.

In the fourth round it seemed Haney was confident he had regained control of the fight, but every time he opened up with more than a two-punch combination Garcia reminded him whose hands were faster and more dangerous.

Though Garcia seldom jabbed he seemed bent on looking for the right moment to unleash his deadly left hook. And every time the Southern California fighter opened up with a combination he scored and Haney dare not exchange.

A few times Haney smiled as if signifying he escaped.

In the seventh round Haney looked to punish Garcia’s body and instead was met with a three-punch combination included a left hook to the chin and down went Haney slumped on the ground. He managed to beat the count and as soon as Garcia came within reach Haney wrapped his arms around him with a python grip. Despite the warnings by referee Harvey Dock, the fallen fighter would not release and Garcia impatiently fired a weak punch during the break. The referee deducted a point from Garcia though he could have deducted a point from Haney for not obeying his instructions to release his hold. Haney actually went down three times in the round but only one was counted by the referee.

From that point on Haney was very cautious but still looking to win by decision.

Though Garcia kept using a shoulder-roll defense that left his body exposed, he would retaliate with three and four punch combinations that usually Haney could defend against other fighters.. But Garcia’s blazing combinations were too fast to defend.

In the 10th round Haney looked to attack and was countered by Garcia’s right and a blinding left hook to the chin and another two blows that sent the former undisputed lightweight champion to the floor again.

It didn’t look good for Haney to survive.

Garcia walked into the 11th round still composed and never out-of-control He dared Haney to exchange and when within striking distance Garcia unleashed another lightning combination and down went Haney again with a defeated look.

Both fighters had fought each other as amateurs six times so there were no surprises between them. But Garcia’s power and speed were superior and that was the difference in a professional fight.

In the final round both were cautious with Garcia’s combination punching proving too dangerous for Haney to open up. Garcia celebrated early as the round ended confident of victory.

After 12 rounds Garcia was seen the victor by majority decision 112-112, 114-110, 115-109.

“You really thought I was crazy,” Garcia told the interviewer and the crowd. “You guys hated on me.”

Other Bouts

Arnold Barboza (30-0) won a curious split decision victory over United Kingdom’s Sean McComb (18-2) in a 10-round super lightweight fight. McComb’s long reach and busy southpaw style gave Barboza trouble. But he managed to win the fight though the crowd was not pleased.

Bektemir Melikuziev (14-1, 10 KOs) defeated France’s Pierre Dibombe (22-1-1) by technical decision after eight rounds due to a cut on his eye from an accidental head butt. It was a very competitive super middleweight fight.

Costa Rica’s David Jimenez (16-1, 11 KOs) outworked John “Scrappy Ramirez (13-1, 9 KOs) in a 12-round scrap to upset the Los Angeles based fighter. After a few close rounds Jimenez simply bullied his way inside and forced Ramirez against the ropes and unloaded his guns.

After 12 rounds two judges saw it 117-111 and 116-114 all for Jimenez.

“I’m a hard-working man from Cartago I come from nothing,” said Jimenez. “My corner told me I had to work inside.”

Charles Conwell (19-0, 14 KOs) stepped on the gas early with vicious body shots and uppercuts and blasted through the resilient Nathaniel Gallimore (22-8-1, 17 KOs) for several rounds. After a brutal fifth and sixth round the referee halted the one-side beating in favor of Conwell who was fighting for the first time under the Golden Boy banner.

Another winner was Sergiy Derevyanchenko (15-5) by decision over Vaughn Alexander (18-11-1) in a super middleweight match.

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Haney and Garcia: Bipolar Opposites

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Haney and Garcia: Bipolar Opposites

One young man flew halfway around the world to take on a world champion in his own living room; not once, but twice. The other young man quit prior to one fight, and then again during another one.

The first guy mentioned is an obedient son of an ultra-streetwise father.  The type of parent where, if he doesn’t know the answer (and more times than not he most likely does), he will know where to find it. The second guy doesn’t appear to have that quality guidance scenario going on for him, which is probably for the best, because he believes he has all the answers.

The first guy is on record as saying he wants to go down in boxing history as an all-time great.  The other guy?  He decided not to continue in a fight while he was still sporting an undefeated record.  You may think to yourself if there was ever a time to soldier through, right?

Then yesterday, that same guy missed making weight by 3.2 pounds, and seemed to be more than fine with it, to the point where he actually appeared to be quite pleased with himself.

If you haven’t heard, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia are going to share a boxing ring in a twelve round go for God knows what will be at stake by the time they actually punch off.  The fact that no one from Garcia’s team has stepped in and rescued him from these unfolding events, his own personal well-being, and/or not to mention Devin Haney is, well, troubling in and of itself.

Back in the amateur days, the record shows they split six fights.  They were boys back then, so it means zero.  If anything, you’d want to be the older of the two, and Ryan had over a three-month age advantage.  If you’ve only been on the planet for a total of 120 months or so, every extra month could be a big enough difference in strength and development. Now as world class professionals in their prime?  That’s different.  Younger is always better.  Devin is that guy.

Haney and Garcia fought six times for free but will fight only once as professionals.  Then one of them will continue with their march for historic greatness, while the other will head back to Kamp Krazy, where he’s the current Mayor.

It’s never smart to lay 8-1, 9-1 in boxing.  And if you see taking Garcia as a value bet with +500 to +600 and beyond, you don’t understand value and you evidently don’t like money.

There is, however, a wagering opportunity here.

Total Rounds:  Fight doesn’t go 10.5 rounds.

Take anything over +125.  It’s worth a unit on a scale of 5.  Logically, there are a lot of ways to cash this ticket: legitimate victory, meltdown, catching lightning in a bottle, etc.  Or simply the exiting stage left of a guy who may be already plotting his next career move.

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