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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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Artur Beterbiev: “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need”

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Russian Artur Beterbiev, triple champion of the 175-pound division, is the only current world champion who, thanks to the enormous power he wields in his fists, has won all his fights inside the distance.

Beterbiev has 18 victories by way of chloroform since he debuted as a professional fighter in June 2013 when he anesthetized retired American, Christian Cruz, in the tenth round at the Bell Center in Montreal where Beterbiev currently resides.

Beterbiev, who turned thirty-eight last Saturday, will defend his WBC, IBF, and WBO titles against Brit Anthony “The Beast from the East” Yarde (23-2, 22 KOs) on Saturday, January 28th at the OVO Arena in London.

Beterbiev obtained the WBO belt on June 18th this past year when he defeated American Joe Smith (28-4, 22 KOs) in the second round at Madison Square Garden. This was Smith’s second defense of the belt.

Earlier, in November 2017, Beterbiev won the vacant IBF belt after defeating German Enrico Koelling (28-5, 9 KOs) by knockout in the twelfth round in Fresno, California.

Two years later, Beterbiev seized the WBC belt from Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14 KOs) in Philadelphia. Three knockdowns in the tenth round forced referee Gary Rosato to stop the lopsided bout with 11 seconds remaining in the round.  Beterbiev maintains that although his intention is to win each fight, in no way does he want to harm his rival and that his greatest wish is for both of them to leave the ring healthy.

Referring to his upcoming matchup, Beterbiev told BoxingScene that “after the fight, I just hope he (Yarde) is okay.”

He acknowledged that he does not know much about the British boxer, although he has watched several of his fights: “He’s a good fighter, has good experience as a professional and he’s a boxer. He’s dangerous so I have to prepare for this fight like I always do.”

Beterbiev said that his main motivation is to successfully defend the three belts he owns and that is why he will try to be one hundred percent ready and then it will be evident who is the better fighter.

Regarding his knockout streak, Beterbiev emphatically denied that he enjoys knocking out his opponents: “No. There’s no pleasure in it. I just hope everything is OK with them. I just want to do good boxing, not hit people.”

Beterbiev smiles enigmatically and stares at the horizon when they ask him to what he attributes the strength of his fists to. “I know for sure, 1000 percent, that the secret to my power is somewhere in my boxing gym but I don’t know exactly where,” he adds. “I don’t know which exercise or bag gave me this secret. I don’t know where it comes from. I wasn’t always like this either, it has come from working every day. But really my dream is to be a good boxer one day.”

Aside from the upcoming fight with Yarde, Beterbiev acknowledges in each interview that his goal is to be the undisputed champion of the division, which means facing (and defeating) the undefeated Russian Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs), who holds the WBA light heavyweight super championship belt.

“I need Bivol,” Beterbiev admits. “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need. I hope I fight him in 2023 but the hold-up is not from my side, it’s from their side. In the last three years he always says he will fight me next but in this time we’ve done unification fights against Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Joe Smith. We’ve done that whereas he has just been talking about it.

Beterbiev recalled that he was with Bivol on the Russian national team where they were amateurs. “I knew him then, but he is younger than me. We haven’t talked for 10 years now. He was 75kg back then, too small for me. We were never friends.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

 Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A New Foe for Broner and an Intriguing Heavyweight Match-up

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A New Foe for Broner and an Intriguing Heavyweight Match-up

BLK Prime’s inaugural venture went off without a hitch. An announced crowd of 14,630 turned out in Omaha to watch native son Terence Crawford dismantle David Avanesyan. BLK Prime’s second promotion, slated for Feb. 25 at a 5,000-seat venue in Atlanta, has been messy from the get-go. The executives at the fledgling company, based in Hayward, California, are learning to their dismay that the sport of professional boxing is governed by Murphy’s Law: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Adrien Broner’s nickname is “The Problem” (how perfect!) but the problem isn’t him but finding a suitable opponent for the former four-division title holder who purportedly signed a three-fight deal with BLK Prime that will pay him an absurd $10 million. As reported in a story that ran on these pages last week, Broner’s original opponent Ivan Redkach pulled out and was replaced by Hank Lundy. Today (Tuesday, Jan. 24) it was revealed that Lundy was also off the card and would be replaced by Michael Williams Jr.

Prior to being lopped off the card, it was reported that Hank Lundy had been suspended by the California Athletic Commission for failing to honor his contract to fight up-and-comer Ernesto Mercado (8-0, 8 KOs) on Feb. 4. The match was to be an 8-rounder in Ontario, California. According to prominent boxing writer Jake Donovan, Lundy provided paperwork to the California commission showing that he was unable to keep his commitment because of a cut he suffered in sparring.

Some state athletic commissions automatically honor a suspension handed down in another jurisdiction. Other commissions evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis. It’s a fair guess that had Lundy kept quiet about the (alleged) injury, the Georgia commission would have allowed the Broner-Lundy match to go forward. Regardless, he’s out and, barring more upheaval, Broner (pictured) will be touching gloves with Michael Williams Jr.

The son of an Army veteran who serves as his chief trainer, Williams Jr, 23, was born in Fort Riley, Kansas, and grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home to Fort Bragg. As a pro, he’s 20-1 with 13 KOs but those 20 wins came against a motley bunch of opponents and he failed miserably on the one occasion that he stepped up in class. On Dec. 11, 2021, he was stopped in four rounds by fellow unbeaten John Bauza on a Top Rank card at Madison Square Garden. Williams suffered five knockdowns before the match was halted. “He’s got a lot to work on. There are some glaring issues here,” said ringside TV commentator Andre Ward.

Although the Fayetteville area has long had a reputation as pugilistic feed lot (a place where boxers go to fatten up their records), the feeling is that Williams may have been awed by his surroundings that night in the Big Apple, hence his poor showing. During the early portion of his career, he was co-trained by Roy Jones Jr who reportedly hooked up with the young junior welterweight after witnessing him bully a bunch of ex-cons while sparring at a gym in New Orleans.

Does he have the tools to make things interesting against Adrien Broner? Likely not, but Broner tends to fight down to his level of competition, so it wouldn’t surprise us if Williams wins a few rounds.

Heavyweights at the Crossroads

SHOWTIME drops anchor in San Antonio on Feb. 11 with a card headlined by a match between Rey Vargas and O’Shaquie Foster. They will compete for the WBC 130-pound world title vacated by Shakur Stevenson.

Truth be told, this isn’t a contest that gets our juices flowing. The undefeated Vargas, who has won world titles at 122 and 127, is a solid technician but doesn’t fight with pizzazz. He hasn’t won a fight inside the distance since 2016. Foster is on a nice roll – he’s won nine straight, advancing his record to 19-2 — but likewise lacks charisma.

The pay-per-view opener, however, seized our interest. It’s that very rare contest between two rising heavyweights at the same juncture of their respective careers. On paper there’s little to choose between Viktor Faust (11-0, 7 KOs) and Lenier Pero (8-0, 5 KOs). Both are the same age (30), are roughly the same size (in the six-foot-five and 240-pound range) and were outstanding amateurs.

Faust

Viktor Faust, aka Viktor Vykhryst, is from the Ukraine. In 2017, he won the European amateur title, defeating future Olympian Frazer Clarke in the finals. He turned pro in 2020, spurning an opportunity to represent Ukraine in the Tokyo Olympics.

Faust, says prospect watcher Matt Andrzejewski, is extremely fluid for his size and his hand speed is well above average. He also has one-punch knockout power as he demonstrated in his third pro fight when he starched the Spaniard, Gabriel Enguema. However, his most recent fight on U.S. soil, a match in Hollywood, Florida, against Iago kiladze, left many questions unanswered.

This was a wild and wooly affair that ended in the second minute of the second round. Kiladze was down three times and Faust twice during the tumult. Because Kiladze was on the small size for a heavyweight, one was left wondering whether Faust could have weathered the storm if he were matched against a bigger man.

Since that scuffle, Faust has added two more wins to his ledger, comfortable 8-round decisions over 40-something gatekeepers Kevin Johnson and Franklin Lawrence.

Pero

Lenier Pero, a Cuban defector, was never an Olympian, but had a more extensive amateur career. He was 9-3 in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing but what really stands out is that he was 5-1 against countryman Frank Sanchez who has made great headway as a pro since leaving Cuba in 2017 and is currently ranked #3 by the WBC and #2 by the WBO.

Although the amateur careers of Faust and Pero overlapped, their paths never crossed. However, Faust did fight Lenier’s younger brother Dainier Pero who is currently 2-0 as a pro and may actually be a better prospect than his sibling. Faust and Dainier Pero met in 2018 at a tournament in the Ukraine and the Cuban won a close decision.

Perhaps that’s an omen. Regardless, Lenier Pero looks like the right side in what has the earmarks of an entertaining shootout.

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David Benavidez and Caleb Plant Both Want ‘Canelo’ Álvarez

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American Fighter David Benavidez has been in constant pursuit of an opportunity to face Canelo Álvarez and, until now, it has been an unrealizable dream. For his compatriot Caleb Plant, his match up with Canelo in 2021 resulted in a resounding loss.

For several years, Benavidez has been trying to cross gloves with Mexican star Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez (58-2-2, 39 KOs), who has avoided facing him despite receiving countless criticisms from boxing fans.

Undefeated in the ranks, everything indicates that today Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) is closer than ever to finally matching up against Canelo, the current holder of the four most prestigious super middleweight titles in boxing: WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO.

Previously, by order of the WBC, Benavidez faced Canadian David Lemieux (43-5, 36 KOs), to whom he applied chloroform in the third round in Glendale, Arizona, where the winner conquered the Interim title of that sanctioning body.

After the victory, the WBC declared that Benavidez had the obligation to collide with Caleb Plant (22-1, 13 KOs), who was ranked the number one contender by both the WBA and the WBO and third by the IBF.

According to Mauricio Sulaimán, president of the WBC, the winner between Benavidez and Plant becomes the mandatory challenger for Canelo in a battle for that organization’s belt.

However, the future seems quite complicated for the winner between Benavidez and Plant, since Canelo is currently in negotiations with British southpaw John Ryder (32-5, 18 KOs) to fight in May and, subsequently, in September, to carry out the rematch against Russian Dmitry Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs), who defeated him unanimously on May 7 of last year at the T-Mobile Arena where the European retained the WBA light heavyweight belt.

Benavidez has been outspoken about Canelo’s refusal to face him: He (Canelo) knows I’m the biggest threat at 168.” Benavidez stressed the fact that Canelo avoids him because he knows that if he accepts the fight, the same thing will happen to him as against Dmitry Bivol, an adversary who is also larger and equally as strong as the Mexican redhead.

Despite the efforts and multiple statements by Benavidez (also by José Benavidez Sr, his father and trainer), Canelo has always chosen other adversaries with the excuse that Benavidez has not fought any elite rivals that would make him worthy of the opportunity.

CALEB PLANT WANTS REVENGE AGAINST CANELO

“That wasn’t my best camp going into that fight,” said Plant about last year’s battle with Canelo, “but, regardless, that’s not the reason I lost. I lost because I got caught with a great shot and I got stopped.” Plant was clear about wanting to meet Canelo in the ring again. “I want a rematch with Canelo. If I have to pick up every last top super middleweight in the division to get to that, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Canelo’s victory against Plant at the T-Mobile Arena in November 2021 made him the first boxer from Latin America with the four most important titles, in any weight category. But six months later, in May of last year, Álvarez suffered the second setback of his career, losing unanimously to Bivol who retained his WBA “super” title belt at 175 pounds.

Four years ago, on January 13, 2019, Plant won the IBF belt, unanimously defeating Venezuelan José Uzcátegui (32-5, 27 KOs) at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Uzcátegui went to the canvas in both the second and fourth rounds. Plant lost the IBF title in the unification match against Canelo, a title that Plant had defended three times prior.

Mauricio Sulaimán confirmed to several media outlets that the winner of the upcoming battle between Benavidez and Plant will be the mandatory challenger for Canelo’s WBC super-middleweight title. Per ESPN’s Mike Coppinger, Benavidez vs Plant will take place on March 25th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

 Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

To comment on this story in the fight Forum CLICK HERE

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