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Underdog Showtime Won Its War With HBO, But the Victory Now Seems Hollow

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Underdog Showtime Won Its War With HBO, But the Victory Now Seems Hollow

Carthage finally has fallen.

Not that many boxing fans are apt to compare the former arch-rivalry of premium-cable outlets HBO and Showtime with the three Punic Wars pitting the Roman Empire against the formidable North African city-state of Carthage from 264 B.C. to 146 B.C., but the analogy fits when certain modifications are taken into consideration.

During the 32 years when HBO and Showtime went head-to-head in much the same manner of the fighters they showcased, the more-established, better-funded HBO was the figurative representative of Rome’s omnipresent might, with Showtime cast as the gritty, determined equivalent of Carthage. But a near-century of intermittent conflict ended as it surely had to, with Roman legions finally laying waste to the most persistent obstacle to the quest for absolute control of an expanding and insatiable empire.

But upsets can and do happen in boxing, and the Rome vs. Carthage script flipped at the end of 2018 when HBO quit on its stool after 45 years in the fight game, its once-well-financed commitment to being the industry leader ebbing incrementally at the behest of an increasingly disinterested corporate ownership.

“HBO is now a mature company, and the guys who care just about the numbers decided that boxing wasn’t popular enough to keep going,” longtime HBO commentator Larry Merchant said as the end of an era came with the sound of a death rattle. “They were putting fractions – small fractions – of the money into it that they used to put into it.”

“It’s sad to see it all go away by its own hand and their own decision-making,” added Lou DiBella, a senior vice president of HBO Sports until his departure in the fall of 2000. “This is like the Yankees going out of business in a way, in terms of a brand … You would have loved to see them go out on top, not with a whimper.”

The demise of HBO Boxing opened the door for a dramatic rise in prestige for Showtime Championship Boxing and its much-respected, star-making adjunct, ShoBox, whose administrators and broadcast talent reveled in their figurative elevation from Carthage to Rome. But, as Spanish philosopher George Santayana once observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Just as HBO had abdicated its lofty place in the boxing stratosphere five years earlier, the curtain came down on Showtime, by turns reminiscent of its scrappy underdog period and its later heyday as the foremost televised purveyor of the sweet science. As was the case with HBO, the cause of its demise likely can be traced to profit-and-loss figures on a spreadsheet, not the love of a sport that always has needed to be embraced for reasons that necessarily supersede priorities established by upper management and accountants with sharp pencils and MBA degrees.

Voicing the same sort of sad farewell that Merchant and DiBella had offered up when HBO took its leave in 2018 is Showtime’s David Dinkins Jr., the Senior Vice President and Executive Producer for the entire 37-year run of its boxing operation.

“We should be recognized for our pursuit of excellence and attention to detail,” Dinkins said in an interview with The Ring. In our prime we were without peer – the best coverage, live and replays, best commentary and the best presentation from the ring walks to post-fight interviews.”

Well, some deposed HBO Boxing alumni might argue that point, but the net effect of Showtime taking the 10-count opens a Pandora’s Box of uncertainty that surely will affect the way the sport is made available to the public going forward, possibly more than anyone can imagine in the here and now.

On Dec. 7, Prime Video and Premier Boxing Champions announced what they described as a “multiyear rights agreement,” with Prime Video included in the Amazon Prime membership package. A series of PBC Championship Boxing events will be streamed, including PBC pay-per-view shows. Given the fact that Prime Video has more than 150 million subscribers in the United States, as reported by Thomas Hauser, the first reaction might be that boxing, unlike Carthage, is too resilient to ever be destroyed. But every move away from established norms to something new requires a period of adjustment, for those assuming the burden of proprietorship as well as fight fans who long have been asked to part with chunks of their diminishing disposable income to feed their pugilistic addiction.

Let history record that Showtime Championship Boxing officially breathed its last at 11:26 p.m. EST when its closing credits finished rolling, not long after WBA super middleweight champion David Morrell Jr.’s second-round stoppage of Sena Agbeko became the answer to a future trivia question as to which bout shoveled the last spade of dirt onto a grave worthy of a polished marble headstone.

The tripleheader of televised fights, all won by southpaws, was a fitting farewell. The 25-year-old Morrell (10-0, 9 KOs) might seem too early in his professional career to have already logged five title defenses, but the transplant from steamy Cuba to the wintry frigidity of his adopted home base of Minneapolis was 130-2 as an amateur and has the look of a possible future superstar. Fighting for the sixth time in the comfy confines of the sold-out Armory (all 5,314 seats filled), Morrell (pictured) dispatched Agbeko (28-3, 22 KOs) with a display of power punching that had him clamoring for a non-alphabet championship matchup that conceivably could take place sometime in the about-to-become new year.

“In 2024, I want to fight Benavidez. One hundred percent,” Morrell  said of a pairing for the all-David 168-pound crown, with a shot at undisputed super middleweight champ Canelo Alvarez presumably awaiting the winner. But Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs) is coming off a sixth-round stoppage of Demetrius Andrade on Nov. 25 and is hopeful his next bout will be with Alvarez, without the necessity of going through Morrell first.

The co-main event, pitting Chris “Primetime” Colbert against Jose “Rayo” Valenzuela in a WBA lightweight eliminator, was a do-over of their closely contested and controversial first meeting on March 25 of this year, when Colbert overcame a first-round knockdown and a couple of other shaky rounds to pull out a unanimous decision by identical 95-94 scorecards from the three judges. Although Colbert said he’d never give “sore loser” Valenzuela a rematch, the opportunity to be a part of the historic Showtime exit card was too much for Colbert to say no to, although he may have come to regret his acquiescence.

The larger and stronger Valenzuela, as in their first bout, dropped Colbert in the first round and thereafter he waited for his opportunity to unveil a previously sheathed weapon, a right hook, whenever Colbert switched from orthodox to southpaw, which he did in the sixth round. With Colbert’s protective left hand down, Valenzuela flung himself forward to land a crushing hook that sent his opponent crashing to the canvas, unconscious, his head draped over the bottom stand of the ring ropes.

“The second time he turned left he saw I was gonna throw a jab so he could catch it up front, but I dipped a little bit and shot the right hook,” Valenzuela said of his put-away bomb.

After Colbert came to and met with Valenzuela in the center of the ring, he said, “We’re 1-1, let’s run this back.” That request didn’t gain any traction with Valenzuela, who said, “I beat him twice. I was patient for a reason. This was a title eliminator and I want to fight for a title. So Tank Davis (the WBA lightweight ruler), let’s get it on, man.”

The opener, pitting a pair of 40-year-old former world champions, was a rematch of a bout that took place 11 years earlier, when Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero (38-6-1, 20 KOs) scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Andre Berto (32-6, 24 KOs). The oldies-but-used-to-be goodies may not be all that they once were, but both showed sporadic flashes of their prime selves with Guerrero winning a wide 10-round unanimous decision.

Now that Showtime has joined HBO as boxing entities that are no more, it is worth mentioning that their frequent skirmishes behind the scenes were often as noteworthy as, say, the confrontations that paired aging promotional lions Don King and Bob Arum. One such incident took place in 2005, when I was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

The BWAA almost always has staged its annual awards dinner in New York City, but I concluded that Las Vegas was long overdue to be the host city for such an affair, but only if it could come in conjunction with a corresponding fight important enough to attract a sizable media gathering. Officials at both HBO and Showtime were made aware of the BWAA’s intentions and were given a time window in which a suitable bout could be arranged as an accompaniment for the awards dinner.

Jay Larkin, then the senior vice president and executive producer of Showtime Sports, was so enthused about his company’s possible participation that he vowed to up his normal budget for that particular show by a half-million dollars, with the Mandalay Bay to serve as the host venue for what proved to be the first matchup of Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo on May 7, 2005. We shook hands and that was that. Or at least it should have been.

A few days later, someone purporting to be representing HBO – I should stress it was not someone directly affiliated with HBO – contacted me and said that HBO honchos had reconsidered and wanted in. The fight tie-in would have been at the MGM Grand on May 14, 2005, and featured Felix Trinidad against Winky Wright. That was nice, I said, but I already had agreed to the date with Showtime for the previous week.

“But did you sign a contract?” the guy asked. “If you didn’t sign a contract, you can switch to the following week. And Trinidad is a bigger name than the two guys on the Showtime card.”

“Maybe so, but I gave my word,” I replied. The way I was raised, if you give your word, that should count for something, and I wasn’t about to renege on a verbal agreement that, to my way of thinking, was as good as a signed, sealed and delivered piece of paper.

Not that anyone could have predicted how everything would shake out, but Corrales-Castillo I turned out to be an epic, Fight of the Year lollapalooza. The BWAA dinner at the Mandalay Bay the night before was also a smash hit, with a ring set up in the banquet hall that made for a photo op that included Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, Vitali Klitschko, Chris Byrd, Shane Mosley, Winky Wright, Zab Judah, Hasim Rahman and master of ceremonies Jimmy Lennon Jr., among others. The following week, Trinidad turned in possibly the worst performance of his career in losing a one-sided, unanimous decision to Wright.

But the thing is, had HBO made the earliest proposal and I shook hands on it, that also would have been as good as a signed contract. Jay Larkin – who was fired by Showtime later in November 2005 because of job cutbacks, and died of brain cancer at the too-young age of 59 on Aug. 9, 2010 – kept his word to me, and I wish he had been included when Showtime’s closing credits rolled late Saturday night.

Carthage has fallen, probably forever, and I can only say that I will miss the in-fighting that took place when HBO and Showtime competed so fiercely that they made boxing, and their own operations, better. It was a grand time, often chaotic, but never lacking in entertainment. The sun still comes up every morning, but somehow the world seems just a bit different. Time will tell just how different, and whether those of us who love the sport of crooked noses and indomitable hearts will be satisfied with whatever comes next.


Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the Class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sports writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. “Championship Rounds, Round 4,” the fourth installment of Fernandez’s four-volume anthology, is now out and available via Amazon and other book-selling outlets.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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Rising Contenders Gor Yeritsyan and Cain Sandoval Stay Unbeaten at Chumash

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Rising Contenders Gor Yeritsyan and Cain Sandoval Stay Unbeaten at Chumash

Two Southern California-based fighters cracked the top 10 list on Friday in Central California on the 360 Promotions card.

Armenia’s Gor Yeritsyan (18-0, 14 KOs) captured the WBC Continental Americas welterweight title with a steady and persistent attack against defensive-minded Quinton Randall (13-2-1, 3 KOs) of Texas at Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, California.

“This is my first step,” said Yeritsyan (pictured with promoter Tom Loeffler). “Remember my name.”

Yeritsyan was always on attack but had prior knowledge and preparation under trainer Freddie Roach for the counter-punching style of Randall. He pounded away while rarely unleashing more than three-punch combinations. It was effective.

Randall was never over-run by the strong Armenian fighter but he rarely stepped into an offensive mode. That cost him over the 10 rounds and all three judges scored for Yeritsyan who captured the WBC title and will now be ranked in the top 10.

“My opponent was a very good boxer,” Yeritsyan said of Randall.

In a super lightweight match, young firebrand Cain Sandoval (12-0, 11 KOs) met former contender Javier Molina (22-6, 9 KOs) and had his knockout streak snapped, but still won by unanimous decision. The Sacramento fighter now has the WBC Continental Americas super lightweight title.

Molina has never been stopped and showed why over the 10 rounds. In his 15-year career despite facing knockout punchers such as Jesus Ramos Jr., Amir Imam, and Artemio Reyes, none of his losses were via knockout.

Despite a consistent Sandoval battering from the third round on, nothing seemed to penetrate Molina’s defense. But when Sandoval directed his blows to the body it opened up more opportunities and the Sacramento fighter maintained control.

After 10 rounds all three judges scored in favor of Sandoval by unanimous decision, but his knockout streak was stopped. Molina’s streak pf never being knocked out continues.

“I thought I would stop him,” said Sandoval. “I just want to win.”

Other Bouts

Central California’s Jorge Maravillo (9-0, 8 KOs) out-fought Santa Ana’s Jesus Gonzalez (7-2-1) in a six-round super welterweight fight. Maravillo, who is trained by Max Garcia in Salinas, used crisp rights to batter the gritty Gonzalez especially inside.

Maravillo was sharp throughout the fight and though his knockout streak was snapped it took a determined Gonzalez to gut out the fight after being dominated in the fifth round. All three judges scored it 60-54 for Maravillo.

Upland, California’s Daniel “Chuckie” Barrera (5-0-1) floored veteran Jonathan Almacen (7-10-3) twice in the second round with lefts. The end came at 2:35 of the round when Barrera knocked out the Filipino fighter with a left hook in a super flyweight match.

Cuba’s Osvel Caballero (5-0, 4 KOs) was too sharp and too strong for Jason Buenaobra (10-10-3) and won by stoppage at 2:22 of the fourth round in a featherweight fight.

A super bantamweight clash saw Mexico’s Alfredo Castro (10-0, 7 KOs) and Riverside, California’s Ezekiel Flores (4-3) engage in a back-and-forth battle for six rounds. Castro could not miss with the right cross and Flores could not miss with uppercuts. But two knockdowns by Castro proved the difference and he won by unanimous decision after six exciting rounds.

Photo credit: Lina Baker

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