Yesterday afternoon HBO announced that after 45 years, they are getting out of boxing at the end of October. It seemed an ignominious death rattle for the sport’s marquee platform, but in many ways is a relief for those of us who grew into our fandom watching the network. There will doubtless be glowing eulogies and highlight packages showing the innumerable amazing moments that have aired. I fully expect HBO themselves to put together a compilation displaying why they were unmatched in production quality and their ability to make home viewers feel as though they were at the fight in person.
The announcement was not a shock, even if there were reasons for it to be so. HBO could still get just about any fight or star that they desired, and in many cases did just that. But over the last few years, it felt like a chore. The network had obviously moved on to focus on movies and original content with boxing becoming an unhappy obligation and not a priority. Their core became story-telling, and they had the viewership increases to show that it worked. HBO no longer needed boxing to draw in viewers, and they damn sure knew it. And so did we.
Boxing fans are an odd group. We tend to relish our place as a marginalized group that supports a corrupt, borderline outlaw sport, but are sharply offended when networks and platforms don’t show it the respect that we feel it deserves. Perhaps that’s why the HBO announcement stung as it did. If the preeminent platform has bailed because they no longer need us, what hope is there that we will see our best fights and fighters center stage in the general sports landscape? Because we know that boxing at its best is absolutely fucking magical and few other things in life can come close.
We think of HBO as showing boxing at it’s best, and it did, but for every time Emmanuel Steward bellowed “OHHHH MYYYY GAAAAWD!” during a fight of the year contender, we also got a bunch of Andre Berto vs Steve Forbes level fights. Many of the greatest nights in the network’s coverage were on Boxing After Dark, which showcased smaller sized and somewhat lesser known fighters, so it felt like a betrayal when the network slowly moved toward focusing solely on stars as opposed to having not only the biggest stars, but the best match-ups as well. This shift was palpable in commentary after the “retirement” of Larry Merchant, who called it exactly how he saw it. We instead got Max Kellerman endlessly cheerleading certain fighters (Andre Ward and his fucking gold medal) as he and Jim Lampley used a fight to tell the stories in their heads, instead of acting as narrators in a drama that was unfolding in real time.
Over the last few years many of us have gotten comfortable with the idea that if we want to see certain fights, we have to be handy with our VPN settings, or comfortable closing endless “ads” on less than legal streams. There are now several legal, high quality streaming platforms showing big fights (ESPN+, DAZN, Showtime App, Youtube, etc). What it boils down to is that we don’t need HBO. We haven’t for a while. We are, in fact, in a golden age for access to the best fights. What HBO represented, and what I will miss, is boxing on a pedestal.
- Good luck to all the HBO production crew, photographers, writers, and researchers. You were the driving force behind the amazing coverage, and the quality that you made possible is going to be missed.
- I fully intended to write about Anthony Joshua’s 7th round stoppage of Alexander Povetkin last Saturday, but a variety of actual adult related bullshit got in the way. Joshua has some obvious holes in his game, and Povetkin made him look bad at times, but goddamn can he finish. You can’t teach killer instinct, and you can’t teach punching power.
- I’m bummed that living meme Vinny Facelube isn’t fighting John Molina Jr. weekend, but if the charges against him are true, PBC made the right call. As mentally and emotionally unstable as Ortiz is, getting punched in the head for a living can not have helped matters.
- I can’t find a way to care about Billy Joe Saunders doping violation for a banned stimulant. I think it’s largely because I can’t find a way to care about his fights. I know he’s good, but he’s tedious in the ring, and a complete imbecile outside of it.
- Speaking of Youtube and under appreciated fights, if you didn’t catch the flyweight fight between Sho Kimura and Kosei Tanaka on Monday, watch it right fucking now. I didn’t watch it live because I’m not the kind of lunatic that’s willing to wake up at 3am to watch fights, but I managed to find enough free time last night, and it’s insanely good. Like a lot of people, I was late to the midgetweight fights from Asia. I guess can thank Eric Raskin for getting me hooked on to internet Pornsawan.