HBO, the highest-rated boxing network, made the extraordinary decision Monday not to buy fights from Golden Boy Promotions, one of the sport's two biggest promoters, for the foreseeable future.
That will mean the exodus of a number of Golden Boy stars, including lightweight champion Adrien Broner and light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins.
The irony in this decision is that Golden Boy was founded in large part because of the close relationship between the network and Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya. De La Hoya fought virtually his entire Hall-of-Fame career on HBO and never appeared on Showtime.
A number of top Golden Boy fighters debuted on HBO only to switch to Showtime. Among those are Amir Khan, Danny Garcia and Canelo Alvarez.
Showtime also recently signed Floyd Mayweather Jr., the sport's pound-for-pound king, who had been with HBO. Mayweather works closely with Golden Boy, but wasn't under its promotional umbrella.
Khan, Garcia and Alvarez are, though, and all made the move from HBO to Showtime after Espinoza's hire in late 2011.
HBO Sports president Ken Hershman, who formerly ran the boxing program at rival Showtime, made the decision to part ways with Golden Boy after running into issues with company executives. Showtime hired Stephen Espinoza, the former Golden Boy legal counsel, to run its boxing program after Hershman left for HBO.
Since Espinoza joined Showtime, the vast majority of its televised boxing offerings have come from Golden Boy.
"In order to achieve our goal of the best fighters in the most compelling match-ups, we've decided to focus our efforts and resources on those strategic relationships where we better share common goals and business philosophies," Hershman said in a statement.
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer reacted philosophically to Hershman's decision. He said that with the breadth and depth of Golden Boy's roster, it is a mistake for HBO to walk away from it.
He said that in his opinion, HBO had to find a way to stem the flow of fighters heading to Showtime.
"I'm not that shocked and it's hardly a surprise, because I haven't had a conversation with the president of HBO Sports since last November, maybe last December," Schaefer said. "This is obviously the aftermath of the biggest names in the sport, Floyd Mayweather, Canelo [Alvarez], leaving HBO for Showtime."
Broner, who is one of the rising stars in the sport, has done extraordinary ratings for HBO for a young fighter and has referred to himself in social media as "Mr. HBO Boxing." But at least until the issues between HBO Sports and Golden Boy are worked out, that will not occur.
Broner's contract with Golden Boy and adviser Al Haymon reportedly expires in April, multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports. Rap star turned boxing promoter Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson has reportedly made an offer to Broner to join his company, SMS Promotions, when his Golden Boy deal is done.
Schaefer, however, denied that and said he has multiple fights left with Broner, as does Haymon.
Schaefer said that Jackson's company had already spoken with Golden Boy fighter James Kirkland and that Kirkland's attorney in a suit against Golden Boy is Jackson's attorney.
"50 Cent had better be careful, because his continued contractual interference is going to lead him to get sued," Schaefer said. "Adrien has a long-term contract with Al Haymon and a long-term contract with us. We know for a fact that he has interfered with James Kirkland. In fact, James Kirkland is represented by 50 Cent's attorney. That tells you all you need to know and there is a pattern. We have put 50 Cent on notice [that] any further involvement or any further poaching attempts by 50 Cent and he'll end up in a lawsuit."
Khan, for instance, did 1.56 million viewers for his bout with Lamont Peterson. In his one fight on Showtime, against Carlos Molina, he drew 616,000 viewers.
Garcia did 1.255 million viewers for his fight with Khan on HBO and 1.2 million for his first fight with Erik Morales. The rematch with Morales was on Showtime and had 729,000 viewers.
Alvarez drew 1.55 million viewers for his June 18, 2011, win over Ryan Rhodes. In his only fight on Showtime, he attracted 1.036 million viewers for his Sept. 15, 2012, match with Josesito Lopez. However, the Alvarez-Lopez fight went head-to-head with an HBO Pay-Per-View card promoted by Top Rank featuring Sergio Martinez against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Schaefer said those numbers don't concern him. He pointed out that Showtime's ratings are improving and have been since Golden Boy began providing it with the bulk of its boxing content.
He also said that things change over time.
"There are people [at HBO] making decisions who don't really know the difference between Jesse Vargas and Floyd Mayweather," Schaefer said. "Having said that, HBO is a terrific network and I wish them well. ... Just because HBO has more subscribers and by extension, the ratings points translate, believing it will always be that way is not a given. There are many examples, not just in TV but in business, corporate America. Just because someone is No. 1 now doesn't mean it will stay like that.
"Look at mighty IBM. No one thought they would fall from the top of the heap, but along came Microsoft. Nobody ever thought anyone would challenge them, but along camp Apple and look what Apple did. But suddenly, there is a challenger to [Apple] and it's Samsung. There are other examples. But the subscriber growth at Showtime is obviously encouraging."
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