COMMENTARY | When Seth Mitchell was unceremoniously dispatched on November 17 by journeyman Johnathon Banks, getting TKO'd in the 2nd round, ruining his undefeated record and his standing as the "next great American Heavyweight", it was more than his own fighting ability which was exposed. Also exposed was HBO's questionable longstanding star-building efforts which continue to force unproven fighters into the limelight.
Mitchell has a great story, coming from his background as a former Michigan State linebacker. By all accounts, he is a great guy. But he was never a great fighter. He was just built up as one by HBO.
He looked impressive in dispatching a relatively soft touch in Timur Ibragimov in 2011, but then he was nearly kayoed in his next outing against Chazz Witherspoon, another soft touch. While Mitchell recovered to score a knockout win after being badly hurt early on in that fight, the warning signs were pretty clear, as Witherspoon had previously been taken to the woodshed by Chris Arreola, Exhibit B of HBO's overhyped collection of "next great American Heavyweights".
Airtime on HBO
Take a look at HBO's fight history since 2007, and you'll see a startlingly repetitive group of names, as if the sport of boxing consisted of a 12-man league continually in rotation against one another.
Andre Berto leads the pack, having fought 11 times on the network in that span. Eleven times. Of those, perhaps three or four should have ended up on what is supposed to be the premier home for boxing on American television, and fights against the likes of Norberto Bravo and Michael Trabant certainly don't make the cut.
Alfredo Angulo is on the list eight times, and for every thriller, like his battle against James Kirkland, there's a ridiculous "who cares" fight against the likes of Harry Joe Yorgey.
As for the previously mentioned Arreola, sloppy in ability and physique, he's near the top of the list himself. He has fought on HBO half a dozen times, including undistinguished wins over the likes of Witherspoon, Brian Minto and Jameel McCline.
After being built up, Arreola was fed to Vitali Klitschko, and got resoundingly crushed. Now he's set to return to HBO in 2013 against another undefeated, unproven and undeserving American heavyweight, Bermane Stiverne. At stake is the mandatory position for the right to challenge Vitali Klitschko. Again. Are we serious here folks?
The Next Wave
Gary Russell Jr., Adrien Broner and Mikey Garcia are three of HBO's uber-prospects, their stars of the next generation. But how many real opponents have they fought in HBO-televised fights up to this point in time? A collective one or two?
Russell has the potential to be a pound for pound caliber fighter. But how in the world does anybody really know, when HBO lets his team put together fights against the likes of Heriberto Ruiz, Roberto Castaneda and Leonilo Miranda? Russell faced tougher opponents when he was a 16-year-old amateur. Of course he looks spectacular.
For every chance to see a breakout performance like Broner had against Antonio DeMarco -- and please don't get me started on whether or not that was similar to Floyd Mayweather vs. Diego Corrales -- there's three chances to see Russell extinguish his woefully undeserving opposition.
Speaking of Russell, Broner and Garcia, did no one at HBO notice that they were showing three undefeated super prospects in and around the same weight class, at the same time, with each taking on tomato cans instead of facing defining matches against each other?
Yuriorkis Gamboa campaigns in the same divisions, making four undefeated stars of the next generation who haven't fought each other. Juan Manuel Lopez would have made five, but he finally stepped up to face a live dog in Orlando Salido and got kayoed twice for his troubles.
This should be a glory age of Featherweights. Instead, all of the above names have been getting easy TV dates against mismatched opponents.
You could blame the promoters who are making the matches, but nobody is forcing HBO to show the fights. If HBO will show your guy in a no-risk showcase, of course you'll take it. Why would a promoter dare put his prized possession in a tough fight, when he can land him guaranteed six-figure paydays against nobodies?
HBO is no longer showing the best fights. Instead, they latch onto young prospects, create a story arc for us to follow, and hope they will eventually become the fighters their records already say they are.
And if they're not? Then they'll show their comeback fights. Just ask Chris Arreola... or Julio Cesar Chavez Jr... or Alfredo Angulo... or Andre Berto... and the rest of the who's who of HBO fighters who continually receive airtime whether or not they deserve it, and whether or not they're engaging in competitive, meaningful fights.
Changing The Pattern
The hype train at HBO needs to stop. Of course, it was supposed to stop when HBO hired Ken Hershman away from Showtime, at the end of 2011.
But with Arreola-Stiverne as one of the first fights on the docket for 2013, Keith Thurman getting multiple dates on the network, Gary Russell's string of unmentionable opponents, and Seth Mitchell serving as the latest example of a house fighter getting thumped after being overhyped, has anything changed?
Hershman helped Showtime go toe-to-toe with HBO with a smaller budget and less prestige by targeting affordable, competitive, top-level fights, and by arranging tournaments so that the best fighters in a division could square off in quick succession, not by signing fighters to long-term deals to fight whomever they please, and not by showcasing prospects against dreadful opponents.
There are more outlets showcasing boxing today than there have been in years -- with EPIX, NBC Sports and Wealth TV joining the likes of HBO, Showtime and ESPN. HBO had better adapt if they want to stay on top.
Sources: HBO.com, Boxrec.com
Jake Emen runs the boxing news website ProBoxing-Fans.com, where you can find breaking news stories, interviews, rankings and more. You can also follow Jake and ProBoxing-Fans.com on Twitter, @ProBoxingFans.
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