Who's winning the HBO-Showtime slugfest?
For years, it was too easy for HBO when it came to its boxing competition with Showtime.
HBO has always had a vastly bigger subscriber universe (It's now 29 million to 23 million in HBO's favor, the closest it's been, perhaps ever) and has always had a significantly bigger budget. That money gave it the most clout in the sport, particularly when the over-the-air networks largely walked away from televising boxing.
And so, with some rare and notable exceptions, HBO got whatever fights it wanted over the last three decades.
Showtime signed then-undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson away from HBO in 1990, but so much of its budget went to Tyson that it couldn't afford the other elite stars and HBO was able to create a virtual monopoly on top talent otherwise.
There is no such monopoly now, though.
HBO showed Golden Boy Promotions fighters the door in March, and Showtime willingly snatched them up, ratcheting up an already intense competition between the sides.
Rising star Adrien Broner, who attracted 1.4 million fans to each of his last two bouts on HBO, moved over to Showtime last month and drew 1.3 million for his welterweight title fight with Paulie Malignaggi.
Some have speculated that Broner would have done even better on HBO had he stayed, but that point is moot. Just a few months ago, Broner referred to himself as "Mr. HBO," but he's now a Showtime guy.
Barring a dramatic and unexpected change, Broner, who many feel has the ability to one day be the sport's next big star, is going to do the rest of his fighting on Showtime.
HBO doesn't have things teed up like it had in the past, but that's not to say it's struggling, either. The good news is that the competition between Golden Boy and Top Rank on the promotional side and Showtime and HBO on the broadcast front has led to a far better product on the air.
There has been only one card this year that has been a complete dud, Showtime's March 2 show that featured Richard Abril defeating Sharif Bogere in a truly dreadful contest.
For the most part, however, boxing on television has had a wonderful first half of the year, with a series of outstanding fights on all networks. Throw in the shows on NBC and the NBC Sports Network that Main Events has promoted and it's been a banner year for boxing fans.
Showtime is pushing hard on the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Canelo Alvarez pay-per-view, and that's going to suck a lot of the attention of the sport to it over the next two months.
That said, HBO isn't ceding its position at the top to Showtime. After taking July off (only a minor card, featuring Zou Shiming, will be on HBO this month), it has a strong doubleheader set for August. Sergei Kovalev, who has been blowing through his opposition, meets Nathan Cleverly in a light heavyweight title bout and Daniel Geale will defend his middleweight belt against Darren Barker on Aug. 17.
But it's the fall schedule that is going to make or break HBO. HBO is banking on fighters in the middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight divisions to give it a strong fall schedule and help it continue its reign at the top.
The issue is, none of those fall bouts are finalized, and in boxing, never count on anything until the paper is signed. And even then, hold your breath until the fighters slip between the ropes and the bell rings.
But HBO has ambitious plans and is looking to have rising star Gennady Golovkin fight at least twice more this year. In addition, it's going to place Andre Ward, Adonis Stevenson, Carl Froch and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on its schedule at least once each in the next six months.
HBO also has to make room for Mikey Garcia, Nonito Donaire and Mike Alvarado.
But Showtime has a number of lucrative fights left, too. Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer is working to arrange a Broner-Marcos Maidana welterweight title bout, a classic boxer versus slugger match. Perhaps the one fight all boxing fans want to see is a super lightweight bout between Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse that will wind up on Showtime if/when it's made.
HBO has been the boxing leader on cable television for years, but that title is being challenged this year by Showtime.
That may keep executives up at night plotting how to out-do the other, but as long as that occurs, it's a sign that the sport's healthy and the fans are getting their money's worth.
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