One of the roles bloggers play is functioning as a check on the media, and even though in the boxing world I’ve bounced back and forth between blogging and writing for some news sites, I occasionally feel the need to play that particularly bloggy role.
With that in mind, I’d like to spend some time commenting on the latest SecondsOut piece from Thomas Hauser on HBO; the latest issue of Ring magazine; and some recent remarks at, and continual problems with, BoxingScene.
As promised, Hauser’s back with his latest examination of HBO. I recommend reading it here.
I’m going to take issue with a few things Hauser says and make some supplemental points, but my overall attitude toward his piece — aimed at Ross Greenburg, the boss of boxing at HBO — is similar to what he says to Greenburg: “If you disagree with ninety percent of what I’m writing, implement the ten percent that you agree with.” I actually agree with Hauser in this piece in about the exact inverse ratio. Really, I only disagree with some of the examples he uses to prove his 11 suggestions to Greenburg. All of his suggestions are spot on.
First, Hauser makes a point about declining boxing ratings at the network. “If there were times when it seemed as though all time-low records were set on a monthly basis, it’s because they were.” What I wonder is how much of that is related to the way in which Nielsen ratings have a tough time calculating how many people are TiVoing or DVRing their boxing programming. HBO says that explains the drop. The way to find out might be if there is a similar drop in its ratings for its other non-boxing programming.
From there, Hauser goes into 11 prescriptions for Greenburg.
“(1) Televise competitive fights.” To illustrate his point, he throws out a few numbers that are hard to refute. “In nine fights on HBO World Championship Boxing and Boxing After Dark in the final quarter of 2008, the underdog won a total of FIVE ROUNDS. Five rounds out of sixty-four rounds in nine fights. That’s not boxing. That’s paying to watch guys get beaten up.”
But then he quotes Gary Shaw calling the James Kirkland-Brian Vera bout a jokey mismatch, and while he acknowledges that Shaw once had Kirkland in his promotional stable, I think Shaw just isn’t worth quoting on this one. Shaw isn’t in much of a position of authority to criticize the televising of mismatches, because he’s been involved in more than his share of televised mismatches. I really think Shaw is speaking out of 100 percent anger toward Kirkland, and if you think he’s above that and really cares about the integrity of the sport over exacting revenge in one of his many vendettas, you’re not paying attention. Like all promoters, he does some things right and some things wrong, but his motive here is way questionable.
Furthermore, Vera had upset a highly-touted prospect, Andy Lee, in his previous fight, and there was the off chance he would do it again. Vera, I thought and still do, was an acceptable opponent for Kirkland at this point in Kirkland’s career, and the fact that he lasted as long as he did suggests that he was a step up in opposition. Whether it’s worth televising is another question, but I wanted to see Kirkland-Vera because I’ve enjoyed seeing the maturation of Kirkland and thought it could be a good slugfest; I’d rather this one have been televised than not.
“(2) Stop enabling the flow of fights that should be on World Championship Boxing to pay-per-view.” Absolutely. But there’s another pot-calling-the-kettle-black dilemma here with promoter Bob Arum’s quote that if he was running HBO, he’d get out of the pay-per-view business. Arum’s been involved in a ton of HBO’s pay-per-view shows in recent years, and he runs plenty of his own on the side. Arum is no angel of cutting down on ppv. He’s one of the biggest culprits.
“(3) When HBO-PPV televises a fight card, give your customers quality undercard fights.” Yes, by all means, yes. I thought, going in, that the Manny Pacquiao-Oscar De La Hoya undercard would be better than it was. It had the looks of an improvement over recent ppv undercards. Clearly I was wrong, but I’m not the only one who defended it beforehand and The Ring’s Doug Fischer defended it afterwards, because it looked more promising than it ended up. But Hauser’s right to point out, in this case, that it stank. And HBO most definitely should have had a backup plan if the fights ended early.
“(4) Stop giving preferential treatment to Golden Boy and Al Haymon.” I don’t doubt that this is happening. But some of the evidence he uses puts #4 and #1 in conflict with #7, “Do more to support American fighters.”
He singles out the Haymon-managed Andre Berto’s mismatches. At least one of them was terrible — the Michel Trabant fight — and everyone should have seen beforehand that Trabant’s resume didn’t make him an even borderline acceptable opponent for Berto. But I thought the Steve Forbes and Miguel Rodriguez were acceptable, developmental fights for Berto. Berto’s among the best and most entertaining young American fighters out there. If you don’t put Berto on television, then whom?
Paul Williams and Chad Dawson, maybe? But Williams’ fight with Verno Phillips catches hell from Hauser because he’s Haymon-managed. Yes, Williams was the favorite. But Williams also can’t convince anyone else to get in the ring with him, and Phillips constituted one of the best opponents of his career. Could HBO force someone tougher to fight Williams? I’d love it if they could, and they certainly should try. Hauser demonstrated that when HBO wanted to, with Kelly Pavlik-Edison Miranda, they were able to force the right fight for a young fighter. Hauser also criticizes HBO for overpaying for Dawson-Antonio Tarver II — Tarver’s also managed by Haymon — and he’s right here. We already know that Dawson-Tarver I wasn’t competitive. This is one of the weirder things HBO has done in a long time, but I think they’re doing it out of the sense that Dawson’s an up-and-coming young American fighter they’d like to support. I’m sure they could have figured out a better way.
And I will also defend HBO spending some airtime on the Haymon-promoted Chris Arreola. Arreola’s the best young American heavyweight, which isn’t saying much, but he’s definitely good television. I thought the bout with Travis Walker was another appropriate developmental fight.
Lastly on point #4, Hauser’s critical here of Librado Andrade-Robert Steiglitz. I thought that was a good bout.
And sticking with #7 — I agree with that objective, but I also think HBO sometimes discriminates against deserving foreign fighters, or else they would have agreed to air Jermain Taylor-Carl Froch.
“(5) Bring license fees into line with economic reality.” This passage is perfect. I would love to hear someone at HBO explain why it uses its money so poorly. There simply has to be some reason. It’s stupid business to just throw money away like they do. And even if they have some underlying reason, Hauser’s right to point out that there’s no correlation between the amount they pay versus the ratings (even if you factor out the TiVo factor, this holds true) and they ought to fix that.
“(6) Forget the heavyweights until a worthwhile fight comes along.” I agree with this for the most part. There have been the occasional stray good heavyweight fights in the last couple years, but on the whole I think the sport would be better off if the heavyweights just went away.
The biggest objection I have to Hauser on this one is his dismissal of David Haye. “And stop shilling for [Arreola] and David Haye (promoted by Golden Boy) as top-flight opponents for the Klitschkos. Haye is a cruiserweight who was knocked out by Carl Thompson. His lone victory as a heavyweight was against a faded Monte Barrett (who was knocked out in two rounds by Cliff Couser).” Haye WAS a cruiserweight who was knocked out by Carl Thompson, but that was years ago, and he’s more than bounced back. He became the legit cruiserweight champion by defeating the very good Jean-Marc Mormeck and defended the title by defeating the very good Enzo Maccarinelli. I say beating those two tops losing to Thompson; fighters do evolve. Barrett, too, was indeed knocked out by Couser, but he came back to avenge that loss relatively definitively, and he was, I thought, an acceptable opponent for Haye’s heavyw
eight re-debut. Haye may not be proven enough at heavyweight to topple the Klitschkos, but if not him, then who? Hauser once advocated for Wladimir to fight Nicolay Valuev, but I’d give Haye a far better chance of beating Wladimir. There are a lot of people legitimately excited about Haye, including myself, even though I acknowledge he could flame out the second he fights a big puncher at heavyweight.
“(8) Revamp your announcing teams.” Yeah. I’m not as down on Max Kellerman as Hauser is, but man does Lennox Lewis ever have to go.
“(9) Be ever-vigilant to ensure that HBO’s journalistic integrity remains intact.” I don’t think this point gets made enough. I was an early enjoyer of the 24/7 series and sometimes like the preview shows, and think both still be a valuable tool for promoting fights. But it needs to be made clear to viewers that these are ads for ppv bouts paid for by the promoters — perhaps with a prominent disclosure at the beginning of each episode. And they’d be more credible if they didn’t avoid certain topics. I don’t have a problem with seeing Freddie Roach josh around with his hairdresser — it’s humanizing and all — but it’s awfully strange that the Golden Boy/Arum feud over Pacquiao never was mentioned in 24/7.
“(10) Re-examine your boxing program from top to bottom.” This is solid advice.
“(11) A few more thoughts.” It’s not surprising to me that Greenburg would be going on a witch hunt to find out who Hauser’s sources are at HBO. Offended leader-types do this all the time when they get bad press. But it’s so very, very dumb. Hauser’s advice that Greenburg should be trying to address the morale problems that compel his employees to speak out is a far better use of Greenburg’s time.
I love my Ring magazine, but there are a few things they do that really piss me off, and not in a “fun to argue with them” kind of way.
Under their “10 Fights We’d Like To See” piece, they mention Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez IV,” and explain it thusly: “Sure, it would be nice if these guys were speaking clearly and getting around on their own in 15 years, but let’s face it — it’s probably too late already… We say throw them in there again and let them make money now while they still can.”
I recognize that there’s a brutality inherent to this sport I love, and it’s something I struggle with from time to time. But I think it’s way too barbaric to so cavalierly dismiss the health risks fighters face as often as The Ring does. It’s not a laughing matter or something to dismiss so lightly. I find it detestable to think it quaintly “nice” the idea of fighters not being vegetables in a decade or so. The magazine really shouldn’t be as proud to strut around and say things like this as often as it does, as if they were so cute or so honest because of their disdain for human life.
Keeping with the same column, De La Hoya-Shane Mosley III makes the list of 10 fights they’d like to see in 2009. If anyone is looking for signs of whether Golden Boy Promotions’ ownership of The Ring has led to any bias toward GBP fighters, this one should be flagged as “suspect.” I don’t know anyone who’s itching to see De La Hoya-Mosley III. No one. And I didn’t know anyone itching to see it before De La Hoya got stomped by Pacquiao. Certainly not enough to get a mention on the cover, let alone a top-10 list.
The magazine’s long lead time before it’s put to bed and actually is printed continues to be a major problem, and it leads to embarrassments all the time. I can’t believe that I had to wait until January to get Ring’s take on fights that happened in October. There just has to be a better way for them to stay more timely. Here’s an example of how poorly this works out for them sometimes: “Listen here: It matters not a whit whether De La Hoya has beaten or lost to Manny Pacquiao by the time you read this. He remains our sport’s biggest star and its most consistent bankable attraction.” If Ring magazine could have waited until Dec. 6, it would have known how wrong they’d be weeks later for that remark. I guarantee you that De La Hoya’s next fight will not be the biggest-selling fight of 2009, which means he won’t be its most bankable attraction. If I’m wrong, I’ll eat that page of the magazine and broadcast it over the Internet somehow.
A couple other minor counterpoints to things said in Ring this month. Ivan Goldman argues that we should all be believers in Joe Calzaghe now because he beat up Roy Jones, Jr. Uh, no. I believe in Calzaghe for a lot of reasons, but defeating a way over-the-hill Jones proved virtually nothing. To his credit, he makes a sound point about how Lucian Bute was illegally held up by the ropes at the end of the Andrade fight. To me, this is the most salient argument casting doubt on my earlier belief that Bute deserved the win, despite the bad ref. Who knows if Bute would have been able to walk to the ref if a proper count had been administered. Where I stand on this now is, Bute may have deserved the win and he may not have. Bad refereeing is the reason we’ll never know.
A quick disclosure before I get into a few issues I’ve had with BoxingScene: Long ago, I had an argument with its former editor over a freelance piece I’d proposed to them. But as I’ve tried to show again and again, I criticize fighters and writers I like just as generously as I criticize fighters and writers I don’t.
Jake Donovan is one of the better writers they have over at BoxingScene, but he took a cheap shot at Ring recently by attacking them for calling Berto an African-American when in fact he’s a Haitian-American. I don’t have a problem with them pointing out the mistake (obviously I’m doing a lot of critiquing right now of other boxing writers), but a little note there might have sufficed. Everyone makes mistakes. Hell, I could make a living pointing out all the typos and plainly incorrect information that appears on BoxingScene, and forget about some of their writers who never write a coherent sentence. But I tend not to rant about the stuff that way. The reason for the Donovan attack appeared to be a recent Ring column that said there’s more “junk than journalism” on the Internet. Strikes me as petty retaliation for a remark they took personally.
That’s a relatively minor offense, but I actually am very strongly considering never going to the site again, valuable as it is as a compilation of all boxing news from all other news sources, some decent analysis and the news they break on a pretty regular basis. The reason is because the last two times I’ve visited, my computer has frozen up as my browser attempts to leave BoxingScene and download some pdf. Maybe that’s a problem on my end, but on boxing message boards, I’ve read several complaints about the site loading up readers’ computers with spyware, so I’m not alone. Everyone wants to make money for their work — soon, I’m going to probably install some non-intrusive ads of my own on this site for revenue that doesn’t just go to the parent company at MVN. But the second I go to BoxingScene, my computer is bombarded with pop-up ads, some of which Firefox shuts down and some of which it does not. And if there’s something more insidious going on, BoxingScene’s not so indispensable a site that it would win in a choice between “boxing information” and “the continual functioning of my computer.”
Word of warning, all.
(CORRECTED: I’d erroneously provided the wrong name of the person I’d spoken to at BoxingScene.)