The Latest From Thomas Hauser On HBO [UPDATED]

[UPDATED: Dan Rafael, one of the best beat reporters in the biz, has challenged Thomas Hauser’s figures. If Rafael’s correct — and on the outside looking in, I have no way of knowing who’s right — the central good thing about Hauser’s piece falls away. Keep this in mind as you read the below story. Also, like myself and Doug Fischer, Rafael takes issue with the slant on the piece.]

When Thomas Hauser puts together a piece on HBO these days, it has two significant qualities: major news and harsh, often on-target critiques backed by investigative-level reporting; and a little too much slant, particularly of the pro-Bob Arum variety.

In this case, the news is pretty big. Those HBO boxing budget woes? They might soon get much, much worse, to the tune of a $15 million cut in 2010. To say the least, that would have pretty serious ramifications for the sport. And it’s the kind of thing that only Hauser probably would have or could have unearthed.
On the other hand?

Well, let’s stick to the first hand for a sec.

Hauser reports that the first draft of the HBO budget, from July, called for a $15 million budget cut for 2010 — 20 percent.

HBO’s budget will be finalized by Bill Nelson in late-October or early-November. Then it will be presented to Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes for approval. Nelson, Plepler, and Lombardo are unlikely to tell Greenburg where to cut $15,000,000 from his 2010 budget. That will be his decision. But if the $15,000,000 cut stands, most of it is expected to come out of boxing. There will be lower license fees, fewer fights, and, most likely, layoffs. It’s possible that  Boxing After Dark will be discontinued.

That, in and of itself, is frightening. Frightening. 
I really don’t know much of what else to say about it than that. Start a petition…?
I’m not going to go through the rest of the column point by point. I came too close to republishing his last piece, so let’s do it this way: Anything I don’t object to, I agree with. Many of those agreeable points, such as the ridiculousness of HBO overpaying for Chad Dawson-Antonio Tarver II at light heavyweight, had been previously reported. Sometimes, he adds extra details, such as — sticking to Dawson-Tarver — the exact attendance of the first fight (911 people) and the live gate of the second fight ($170,280).
It must be read in its entirety. It really must. Warts and all.
But there are warts.
When Hauser suggests Paul Williams-Winky Wright (middleweight) was a waste of time because of Wright’s age and the eventual outcome, he’s ignoring the fact that this was viewed as a competitive fight by nearly everyone, and there were a ton of people who predicted Wright would win. Call it a waste of time for other reasons, like the fact that it was held in Las Vegas when nobody wanted it there, or that the network overpaid for it, or whatever. But let’s not act like Williams-Wright was some joke of a fight when it was signed.
HBO was, as Hauser notes, hyping Klitschko-Arreola, but more people than you’d expect liked Chris Arreola’s chances of upsetting Vitali Klitschko last weekend. And even those who didn’t like his chance still wanted to watch it. Klitschko-Arreola was about as promising a heavyweight fight as the division had to offer in a long time, and HBO has wisely passed on some Klitschko fights in the last year, but it can’t ignore the division entirely, can it? Hauser, a Larry Merchant fan, quotes Merchant criticizing Shannon Briggs as a hype job, equating Merchant’s critique of Briggs to the problem with Arreola; Merchant, though, was one of the biggest Arreola boosters before this fight.
(In both of those cases, I predicted wide wins for Williams and Klitschko. But my opinion isn’t the only one that matters.)
Hauser’s not high on Dawson-Johnson II. Dawson-Glen Johnson II is a rematch of a very good fight, and maybe HBO overpaid for this Dawson rematch, too, but my sense is that there’s some broad interest in Dawson-Johnson II among boxing fans, and it’s not an argument that Dawson-Johnson II will be a mismatch to cite the 116-112 scorecards across the board from the initial bout. Those are scorecards that everyone thought were too wide even if they thought Dawson won. Johnson’s more advanced age factors into things, but Johnson’s style is difficult for Dawson, and if Dawson blew him away in the rematch, I’d be surprised, as would, I’m guessing, most everyone.
The HBO tripleheader featuring Robert Guerrero-Daud Yordan (junior lightweight), Victor Ortiz-Mike Arnaoutis (junior welterweight) and James Kirkland-Joel Julio (junior middleweight) was, contrary to Hauser’s objections, thought by many to include highly competitive match-ups. Guerrero-Yordan, the one with the lowest expectations, turned out to be the most competitive. Arnaoutis was a big step up for Ortiz, and that Ortiz blew him away how he did was a major statement. And Kirkland-Julio was both expected to be competitive and ended up that way, at least early on.
Suddenly, though, Hauser finds a mismatch he likes: Juan Manuel Lopez-Gerry Penalosa (junior featherweight). The reason is because it was a means of “introducing” Lopez to HBO’s subscribers. But HBO had already “introduced” Lopez to its subscribers in 2008 on HBO, when he fought and beat Daniel Ponce De Leon. Is it a coincidence that Lopez is a fighter promoted by Arum’s Top Rank?
Guerrero comes in for more criticism from Hauser for fighting a “very ordinary” Malcolm Klassen, but Klassen was ranked higher by Ring magazine, a justifiable rating given each man’s quality of competition and quality of victories. And despite Hauser’s criticism of how exciting Guerrero is, Guerrero-Klassen was an exciting fight.
HBO’s favoritism of Golden Boy comes in for a spanking here, most of it justifiably. But I find it dispiriting that most of the quotes attacking said dealings, other than from writers, come from Bob Arum or an unnamed “rival promoter.” Maybe they aren’t the best sources, right? Not the most reliable types, in terms of fair complaints, right? Arum isn’t all good, you know? Because what Arum says he would do if he was in charge of HBO — 12 big shows a year — is very contrary to Arum’s behavior. Arum delivers wonderful fights to fans sometimes, but if he were in charge of HBO, judging from his actual track record, we’d see Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. every other month against opponents not quite dangerous enough to threaten him and “undress”/”expose” him, in the words Hauser uses to complain about results of Golden Boy boxer losses; we’d see Lopez fighting in five straight mismatches; we’d see Miguel Cotto-Michael Jennings.
At least in some of the fights where a young boxer got his ass handed to him that Hauser complained about, there was risk, even if Hauser didn’t see it. And that’s one of the problems here. Does Hauser have some kind of invincible prediction record? If he predicted every fight correctly, all of the 60-40 fights, I’d be amazed. But after the fact, he can criticize the results all he wants and look like he saw it coming.
Also, did HBO just not want to talk about any of this on the record? They’re quoted in one brief sentence. And Golden Boy — don’t they get to say anything? If those parties refused to talk to Hauser, he didn’t pass along that information to the reader. Meanwhile, Arum and Shaw and a bunch of anonymous people (necessary for the HBO employees he quotes, not so much for the rival promoters) get to slag everyone in sight without any indication that some of them aren’t the purest of angels, sent from heaven to save boxing.
I have smaller quibbles — I disagree with his take on Ring magazine’s championship policy vociferously; I disagree with his take on how boxing has done since 2007; I think it’s funny to hear Gary Shaw complaining that HBO has “all the power,” when he practically owns every date at Showtime, HBO’s biggest rival, and is the beneficiary of some of the more egregious HBO mess-ups, like big money for Dawson and Tarver — but they don’t fit into my larger criticisms and/or I’ve railed on those topics endlessly in the past.
I saw “The Informant” over the weekend and walked away annoyed (spoiler alert) that the whistleblower who exposed the greater wrongdoing ended up getting in more trouble for his more trivial sins.
But I kind of get it now. Hauser has done a great service by digging so deep into HBO. Dammit if it isn’t frustrating for me to read every other sentence and think it undermines everything worthwhile
he dug up.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.