HBO, (Unproductive) Bully

We spend a lot of time in this space commenting on how HBO is using or should be using its considerable power in boxing. I think we can safely tuck its serial counterprogramming of Showtime’s innovative Super Six tournament under “shouldn’t be using its power that way.”

I get it; HBO and Showtime are in competition. But they are players in the same sport. And contributing to the overall health of that sport helps both networks. So while the attention received by Showtime’s super middleweight tournament upstaged HBO, and it surely stung in HBO headquarters, it does HBO no good to put on boxing shows on the same night of Super Six fights. Which it is doing each of the next two occasions that present themselves.

Make mistake: HBO is cannibalizing the sport in order to make a bully move. It’s cannibalizing its own audience, in fact. There’s no way its March 6 show pitting Devon Alexander against Juan Urango in a junior welterweight fight will get the ratings going against Showtime’s Arthur Abraham-Andre Dirrell that it would if it was going against lesser competition Feb. 27 or March 20, the nearest available dates where neither network has any programming.

It’s pulling the same bully move April 17, when it plans to put on a middleweight fight between Kelly Pavlik and Sergio Martinez teamed with a super middleweight fight between Lucian Bute and Edison Miranda. That’ll go against the long-scheduled Showtime Super Six doubleheader of Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler and Andre Ward-Allan Green — unless Showtime moves its show one weekend later to avoid the HBO doubleheader, to April 24, when HBO is planning to put on a heavyweight fight between Chris Arreola and Tomasz Adamek. Either way, HBO’s ratings will suffer for competing against the Showtime offering.

It’s not that I don’t think HBO has a valid interest in winning some kind of competition against Showtime. I just happen to think there’s a better way to do it. HBO could instead offer on a different weekend its doubleheader hyping the idea of the winner of Bute-Pavlik being the true boss at super middleweight, not the winner of the Super Six tournament. Does it undermine the Showtime tournament? If it’s a good show, yeah, it does. If Bute and Pavlik prove they’re better than anybody in the Super Six tournament, yeah, it does. It tells people that no matter what happens at Showtime, HBO is the joint to subscribe to for boxing. What’s sad is that the Bute/Pavlik show is a good show, and it might be a better show than the Showtime offering that night. It could just the same upstage the Showtime offering the week before as it could the week of. Instead, it’s going to kill the audience for both shows, or, at minimum, kill the audience for both shows on April 24.

And it’s not like HBO just plays this game with Showtime. It has a history of doing this counterprogramming stunt with the UFC, too, even though there are plenty of dates to go around for both mixed martial arts and boxing, as it’s doing May 1 with the Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley welterweight pay-per-view, a date the UFC had reserved for a while. Given the option between luring a diehard UFC fan to boxing on a night when there’s no UFC show or going head to head with the UFC and forcing said UFC fan to side with his or her historical allegiance, HBO has opted to put a show on the same date as the UFC. Rather than lifting all fight sports’ ratings, it chose to diminish ratings for both boxing and MMA. (The UFC moved its show to the next weekend in response. Increasingly, I find myself agreeing with UFC boss Dana White: “We were trying to not go the same night as boxing but these [expletive] guys can’t get out of their own way,” White told Cagewriter. “I have never seen anything so unorganized, selfish and dysfunctional as boxing. It’s a joke!”)

HBO’s real goal here is to scorch the earth to the degree that Showtime doesn’t try anything ambitious like the Super Six again, its own ratings be damned. In boxing, there’s just too much “I’m going to piss all over everything rather than get ahead on my own merits” going around these days. This bullying hurts everyone, including HBO, Showtime and most especially the boxing fan who has to choose between two shows. It’s not brilliant. It’s idiotic.

I can tell you what I’m going to do in response to these shenanigans: DVR the HBO shows on both nights and watch the Showtime offerings live. I’m not sure my little drop in the ocean will do much to sway HBO from pulling this junk, but it’s all I can do. Maybe you’ll consider doing the same.

(Information for this entry pulled from a BoxingScene article that I caution you not to click on if you hate getting computer viruses, and from ESPN’s boxing schedule.)

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.