Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Canelo-Smith PPV Farce

"We have subscribers who are heavily engaged in boxing who believe they deserve a quality product...for us, success is always defined as 'What does the viewer get out of the product, not what we think we’re putting into it.'"

– Peter Nelson, Executive VP of HBO Sports, Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2016

Let's talk about a disconnect. The head of HBO Sports understands that its boxing viewers demand quality content. Yet, in the four fights that composed Saturday's Saul "Canelo" Alvarez-Liam Smith pay per view broadcast, the underdogs might have won a combined three rounds total. And this eventuality wasn't unanticipated or shocking. Two of the matches were showcases for emerging Golden Boy fighters, Joseph Diaz and Diego de la Hoya. Willie Monroe Jr.-Gabe Rosado was an absolutely dreadful affair (Monroe was the favorite and if he did prevail, the fight was expected to play out exactly as Saturday's did). The main event saw Smith, the untested "champion," dropped three times and unable to take a single round. 

I submit the following to Nelson: Would you classify this card as a "quality product?" Was Canelo-Smith worth $70? Did this card improve the HBO PPV or HBO Boxing brands? 

And although it's true that a network doesn't exert the same type of influence in determining who fights on a pay per view undercard that it does on its network offerings, still, some semblance of quality control needs to be effectuated. Typically, when a pay per view main event could fail to deliver quality, promoters and networks try to build a strong undercard; that certainly wasn't the case for Canelo-Smith.

But let's not leave Golden Boy Boxing out of this Smorgasbord of Shit. When Oscar de la Hoya dissolved his working relationships with former Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer and power broker Al Haymon, he seemed to find religion, proclaiming that the rechristened Golden Boy Promotions would put its fighters in tough and make the type of matches that would embolden the sport. Through much of 2015, de la Hoya followed through on that pledge. However, Saturday was certainly an unwelcome reversion to business-as-usual in boxing, exploiting Canelo's rabid fanbase to program a truly uninspiring event. 

And it wasn't just in the ring where the action disappointed. Canelo-Smith typified everything that is wrong with contemporary boxing broadcasting. Comparing untested young fighters to future hall of famers, absolving stars for not facing a chief rival, failing to point out gross mismatches, glossing over inadequacies in young boxers who are getting promotional pushes, it was a cynical broadcast that repeatedly mocked the intelligence of its viewers. 

Everyone seemed to be in on the fleecing. Despite Diaz exhibiting dreadful footwork, the opposite stance and a complete lack of power, Jim Lampley somehow compared him to legendary Mexican fighter Marco Antonio Barrera. Roy Jones praised Alvarez for not being dictated to by other parties, which was a strange comment to make. However, Jones strayed from the network's narrative on Saturday, which posited that de la Hoya, Alvarez's promoter, was chiefly to blame for Canelo failing to fight Gennady Golovkin. During Alvarez's post-fight interview with HBO's Max Kellerman, the broadcaster absolved Canelo of any culpability in the ordeal. Instead, he directed his criticism to de la Hoya, who was standing only inches behind Canelo, smiling like a used car dealer who successfully unloaded a lemon to a gullible buyer. The interview was just theater. 

If fighters are praised for taking tough assignments, why are they suddenly exonerated when they refuse them? In truth, they aren't. This was just an example of Kellerman and HBO pulling punches. De la Hoya was more than happy to wear the black hat so that the cash cow of his company and one of HBO's biggest stars didn't have to experience any vitriol. It was perhaps the most cynical moment of boxing in 2016, and that's quite an accomplishment for a sport rife with problems in the American market.

Through almost three-quarters of the year, HBO has had only two of its main events turn out to be competitive (Vargas-Salido and Gonzalez-Cuadras) and one pay per view that was passably so (Pacquiao-Bradley III). Again, this isn't an example of unanticipated outcomes; for instance, no one expected Kovalev-Pascal II or Ward-Brand to be competitive. Canelo-Khan and Golovkin-Brook were abject mismatches disguised as big events. HBO's boxing ratings have been down in 2016 and the fights haven't been memorable. According to numerous reports, HBO Boxing's budget has been slashed and with a record like the one above, it's no wonder why the Time Warner and HBO suits have given Nelson fewer resources. How much confidence could you have in the current regime?

"More with less" might be one of most odious phrases of corporate jargon. However, the concept is well understood. During times of retrenchment, organizations must focus on what they do best. By sticking to their core competencies and succeeding on a more limited level, organic growth can eventually happen. (At least, this is the theory.) 

However, Nelson & Co., and throw Golden Boy Promotions into this mix as well, have put forth "less with less," a strategy that doesn't portend well for either organization moving forward. Canelo is Golden Boy's lone attraction in a sport dependent on them. Their roster remains devoid of future stars or even fighters that could possess that potential. HBO has fewer true headliners than they once did but instead of demanding better fights with its reduced resources, the network has continued to broadcast mismatches, fights that were non-competitive the moment they were announced. Let me be even blunter: "Less with less" is what happens to organizations when they are failing. 

HBO Boxing was the gold standard of boxing for generations and it's painful to see the network descend into mediocrity. Yes, no other entity has filled the void for consistent, quality boxing programming but that's more a reflection on the self-immolating American boxing industry than it is a vote of confidence for "The Network of Champions." Luckily for HBO, its competitors remain stuck in quicksand. 

Showtime has had an inconsistent boxing calendar. Despite having some quality fights, there's little coherence regarding which boxers will be appearing on its network and when that might happen. Is Deontay Wilder a Showtime fighter? Is Demetrius Andrade? Is Danny Garcia? This is a problem of brand building for Showtime Boxing. What exactly is it at the moment? Mostly, the network has been broadcasting high-priced cards with Al Haymon boxers; however, as of now, Showtime doesn't have a single championship fight in America scheduled for the remainder of 2016. Showtime Sports head Stephen Espinoza has been reluctant to counterprogram college football, and understandably so, but the result of his strategy has created a network that isn't a year-round destination for boxing or its fans. The sport has become almost a seasonal pursuit for them.

Al Haymon's PBC series also has failed to deliver a consistent or coherent product. Some fine fights have occurred on Spike and FS1 but activity for his star attractions and quality control remain significant issues for the organization. Despite managing or advising many of the top fighters in boxing, he's been having trouble getting them in the ring. The PBC basically killed boxing on ESPN (and its summer series on the network was terrible this year) and its NBC shows have lacked consistency. (There's also wide speculation about the PBC doing some financial belt tightening of its own.)

Perhaps the American boxing market will right its ship but Canelo-Smith indicates that there are still needed lessons to be learned. With the exception of the Cotto-Canelo pay per view at the end of last year, after Mayweather-Pacquiao, the American PPV market has cratered. Broadcasters and promoters are loath to even release pay per view numbers, surely not a sign of an industry in good health. Yet, business-as-usual remains. And so on and so on. Crawford-Postol was a pay per view failure, Pacquiao-Bradley III has already been forgotten and Saturday's card will garner only a fraction of Alvarez's best numbers. This is not a positive trajectory. 

On a final note, Canelo-Smith was the first major boxing pay per view that I refused to purchase in over five years of covering the sport. I watch almost every card on American TV. I attend and pay for tickets to see live fights. I support the industry and want it to do well. Ultimately, I root for boxing to succeed and have never had a problem with outlaying money for pay per views, monthly cable premiums or tickets. However, with Alvarez-Smith, a precipice was crossed. I couldn't put up with the cynicism any longer. Saturday wasn't a quality product and didn't even approach its $70 suggested retail price. I streamed the fight on my computer. And if this becomes the "new normal," it wasn't a bad experience at all.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
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1 comment:

  1. Hear hear!!! Someone get this to a mainstream press outlet.