HBO hits Showtime
bouts below belt

Dec 12, 2006 12:52 AM

I’ve been concentrating on filling out my college football bowl entry form for a contest among boxing writers. Hey, there’s not much going on in the area of my alleged expertise.

December is the annual time for us Boss Scribes, as Don King so eloquently describes us, to write about our annual awards, Old Year recaps, New Year forecasts, pound-for-pound ratings, shopping lists and any other creative endeavor to fill up the space.

For this, of course, we get the big bucks.

Far be it for me to disturb these holiday traditions by waxing eloquent on next weekend’s HBO Boxing After Dark. It used to be called B.A.D. (now it’s just BAD) and originates from the swamps of Florida. You probably couldn’t find a line on the offerings anyway, a clear indication that your time would be better spent on the Comedy Channel.

Besides, HBO does not deserve our good intentions. I am not alone in being ticked off by the network’s bad sportsmanship in giving out the results of rival Showtime bouts. It wasn’t done for the news value, but to try and stop viewers from switching to boxing’s other premium cable station for fights that are either on tape delay or being taped by customers.

It happened again this month. Showtime had a superior double-header to HBO’s regular drek — welterweight thrillers Winky Wright against the obviously overmatched Ike Quartey and Jeff Lacy’s return against someone named Vitali Typo or something.

In the middle of HBO’s first fight, without any warning or advice to viewers to mute the sound if they didn’t want to hear the results, Larry Merchant volunteered the Showtime results. It spoiled the night of many, especially on the Left Coast. I do not blame Merchant, or Jim Lampley, who twice recently pulled the same stunt. They have proven over and over they are House Men. No, this policy comes from above. Since Ross Greenburg is the nominal chief, he gets the nominal blame.

This is not simply a case of giving us results of the victories of Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto over Joshua Clottey and Carlos Quintana respectively for their news value. There was no mention of the results of other big fights that night, in particular a middleweight double-header in Germany.

It is inescapable that the network that calls itself the "Heart and Soul of Boxing" has neither heart nor soul. Plus, its boxing content has been suffering for years. All that’s left is the mean-spiritedness of bullies.

HBO had long been the best place to watch boxing. Much of that credit belongs to Greenburg, who as a director created so many fan-friendly innovations that the telecasts were state of the art. The Peter Principle must apply. On Greenburg’s watch as sports chief, HBO’s boxing coverage has suffered mightily. He is now resorting to low blows to compete with Showtime.

I wish I could boycott HBO. As a boxing writer I need to keep tabs on one of the major players in the game, especially when not playing fair. Nor can I recommend that fight fans cancel their subscriptions to HBO.

However, we can all cancel Time and Sports Illustrated — the Time Warner stablemates. Boxing fans need not worry. Neither magazine gives coverage to the game.

It is difficult to get in the holiday spirit after having an evening at the fights spoiled by pettiness. I still wish Greenburg a Happy Hanukkah and hopefully he’ll stop trying to burn the candles at both ends.

While HBO continues to supply us with nonbetting fights, 2007 will kick off with a Showtime unoriginal — the Jan. 6 rematch between Samuel Peter and James Toney in Florida. The early line was pick’em (now Peter -120, Toney even at Caesars Palace). Most of us experts thought Toney did enough to win, but the verdict went to Peter. It was not a horrendous decision, but the WBC ordered an immediate rematch to determine the mandatory challenger for its heavyweight belt.

Maybe Don King having a piece of both fighters had something to do with it. Remember that when King promoted Julio Cesar Chavez, his lackeys did not order an immediate rematch for Pernell Whitaker. Pernell was robbed much worse than Toney was.

Bottom line: We have an even bout between two heavys who gave us a dramatic, if flawed, effort the first time and are willing to do it over. Good for them, and us.