By Thomas Hauser
Last Saturday (February 17th), boxing returned to New York City in the form of an HBO Boxing After Dark
triple-header at the Hammerstein Ballroom.
The main event featured Paulie Malignaggi (21-1, 5 KOs), who was in action for the first time since his June 10th loss to Miguel Cotto.
“Going into the Cotto fight, I was prepared to get hit and I knew his fans would go crazy if he hurt me,” Malignaggi says. “But even though I was psychologically prepared, it was a very lonely feeling in the ring that night. I can’t complain about the decision. Cotto won. A different move here, a break there, maybe it would have been different; but what happened happened. Some people saw the damage to my face [a fractured orbital bone] and assumed it wasn’t a competitive fight. That’s wrong. I showed I can get off the canvas. I showed I can go twelve rounds and fight my way back into a fight when I’m hurt. But I’d spent my entire life waiting for that moment and I came up short. Whatever else happens to me in boxing, no matter how many titles I win; if I retire without fighting Cotto again, there will always be an empty spot inside me.”
Cotto-Malignaggi II is unlikely to happen. But hope springs eterrnal, and the first step back in Paulie’s rehabilitation as a contender was a match-up against Edner Cherry on Saturday night.
Cherry came into the bout with a 21-4-2 record. He’s an aggressive non-stop action fighter but, like Paulie, lacks a big punch. More significantly, he was coming up from lightweight to meet Malignaggi at the 140-pound limit.
Paulie came into the bout with blue hair to match his blue gloves, blue-and-silver trunks, and blue shoes (with tassels, of course). More significantly, he’s a good fighter who knows what he’s doing in a boxing ring. “I can’t imagine how it would feel to be in the ring with a guy who can outthink me and outbox me,” Malignaggi said recently. “That’s never happened to me in a fight.”
In round one, Paulie’s hands were too fast and he was too fleet of foot for Cherry.
In round two, Paulie’s hands were too fast and he was too fleet of foot for Cherry.
In round three, Paulie’s hands were too fast and he was too fleet of foot for Cherry.
And so it went for ten rounds. Speed doesn’t always kill, but it outpoints.
“It was boring at times,” Malignaggi acknowledged afterward. “But I got the win.”
The other bouts on HBO’s Saturday-night telecast were also flawed.
Andre Berto versus Norberto Bravo was what promoter Lou DiBella would have called a “death match” if it had been someone else’s fight. Berto is an immensely talented hard-punching young prospect with blazing hand-speed. The 36-year-old Bravo (who has lost three of his last four bouts) is courageous but lacks the skills to be competitive against a good young fighter.
The best thing about Berto-Bravo was that it ended quickly. Andre outlanded his foe 28-to-3 and knocked him down three times en route to a first-round stoppage. Fights like this are necessary to develop a young fighter but they shouldn’t be on HBO. Either the powers that be at the cable giant knew that Berto-Bravo was a gross mismatch (in which case they shouldn’t have televised it) or they didn’t know (in which case they should do their homework).
Sechew Powell against Ishe Smith (which aired between Berto-Bravo and Malignaggi-Cherry) was an match-up for boxing purists. It was also a predictably unsatisfying TV fight. Styles make fights. And while Powell and Smith are good boxers, they’re also both cautious counter punchers. The booing by fans began in the second round and was heard sporadically throughout the bout. This observer gave Powell the nod by a 95-94 margin. The judges were unanimous in Sechew’s favor.
The most intriguing issue of the night was whether HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg was watching the fights on television (neither he nor vice president Kery Davis was at ringside). The question filtered through press row accompanied by bemused looks.
Tim Smith of the New York Daily News
(last year’s winner of the Nat Fleischer Award for Career Excellence in Boxing Journalism) opined, “Probably not. I wouldn’t.”
Not to be outdone, Dan Rafael of ESPN.com (who has earned respect throughout the boxing industry for his encyclopedic knowledge of active fighters) offered the view, “I hope so. I’m suffering through it. So should he.”
Obviously, Saturday’s fight card ties into the larger issue of HBO’s boxing programming.
2007 has not started well for the cable giant. Its January 20th World Championship Boxing
show (the first of the year) featured two marquee names (Ricky Hatton and Jose Luis Castillo). Unfortunately, they weren’t fighting each other. Instead, viewers saw Hatton against Juan Urango in a boring one-sided fight. Jose Luis Castillo against Herman Ngoudjo was just boring, since Castillo wasn’t in good enough shape to make it one-sided. The match-ups were designed to hype a June 23rd confrontation between Hatton and Castillo, but were so sluggish that they took some of the lustre off that fight. Larry Merchant spoke for fans everywhere when he told viewers, “I have to confess that, coming to the fights tonight, I found myself constantly thinking, ‘Why am I not coming to see Hatton fight Castillo?’ Hatton-Castillo is the attraction, but that’s not the boxing business.”
Then, on a January 27th Boxing After Dark
telecast, Kelly Pavlik beat up on Jose Luis Zertuche for eight rounds before knocking him out. In the nightcap, Jorge Arce won a 12-round decision over Julio Roque Ler. It’s a sad commentary on Arce-Ler that the most noteworthy thing about it was that Arce rode a dancing horse to the ring. At no point in either fight was the outcome in doubt.
Shane Mosley against Luis Collazo on February 10th was an interesting match-up, but apparently the public wasn’t interested because the ratings tanked and only 3,927 tickets were sold for the fight. The televised undercard bout between Vivian Harris and Juan Lazcano was the sort of contest that fans once saw on ESPN, not HBO Championship Boxing.
Looking ahead; after two “learning experiences” on HBO, Paul Williams appears poised for a fight worth watching (against Antonio Margarito). That throws a monkey-wrench into HBO’s plan to televise Miguel Cotto versus Margarito on June 9th and leaves one wondering whether HBO overpaid for Cotto against Oktay Urkal on March 3rd (which was supposed to set up Cotto-Margarito). Pouring salt into the wound, it’s possible that Margarito-Williams will be on Showtime.
It’s also noteworthy that, if HBO televises Jermain Taylor against Sergio Mora on April 21st, four alumni from the Contender TV
- reality series will be fighting on the cable giant within the span of nine weeks [Mora, Ishe Smith, Norberto Bravo, and Peter Manfredo Jr]. So much for HBO “building stars.”
The powers that be at HBO Sports say they’re satisfied with the way things are going. That might be because the first five months of 2007 are largely about the May 5th showdown between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. The network is putting a huge amount of money into a four-part prime-time “countdown” series, extensive advertising, and other promotional efforts for that extravaganza. But De La Hoya versus Mayweather won’t fundamentally change the overall picture at HBO. And regardless of its impact, there’s no reason that HBO (for the license fees it pays) can’t give its subscribers COMPETITIVE ACTION fights on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, boxing’s heavyweight picture gets drearier every day. Shannon Briggs has pulled out of his March 10th WBO title defense against Sultan Ibragimov, citing a case of pneumonia. And the WBC - Oleg Maskaev - Vitali Klitschko - Samuel Peter mess continues to defy resolution.
HBO is believed to be offering behind-the-scenes support to the Klitschko camp and holding May 19th open for Maskaev versus Klitschko. There has been no such accommodation as of yet for Maskaev-Peter. Last week, this writer sent an email to HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg, asking specifically, “Is HBO holding an opening for Oleg Maskaev vs. Vitali Klitschko?”
Greenburg sent a two-word response: “Ask Seth.”
Apparently, Greenburg is unhappy with statements made by former HBO Sports president Seth Abraham that were quoted last month on this website in an article entitled HBO Boxing: The Challenge
For the record; when asked about the May 19th date, Abraham (who left HBO six years ago) answered, “I don’t know.”
Am I the only one who sees irony in the fact that a New York Daily News
article by Tim Smith entitled “HBO Prez Aims to KO Dud Bouts” ended with an advisory that HBO will televise Wladimir Klitschko versus Ray Austin twice on the same day.
* * *
And last –
It has long been suspected in some circles that WBC championship belts are for sale. Now comes proof positive. The WBC Merchandising Europe website is selling the belts to the public for £2,348 pounds sterling (the equivalent of $4,635). According to the site, this is the “exact belt that the champions receive.”
Would the National Football League sell exact replicas of the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy to the public? I doubt it. Would the St. Louis Cardinals make extra World Series rings to sell on the side. I think not.
The WBC website says that the belts are “made from highest quality green leather inlaid with gold.” It doesn’t say what kind of gold or whether or not the belts are tarnished.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at: email@example.com