Wednesday February 1st, 2012

Admit it: You think you could run HBO Sports.

You think that with the biggest boxing budget in the game ($35 million) and the largest potential audience (28 million subscribers), you could make some pretty good fights.

Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.?

No problem.

Andre Ward-Lucien Bute?

Piece of cake.

Amir Khan-Tim Bradley?

Just watch me work.

Hell, you probably think you could get Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather to sign on the dotted line. Maybe get the Klitschko brothers to fight each other on the undercard, too.

Ken Hershman understands how you feel. Those fights all sound good to him. But in an industry where promoters refuse to co-promote, where a manager (Al Haymon) wields a destructive amount of power and where the two biggest stars in the business refuse to compromise thismuch to make what would likely be the most lucrative fight in boxing history, the powers of the president of HBO Sports are somewhat limited.

What Hershman can do -- and what he declared to a group of reporters at HBO's Manhattan office on Tuesday -- is buy competitive fights. Hershman didn't reveal much in his first public comments since taking over the sports department on January 9. He's a fan of Brandon Rios, Saul Alvarez and Miguel Cotto. He's not a fan of multi-fight contracts but will agree to them with the right fighter who has the right plan in place. He wants to see Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather fight but doesn't think boxing needs it to survive.

"I'm over it," Hershman said. "I don't think it's imperative. I don't think it's anything the sport needs in terms of saving. I think that it gets in the way of fights being made because you do end up being stalled for weeks, months, while everything gets sorted out."

Hershman is right. Top Rank is tying up four fighters (Cotto, Bradley, Peterson Juan Manuel Marquez) while it sorts out Pacquiao's next fight. Mayweather is tying up two (Alvarez, Robert Guerrero).

There's not much Hershman can do about that, nor does he have much say in picking Mayweather's and Pacquiao's next opponents. Distributing a Mayweather or Pacquiao pay-per-view means big business for HBO. The company gets a percentage of the pay-per-view revenue, and Mayweather and Pacquiao have become an almost automatic one million buys. If Mayweather wants to fight Alvarez, fine. If he wants to fight a Las Vegas cab driver, that's fine too.

Ultimately, Hershman only has one real power: the power to say no. Now, saying no isn't always easy. Many wish Hershman had passed on the rematch between Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson. The first fight was a dud, a stylistic snooze fest before Dawson tossed Hopkins to the canvas in the second round, reportedly injuring his shoulder. And there's little reason to believe the rematch won't be just as dull. But Hopkins does have a huge rating on HBO, and with Floyd Mayweather scheduled to fight the following week, having Hopkins on the network makes good business sense.

Still, there are times Hershman will need to put his foot down. The network shouldn't keep paying huge license fees for Chavez Jr. to fight manufactories, for Adrien Broner to beat up on a glorified sparring partner, or for Gary Russell Jr. to concuss opponents who have no business being in the same ring with him. They want those kind of fights, fine. But HBO doesn't have to pay for them.

Hershman says he doesn't believe a loss should diminish a fighter's stature, and he's right. Carl Froch lost twice during the Super Six tournament Hershman put together at Showtime and he is considered one of the most appealing opponents at 168 pounds. If he can get promoters and fighters to buy into that, to take risks rather than actively seek the easy out, he can play a major role in boxing's revival.

"My job is to put the best boxing on HBO as possible," Hershman said. "I think it's pretty simple. And I always tell the promoters and people I work with: I'm not in the boxing business, I'm in the TV business. I leave that to them. And I think that lets them do what they do best and it lets us do what we do best. And I try to stay out of the politics as best I can. I try to stay out of the machinations on the chess boards and just try to buy good fights at the right price."

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