NEW YORK — From the moment Oscar De La Hoya wrestled control of Golden Boy Promotions from Richard Schaefer, when he yanked himself out of the lowest of depths to reclaim control of his company, one mission, one priority crystallized: rekindle his relationship with HBO. Under Schaefer, Golden Boy had been shut out by the network, banned by HBO Sports president Ken Hershman because of Schaefer’s calculated decisions to move the company’s top talent across the street to Showtime, to Stephen Espinoza, the former attorney with close ties to Golden Boy who had been tapped to run sports programming at the network.
De La Hoya went along with it, supported it, in part because he had ceded too much control to Schaefer, in part because his personal demons had pulled him further and further away from the sport. But he always wanted back in at HBO, industry sources say. It was HBO that built him from Olympic gold medalist into mainstream star, from a charismatic kid into one of the biggest pay-per-view draws in boxing history. Making fights for the fans makes for a nice sound byte, but reuniting with HBO, with his old pal, vice president Mark Taffet, has always been what this version of De La Hoya has been about.
The reconciliation began earlier this month, with Bernard Hopkins' light heavyweight unification fight against Sergey Kovalev assigned to HBO. On Tuesday it became official when Golden Boy announced that Canelo Alvarez had agreed to a multi-fight agreement with HBO, a deal that will begin in December with Alvarez facing long-faded former welterweight titleholder Joshua Clottey, according to sources familiar with the deal.
“We are working on the site and opponent for Canelo,” De La Hoya said. “An announcement will be made shortly.”
Canelo-Clottey is a fight that will set up an anticipated showdown between Alvarez and Miguel Cotto next year, but make no mistake: If finalized, Canelo-Clottey is an abomination. Clottey was effectively finished in 2010 when Manny Pacquiao battered him over 12 lopsided rounds. He returned from a nearly two-year hiatus last September to blow out journeyman Dashon Johnson and outpoint 39-year old Anthony Mundine. Clottey has no business on a premium network, no business on any network, much less on a high-profile show against one of the biggest stars in boxing.
Of course, HBO, which privately grumbled about the opponents Floyd Mayweather was insisting on during its last negotiations, seems indifferent to a D-level opponent now. Never mind that WBO titleholder Demetrius Andrade and James Kirkland — the two alternatives to Clottey that De La Hoya has publicly floated — have ties to HBO. What Canelo wants, Canelo gets, whatever it takes to get the ratings-grabbing star back on the network.
De La Hoya’s relationship with Showtime is damaged now, possibly irreparably. Espinoza told SI.com that he believed he had a verbal agreement from De La Hoya to keep Canelo on Showtime long term. De La Hoya promised Espinoza that Alvarez would be on Showtime “for years to come” and said Canelo would fly to New York for a celebratory dinner, according to Espinoza. Even when De La Hoya came back for more money, Showtime agreed to pony up an additional $10 million. How did Espinoza hear about the HBO deal? Twitter.
“The disappointing aspect to all this is the shameful manner [in] which Oscar handled the whole thing,” Espinoza said. “There was no courtesy or professionalism. He reneged on multiple promises. He offered no explanation. Not that there could be an excuse for reneging on a company that has been supporting you for some time.”
De La Hoya is back with HBO now, back with his old friends, back in a position to work with his former promoter, Top Rank’s Bob Arum, on a high-profile Canelo-Cotto fight. After years spent sitting on the sidelines, an absentee landlord content to let others run his company, De La Hoya has reasserted control, has pushed Golden Boy closer towards his vision. In the bitter battle between HBO and Showtime, De La Hoya has chosen a side.