NEW YORK -- In the boxing industry, HBO is a heavyweight.
On Monday, it finally started to act like one.
By now, you know the story: HBO has elected to sever its relationship with Golden Boy. After watching Golden Boy and shadowy adviser Al Haymon strip the network of several of its top guys (Amir Khan, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, Danny Garcia and Andre Berto among others) and move them across the street to rival Showtime, HBO decided it had enough.
You want 'em, HBO said to Showtime. You got 'em.
Yeah, it's a risk. By cutting ties to Golden Boy, HBO, for now, waves goodbye to Adrien Broner, a brash, outspoken lightweight titleholder who had been getting big ratings on the network. They say goodbye to an old pal in Bernard Hopkins, the 48-year old who made history on the network earlier this month when he became the oldest man to win a major title. They say goodbye to Keith Thurman, Seth Mitchell and Victor Ortiz, too.
They are putting almost all of their chips in with Bob Arum now and hoping that Main Events, Lou DiBella and Gary Shaw can deliver solid matchups as well.
In just his second year on the job, Ken Hershman, the former Showtime top executive, made a decision that will threaten HBO's position as the industry leader in the sport.
And you know what? He's right.
Watching HBO get picked apart over the last year has been like watching Superman go down one crystal of Kryptonite at a time. Golden Boy has the deepest stable in the business and CEO Richard Schaefer clearly preferred his fighters at Showtime, which was willing to cut him favorable deals. Showtime likes stars, and Schaefer offered his best ones. Showtime got Khan, Garcia and Canelo while Golden Boy got good money for relatively safe fights.
Garcia's last fight on Showtime was a rematch with Erik Morales that nobody cared about.
Khan fought a lightweight, Carlos Molina, that had no prayer of beating him.
Canelo ? who agreed to fight Paul Williams and Ortiz first ? got Josesito Lopez, a middling 140-pounder jumping up a couple weight classes.
Showtime got ratings, Golden Boy fighters got money, and HBO got mad.
It is unclear what HBO's breaking point was. Maybe it was the decision by Floyd Mayweather, who works closely with Golden Boy, to take his talents to Showtime. Maybe it was the fear that Broner, a Golden Boy fighter and a Haymon fighter, would follow a similar path. Maybe it was the fact that last weekend's show, headlined by Tim Bradley's title defense against Ruslan Provodnikov, was one of the best cards of the year. In the opener, two undefeated prospects, Jessie Vargas and Wale "Lucky Boy" Omotos, engaged in a surprisingly entertaining slugfest. In the main event, Bradley and Provodnikov slugged it out in a Fight of the Year candidate.
Big names? Nope.
Great fights? Yes.
If this signals a shift in philosophy at HBO, well, it's about time. For years the network catered to Haymon, paying millions for mismatches. It didn't want to lose the big stars, so it allowed Haymon to dictate the matchups.
Here's the thing HBO forgot: It helps create the stars. Look at the list of the top pay-per-view draws in boxing: Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Throw in Sergio Martinez, too, if you want. All were developed on HBO. All have used HBO's top vehicle, the Emmy-winning series 24/7, to burst into the mainstream.
HBO built stars before. And with 29 million subscribers and ratings that significantly exceed Showtime's, it can do it again.
Just look at the talent pool it can fish in. It has already invested in Andre Ward, Sergio Martinez, Nonito Donaire and Gennady Golovkin. There are prospects like Sergey Kovalev and Bryant Jennings with exciting styles and captivating backstories.
More could be coming, too. We don't know the impact of HBO's decision on Golden Boy's business yet. In a telephone interview, Schaefer said that he wasn't worried about Showtime having the budget to afford the likes of Broner, Hopkins and Mitchell. But maybe he should. Showtime has increased its budget significantly since Espinoza took over, but can it afford to pay Broner the millions he has grown accustomed to?
Can it afford all of Golden Boy's fighters? Can it afford all of Haymon's fighters, too?
Undoubtedly, there is a belief in HBO's offices that when Showtime can't, fighters will come back to the network without Golden Boy and Haymon in tow.
There is a danger, however. By cutting ties with Golden Boy, HBO has given Arum and Top Rank a lot of leverage. Pacquiao will continue to be on pay-per-view, but Chavez, Donaire, Bradley, Brandon Rios and Mikey Garcia are all HBO fighters. What happens if Top Rank wants to give them a soft touch? Will HBO fold and let Arum become the new Haymon?
It's a bold new world for HBO. It put on its big boy pants and decided to fight back. But make no mistake: This is not a good day for boxing. Today, good matchups have died. Golden Boy and Top Rank were never going to do business. But now, with Golden Boy and HBO on the outs, we won't get a middleweight unification fight between Peter Quillin and Gennady Golovkin. We won't get Quillin-Martinez anytime soon, either.
We won't see Ward-Hopkins, though maybe that's for the better.
The landscape has changed in boxing. Now, we will see if change is a good thing.