Pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. once again shook up the boxing world when he announced yesterday that the defense of his WBC welterweight title against interim beltholder Robert Guerrero on May 4 at the MGM Grand would be held on Showtime pay-per-view rather than HBO where he had exclusively been fighting for over 15 years. The Showtime deal, which entails up to six PPV fights over 30 months, is being reported as "by far the biggest deal in the sport of boxing" although the specific financial details are contractually confidential. While this is not the first time a massive boxing star defected from the premium cable network, as Mike Tyson did in 1990, it is a different time and place which puts even more pressure on HBO to respond accordingly.
Here are five possible reactions we may experience as a result of this move, signaling a sign of things to come.
1. Turning Adrien Broner into the new "Mr. HBO"
While it may appear obvious that HBO will now accelerate its plans to groom the 23-year old Broner as Mayweather's successor, this may prove more difficult than anticipated. Mayweather's defection to Showtime is every much about Golden Boy vs. Top Rank as it is Showtime vs. HBO. It is difficult to envision how a Golden Boy promoted fighter will flourish as a bonafide pay-per-view star on a network that is aligned with bitter rival Top Rank. Given their historic refusal to work together, as most recently and publicly evidenced when Top Rank's Bob Arum flatly refused a $3 million offer by Golden Boy for the services of Nonito Donaire to face Abner Mares in a highly anticpated super bantamweight unification bout, who exactly would Broner be matched up against that would warrant pay-per-view status?
This becomes an even more challenging question to answer when the growing Broner moves up to 140 pounds, a division where the bigger fights exist but that is also dominated by Golden Boy promoted fighters. Will Oscar De La Hoya and Richard Schaefer sign off on an HBO televised fight featuring Broner against titleholder Danny Garcia, for example, who has headlined a number of championship fights on Showtime? Golden Boy would have a great deal of leverage in setting the terms under those circumstances if they were to express such willingness.
For this reason, it would not be outside the realm of possibility that Broner be lured to Showtime. Since HBO will likely dangle an enormous deal in front of the young champion to handcuff him to the network, Showtime may not be able to afford to match it after having entered into such a rich deal with Mayweather. The gloves are off, however, so anything is possible and bears serious consideration.
2. Greater Emphasis on Existing HBO Fighters
Nonito Donaire may need to keep up his four fight a year clip to maintain visibility and capture a stronghold on his designated role as Manny Pacquiao's successor. Gennady Golovkin has already expressed his desire to fight five times in 2013 as he attempts to build a following in the U.S. Andre Ward has dominated the super middleweight division so now may be the time to start a run at light heavyweight. HBO might want to consider structuring an elimination tournament at 175 similar to that done by Showtime at 168 to feature Ward as he continues to build upon top pound-for-pound status. Assuming Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. can return this year with greater maturity under the guidance of a different trainer and have a better showing against Sergio Martinez in a potential rematch of their September clash, there should be widespread optimism that the young Mexican can truly compete at the world class level which would lead to better match-ups.
3. Episodes of "24/7" for non-PPV's
HBO televised an episode of "24/7" in advance of Ward-Dawson this past September. It was the first time a non-PPV fight was featured in the half-hour documentary style program. This expansion gives fans a closer look at a fresh group of combatants and would help build a relationship with the stable of fighters that HBO needs to rely upon for its future and continued success.
4. ESPN coverage of non-PPV's
HBO entered into a boxing programming agreement with ESPN last September in which they would share content around major pay-per-view boxing events. Since PPV is only a small slice of the overall activity that takes place within the sport, it has not had an apparent meaningful impact, other than perhaps watching the replay of Pacquiao-Marquez 4 several weeks following the original broadcast. With the departure of Mayweather goes an enormous portion of that agreement's value. Additionally, the CBS platform will be used to further promote Mayweather events and likely broadcast additional fights given the success of the Leo Santa Cruz bout on the network in December. It would be worthwhile for HBO to re-structure its agreement with ESPN to expand its shared content to non-PPV championship fights to widen their net and keep their fighters in the mainstream public view.
Marquez has previously stated that it is pointless to have a fifth fight with Pacquiao following his spectacular sixth round knockout of the Filipino star last December. Without any attractive pay-per-view options for HBO or Top Rank on the horizon, it is expected that Arum will tempt Marquez to reconsider his stance and offer him a deal he can't refuse to make this fight happen. While a rematch between Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. also holds value, a fifth meeting between the legendary Marquez and nemesis Pacquiao has now suddenly become all the more necessary.
The ripple effects of Mayweather's groundbreaking deal will extend deeper and further than what is listed here, but whatever materializes as a result could greatly benefit boxing as a whole.
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