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A Prelude to Nothing?

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By Steve Kim


HBO has one live card scheduled between March 8th and May 17th and it takes place this upcoming weekend in Atlantic City, New Jersey when WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev faces challenger Cedric Agnew with a co-feature that has junior welterweights Thomas Dulorme vs. Karim Mayfield from the Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall.
 
Yeah, I can hear your groans. Right now, your HBO subscription is much more about “True Detective” and “Vice” than boxing.
 
After taking off all of February and going through another dry spell to begin the spring, we are stuck with a main event in which the power-punching Kovalev, clearly becoming a priority with the network, takes on a fighter who is not just unknown to the general public but severely untested coming in. Agnew’s five opponents have a composite record of 93-79-8. His pro résumé (http://boxrec.com/id=382179) is dotted with a host of has-beens and never-weres.

The main reason this fight was green-lighted by HBO was the belief that this would eventually lead to a showdown between Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, who was/is slated to face Andrzej Fonfara on May 24th. There are those who hate prelude fights or marinating big events but the reality is, in many cases, the ilk of Kovalev-Stevenson takes some time to develop. The bottom line is Stevenson and his representatives showed no real interest in facing “Krusher” so soon. But any realistic hope of Kovalev facing Stevenson in the fall was predicated on both getting interim bouts in the spring. HBO gave its blessings to these mismatches, contingent on both Kovalev and Stevenson agreeing to meet one another in the early Fall.
 
Kovalev is such a prohibitive favorite this Saturday that you can’t even find odds on this fight (Herb Lambeck would label these types of match-ups as “exhibitions”) and Stevenson is listed as more than a 15-1 favorite over Fonfara. Main Events agreed to this plan and they secured the bout with Agnew but as Stevenson signed with Al Haymon last month, it became unclear what would happen moving forward. Want to make Haymon laugh? Make plans. As one deadline after another has passed for Stevenson to state his intentions the past several weeks, HBO and Main Events have been left to wonder. During this stretch, they made it clear to Main Events boss Kathy Duva that regardless of what Stevenson decides, they are in the Kovalev business regardless.
 
GYM, led by Yvon Michel, which handles Stevenson’s career, has a press conference scheduled for later this week. It’s not clear if he will go through with his fight or the HBO scenario and just which network will televise his next bout. Who knows what Haymon has up his sleeve? That said, Stevenson has always seemed a bit reticent when it came to facing Kovalev. The question is just how committed are HBO and Stevenson to one another? HBO has certainly been in the Stevenson business recently but is it an iron-clad, long-term, exclusive deal or one that has phrases like “matching rights,” “right of first refusal” or “first and last” attached to it?
 
And while the opening bout of this telecast looks good on paper (Mayfield has a mark of 18-0-1 with 11 stoppages and Dulorme, 20-1 with 14 wins within the distance), it’s one that may not be so aesthetically pleasing on the canvas. If Kovalev is the “Krusher,” then Mayfield is the “Klutcher” as his main skill involves incessantly clinching and mauling on the inside. He is a poor man’s Andre Ward in many respects. As for Dulorme, well, since getting KO’ed in seven by Luis Abregu on HBO back in October of 2012, he has faced the quartet of Eddie Brooks, Ben Ankrah, Francisco Figueroa and Hector Velasquez - not exactly the “Fearsome Foursome.
 
Once he was no longer associated with Lou DiBella and Javier Bustillo, only aligning with Gary Shaw, Dulorme was suddenly much more palatable to HBO and its sports division President Ken Hershman, bringing about the old whispers within the industry regarding the cozy relationship between Shaw and Hershman going back to the Showtime days. Perhaps this fight will surpass these rather low expectations (and if it does, I’ll be more than willing to eat crow) but I think the HBO subscribers would have taken their chances with a middleweight bout between Curtis Stevens and Hassam N’Dam N’Jikam which was rejected by the network.
 
So this is what you’re getting for the $15 charge that shows up on your monthly cable bill. But hey, “Game of Thrones” starts up again in a few weeks.
 
HBO
 
Yeah, over a nine-week stretch between March 8th and May 17th, HBO is doing one boxing broadcast. It was out of their control when Gennady Golovkin’s father passed away, reasonably leading to Golovkin postponing his April 26th bout against Andy Lee at the Theater of Madison Square Garden. To its credit, the network does have some really good stuff down the pike such as Juan Manuel Marquez-Mike Alvarado on May 17th from the newly refurbished Forum in Los Angeles and the grudge rematch between Carl Froch and George Groves two weeks later.
 
Meanwhile, it’s not clear what will happen on May 24th. Will Stevenson-Fonfara take place on HBO? There is talk that the bout between James Kirkland and Willie Nelson could end up on this date. June 14th is the return of Ruslan Provodnikov but it’s not clear against whom. HBO was suggesting the winner of Dulorme-Mayfield but Artie Pelullo of Banner Promotions, who handles Provodnikov, is balking at this. June 21st was thought to be Mikey Garcia-Yuriorkis Gamboa but with that fight no longer a possibility, it’s not clear what will happen with this slot.
 
For decades, this network has been synonymous with world-class boxing but there are whispers in the boxing community that it has slashed its boxing budget. But there’s no concrete evidence of this and it’s still only the first half of 2014. Last year, HBO had a similar drought during the summer and finished the year with a flourish.
 
Meanwhile, HBO Sports does have a very strong pay-per-view line-up featuring the return bout between Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley on April 12th, the middleweight title tilt on June 7th with Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto and it looks like Golovkin might just face Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in a super middleweight tilt on July 12th.
 
But of course, all of those events will cost you an extra 60-to-70 bucks.
 
FINAL FLURRIES
 
 
I thought Felix Verdejo looked very good this past weekend in Puerto Rico as he continues his development. His next outing is scheduled for April 19th in Orlando...A bout between Jorge Melendez and Yuri Foreman is a possibility for the Sergio Martinez-Miguel Cotto undercard on June 7th at the Garden...I’m told that Amir Khan-Luis Collazo will be announced soon for the May 3rd Floyd Mayweather-Marcos Maidana undercard...More on this later but the May 10th WBC heavyweight title vacancy filler between Chris Arreola and Bermane Stiverne will take place from the Galen Center on the campus of USC...Good to have “Vice” back on HBO; isn’t it? That show is provocative...Kentucky-Wichita State is the best game of the NCAA tourney thus far...Andrew Wiggins is very talented but his overall game needs a lot of polish…Ican be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.


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