Has Rigondeaux been exiled by HBO?
Bob Arum stated on Thursday afternoon to Maxboxing, “Nobody exiles any of my fighters. I’m working with HBO to get a spot for him and I’m optimistic that he’ll be in the ring sometime this fall and be on HBO.”
The veteran promoter said in this article (http://www.maxboxing.com/news/sub-lead/setting-up-a-showdown) that Donaire and Mikey Garcia would now be getting separate HBO dates and Rigondeaux would be the co-feature with Garcia in November. So what changed? Did the network change its mind? Was it public pressure?
“No,” insisted Arum, “it’s my pressure. I’ve talked with them. I explained to [President of HBO Sports] Ken [Hershman] and to [Director of Programming for HBO] Peter Nelson and they agree with me that Rigondeaux’s a major talent and I think the public will be interested in watching him fight.”
When reached for a statement, an HBO Sports spokesperson explained that they don’t give comments on fights till they are made. It’s still not clear if Rigondeaux will actually be back on the “Network of Champions” in the fall. What seems unfair about this original hard line taken by HBO is they were the ones who really pushed for Rigondeaux to face Donaire (clearly one of the network’s pillars, having appeared on the HBO four times in 2012 and his last seven outings broadcast by them).
It seems Rigondeaux committed the cardinal sin of beating one of HBO’s favored fighters. And he did it in a fashion that was less than exciting to many viewers. But can you name the last time a fighter won a fight as the main event on a “World Championship Boxing” telecast and was not brought back by the network?
The Donaire fight wasn’t exactly Ward-Gatti I. But what did anyone expect? Most of the blame has been unfairly put on the Cuban, who is a master class boxer and counterpuncher. If you re-watch the fight, after getting hit hard early on, the “Filipino Flash” seemed very reluctant to engage Rigondeaux for much of the night at the Radio City Music Hall, where they danced a duet. Sometimes it takes two to tango (and let’s be honest; in four of the last five Donaire fights, there were boos and catcalls that could be heard. There were fans who flat-out left in the early rounds of his bout versus Toshiaki Nishioka after the barnburner that was the first encounter between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado at the Home Depot Center last October).
For all the pound-for-pound hype Donaire had received, truth was, he could be accused of being every bit as dull as Rigondeaux. That combination was simply a terrible mix of styles. In boxing, two negative styles rarely make a positive.
To some, Rigondeaux is a brilliant boxer, who is the very definition of the “Sweet Science.” To others, he’s a complete, safety-first bore. What some people fail to realize is HBO is not necessarily in the boxing business; they are in the entertainment/programming business. This means that while Rigondeaux might appeal to the hardcore purist, what they are trying to attract is the more casual viewer, more inclined to stick around to see a tussle like Tim Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov.
(And those who think Golden Boy and Showtime would welcome Rigondeaux with open arms are being illogical and naive. As if they would be in some sort of rush to pair him with the likes of Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz as they are in the process of having these two eventually meet next year: http://www.maxboxing.com/news/sub-lead/setting-up-a-showdown.)
This wouldn’t be the first time HBO has jettisoned a boxer. Remember the Klitschko brothers? For a stretch of time, they were a staple on HBO but several years ago, as they kept racking up one dominant victory after another, Wladimir and Vitali disappeared from HBO as if they were “Deadwood.” And mind you, these guys were heavyweights who did strong ratings and drew well in cities like New York and Los Angeles.
HBO has every right to televise or showcase whatever boxers they want. After all, it’s their money (and as an HBO subscriber myself, if Rigondeaux isn’t a regular part of my rotation, it won’t be an impetus for me to cancel my subscription – sorry, Oscar). But it has to be pointed out that Rigondeaux might be a victim of a double-standard given that he’s far from the only boxer regularly featured on its airwaves who could be deemed less than exciting. Super middleweight champion Andre Ward, the face of this boxing franchise, will probably never be in a “Fight of the Year” candidate and is proud of it. Chad Dawson has never sparked any particular passion with boxing fans, yet was fed to HBO audiences for years. Then you have another talented Cuban in Yuriorkis Gamboa, whose last fight was so uninteresting that the normally amiable Canadian fans actually started booing.
Rigondeaux’s fans (yes, they are out there) are a loud and vocal minority. They remind you of the person who, when ordering pizza, insists on anchovies as one of the toppings and are incredulous when they discover they are in the extreme minority in their taste. You keep hearing that promoters (in this case, Top Rank) need to showcase Cuban boxers in South Florida and Miami. Talk to anyone in the business - especially those in that region - and they’ll tell you there simply is no boxing market in that area. You think Caribe Promotions (who co-promotes Rigondeaux with Arum) will ever go out on its own and stage a Rigondeaux fight in the 305 area code?
There’s a reason you see cards showcasing Mexicans in Los Angeles and Texas on a consistent basis. There’s a reason you see promotions featuring Puerto Ricans in cities like New York. And there’s a reason major fight cards in the “Sunshine State” are rare.
It’s interesting to note that after Rigondeaux’s victory over Donaire, Arum admitted that promoting this quicksilver southpaw would be perhaps his toughest sell. Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer, pooh-poohed Erislandy Lara after he stopped Alfredo Angulo back in June (in what was actually a very entertaining affair). Well, you can never accuse Arum and Schaefer of never being able to see eye-to-eye on anything but the question is: What the hell did they think they were getting into?
When you sign a Cuban boxer, what you are most likely getting is a guy with an incredible amateur pedigree but a style which may not translate to the professional ranks. Beyond all that, he’s someone who may not have much of a constituency to draw upon.
I guess this is the tact HBO is now employing.
There’s no doubt Arum wants Rigondeaux on the network. The bottom line is he’d much rather have HBO’s license fee footing the bill for his services than having to stick him on a pay-per-view undercard and have it come out of his own pocket. Looking at Rigondeaux’s recent fights, the bout versus Donaire was the headliner on HBO and his December fight on the network was canceled when his opponent failed his pre-fight medicals. Rigondeaux then faced Robert Marroquin and Teon Kennedy on the Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Tim Bradley-Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view cards, respectively. His bout versus Rico Ramos was on Showtime. A couple of outings before that, he was part of the Pacquiao card at Dallas Cowboys Stadium.
For a guy who, as a headliner, may not draw as many fans as your typical Miami Marlins game, Rigondeaux has been on big stages and been paid pretty damn well. HBO doled in the neighborhood of $800,000 out as a license fee on Rigondeaux’s end for facing Donaire.
It’s an interesting dynamic that exists between HBO and Top Rank. HBO made it very clear they banned Golden Boy Promotions earlier in the year. They are now clearly relying on Top Rank to be their main content provider. And Top Rank is clearly entrenched at HBO (and let’s be clear; for the time being, they can’t take their talent to Showtime).
Matchmaking will be key, regardless. Arum says, “You gotta get a very aggressive guy that comes forward.”
Perhaps HBO will employ the same strategy they did with the Klitschkos. When there is a particular match-up they like, they purchase it. If not, it will be up to Arum to live up to his contractual obligations to Rigondeaux on his own.
HBO and Top Rank are stuck with each other. Because of this, they may both be stuck with Rigondeaux.
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