For many years during his reign as the president of HBO Sports (from 1978 to 2000), Seth Abraham was perhaps the most powerful and influential man in the boxing business. Yes, it was ruled promotionally by the likes of Bob Arum, Don King and Dan Duva but as this cable network made more and more of a commitment to the sport, it was Abraham who controlled the purse strings that these figures would rely on to make the game’s biggest matches.
Back then, HBO (which eventually helped usher CBS, NBC and ABC out of boxing with its big checkbook) was the unchallenged leader on premium cable as it related to this sport. It was a charging locomotive that couldn’t be stopped with Showtime playing the role of “The Little Engine that Could.” But recent developments have certainly changed that perception, if not the actual reality.
A couple of weeks before Showtime announced it acquired the services of Floyd Mayweather in a blockbuster deal, Maxboxing had a chance to talk at length with Abraham, who went through a similar set of circumstances in 1991 when Mike Tyson departed HBO and left a huge void. With the recent turn of events, his words ring even louder.
Regarding the current landscape existing between the two networks, Abraham says CBS’s involvement has perhaps swung the pendulum in favor of Showtime.
“I think with CBS, they have made a serious commitment to boxing, a serious commitment to television boxing and I don’t think during my tenure at HBO, Showtime had that kind of commitment. I think they were very satisfied to be Avis to HBO’s Hertz. I think they were very satisfied to be Schick to HBO’s Gillette,” he said from his home in New York. “I think they were satisfied to be in the television business but I don’t think they had it in their minds to really be competitive and really go at it with HBO and my sense of it now is they have a very different type of corporate commitment and that’s what it takes. It takes a corporate commitment throughout the entire organization. So my sense of it is CBS/Viacom/Showtime, one corporate entity, has really decided to take it to HBO and to take on HBO and that’s a very different mindset; I believe.”
Back when Abraham was running things, alongside the likes of Lou DiBella and Bob Greenway, HBO would regularly poach prime time talent from Showtime from Felix Trinidad to Naseem Hamed, among others. In recent years, it’s been an opposite migration with the likes of Mayweather, Saul Alvarez and most of the Golden Boy Promotions stable heading from HBO to Showtime.
It’s clear; we now have two 800-pound gorillas - which could be a good or bad thing.
“Well, I think it depends on how both HBO and Showtime conduct their business from the standpoint of the fighters,” said Abraham of the new circumstances. “It’s wonderful to have television competition with two networks bidding for fighters. So surely, that’s healthy. On the other hand, some fights may not get made. Some fights may not get made because you’ll have HBO fights and you’ll have Showtime fighters and you might have a situation then where fights don’t get made simply because the Hatfields and McCoys aren’t going to get along.”
Abraham is right and it’s not so much the Hatfields and McCoys but the Arums and Schaefers who are currently feuding. Right now, there isn’t so much competition between the two networks but separation. The bottom line is fights such as Nonito Donaire vs. Abner Mares aren’t consummated simply because of the Top Rank/Golden Boy “Cold War.”
Abraham, who now runs his own sports marketing and consulting firm, Starship SA, after a four-year stint at Madison Square Garden following his days at HBO, continued, “I don’t think there’s a biblical answer where one answer fits all situations. It’ll go as it proceeds with which networks get which fighters if they’re in the same divisions and the other possibility - and this is not so unusual - is you have Showtime concentrate on certain divisions, HBO on certain divisions and then, in that case, fights will be made because HBO will have a roster of the middleweights and Showtime will have a roster of the lightweights. And, in that case, fights will be made because maybe that’s the way they’ll divide the boxing landscape.”
Right now, there is certainly a divide as wide as the Grand Canyon, set strictly along promotional rivalries and network alliances.
Watching the Showtime broadcast this past weekend from Detroit, it’s clear they are making Mayweather the face of their boxing franchise as they did Tyson back in the ‘90s. When asked about how he dealt with that defection, Abraham answered, “We clearly were not happy about it. I mean, it’s not as if we said, ‘This is a good thing.’ It was not a good thing for HBO. And then we were determined to really say, ‘OK, so they’re going to have Tyson. Who are the best fighters in the world? Obviously there’s Roy Jones. Who else is out there? Naseem Hamed. Who are the fighters HBO had to have to balance off the fact that Showtime had Tyson? But you also have to remember that when Showtime had Tyson, he was no longer the heavyweight champion. So it was a different Tyson; it was a different Tyson but still Tyson and you could clearly make a case that he was the number one draw.”
Along with “Iron Mike,” King also took the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez, Terry Norris, Frankie Randall, Julian Jackson and a young Felix Trinidad to Showtime.
“But along comes [Oscar] De la Hoya and De la Hoya rises up to prominence very, very quickly. HBO then had Roy Jones; HBO had Hamed. So HBO had a pretty good roster. So I think from a numbers standpoint, HBO outweighed one fighter,” said Abraham, who (during a stretch that might have been the best this boxing franchise has ever enjoyed) also had the likes of James Toney, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis and a series called “Boxing After Dark” that became a regular launching pad for nascent stars.
One aspect of the Mayweather deal that is different than Tyson’s is that King took his whole stable across the street. In this instance, Golden Boy and adviser Al Haymon still do some business with HBO, mainly in the form of Adrien Broner. “The Problem” has made seven appearances on the network and is looked upon as one of the sport’s brightest young talents. So how does HBO deal with this dynamic moving forward?
“That’s a good question. I think you have to try to find a way to compromise because Al Haymon will have other fighters who are nails - not hammers,” Abraham points out, “and he want those nails on HBO and if he takes the hammer - and I’m just using this as an example - if he takes Floyd Mayweather to HBO, then HBO has no incentive whatsoever to reward him with fights with his other fighters. Y’ know, someone asked me the other day, in all the years that I’ve been in boxing, I think I can only think of one situation, only one, where a promoter, manager, only had one fighter. One fighter for his entire career - and that was Mike Trainer and Sugar Ray Leonard. And that is the only one I can think off. My point is that Mike Trainer didn’t have to worry how HBO was going to react to buying the fights of Steve Kim or Seth Abraham or Lou DiBella because he didn’t have any of them.
“He just had Ray and that’s plenty, right? But if Al Haymon were to take Floyd and take him to Showtime, then HBO has no incentive to buy other Al Haymon fights. They have no incentive.”
So this much is clear; as much as things have changed, much still remains the same. But Abraham also makes it clear; things have changed. And if he were still in charge at HBO, he would act accordingly.
“I think I would buy differently,” he states. “The things that worked 20 years ago, I don’t think would work now. The plans that HBO followed - let’s call it a road map - the road map that HBO followed with Lou DiBella, Bob Greenway, with me, it’s a different road out there now. It’s a different road and I think you have to figure out a new way to dominance. For example, I always thought it was critical that HBO have the heavyweight champion of the world regardless of how he was - I didn’t say an American heavyweight. I thought it was critical HBO have Lennox Lewis after he became champion and obviously not a Yank. I don’t feel that way now. Why? I don’t think it’s crucial that you must have the Klitschkos. Now, depending on who they fight, I’m not saying don’t buy a Klitschko fight. But I don’t think it’s necessary to have the Klitschkos under an expensive long-term contract because sports fans don’t know who the heavyweight champion of the world is. They don’t know.
“Who is the dominant fighter in the world? The dominant fighter in the world today is Floyd but he fights so infrequently and he ducked the one big test and that’s [Manny] Pacquiao. I don’t think it’s critical you have Floyd Mayweather now,” continued Abraham, saying something that is bound to raise a few eyebrows. “I used to say, ‘You have to have the pound-for-pound champion’ and whoever was the pound-for-pound champion during my 24 years at HBO, I think you could make a case in the ‘80s, it was Ray Leonard. I think you could make a case that at one point, over a period, it was De la Hoya. Then it was Roy Jones. I thought the pound-for-pound champion has to be on HBO. Today, because of the infrequency which Floyd fights - and I’m not saying he’s not the pound-for-pound champion - I think the ground underneath him has changed and as a result of that, you don’t have to have the pound-for-pound champion.”
Much of the success of the Showtime deal hinges on a few factors: how many times Mayweather actually performs over the next 30 months and against whom, also the overall quality of the Showtime boxing franchise.
Abraham continues, “Is it good to have Mayweather? Of course it’s good to have Mayweather. It would’ve been great if it were [Manny] Pacquiao. The funny thing is - and I said this to anyone who asked me (here’s the thing that was so strange) - I really thought Floyd would win the fight handily. I really did. I really thought he’d win the fight handily and that would really burnish his legend as one of the great legends of all-time to handily beat Pacquiao. But Floyd has a different motivation. He wants to retire with a zero - and I’ve talked about this zero - at the end of his career because he thinks that will ensure his greatness and his legacy if he retires undefeated.”
Regarding the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight (that never was), Abraham says he would’ve locked everyone in a room and not come out till a deal was made.
“Yes, and I probably, with Lou and Greenway and others, I would say there were as many as a dozen fights where we did just that,” he recalled. “We brought promoters and managers in, put them up in hotels and stayed in rooms until we made a fight or realized no fight could be made. That was the case for [Michael] Spinks-[Larry] Holmes because you had two undefeated fighters; you had the light heavyweight against the heavyweight champion. Don King and Butch Lewis and I and Lou and others stayed in a room probably for 36 hours.”
But Mayweather-Pacquiao isn’t the only fight that absolutely had to happen…that didn’t.
“I brought Rock Newman over to London and over the course of three days in hotel rooms, in somebody’s home, we tried to make Bowe-Lewis. Unsuccessful. But we must’ve spent three days in London and a day in New York non-stop. We stopped for bathroom breaks, for meal breaks, for coffee breaks, but we spent the better part of three days ‘TransAtlantically’ trying to make the fight and it didn’t work.
“But yes, we tried and there were times that it worked.”
There were no “huge” fights this past weekend but it was certainly an eventful one for the sport while a lot of entertaining and memorable stuff took place. A look back with some random thoughts...
- I know some will never forgive or forget when it comes to IBF junior welterweight beltholder Lamont Peterson but this is a complete, all-around fighter who routinely makes for good TV. After an expected slow start versus Kendall Holt, he brutally took him apart with brutal efficiency and style. As they say in the gyms, he goes to the body like a Mexican. A lively crowd of around 4,000 showed up (a very good turn-out for ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights”) and it’s clear he’s the strongest drawing 140-pounder in the States. Peterson shouldn’t be forced to perform anywhere but D.C. in the near future.
You can now officially add Peterson to a very strong roster of “Golden” junior welterweights. There is already a lot of talk of him facing “The Machine,” Lucas Matthysse in May.
Like Bart Scott, can’t wait!
- An enthusiastic crowd of dozens at the Morongo Casino missed a very good 10-round scrap between Alejandro Perez and Art Hovhannisyan on “ShoBox.” Perez looked a bit undersized at 130 (he’s really a featherweight) but showed a ton a courage in simply outfighting his friend. As for that sparse audience, they should’ve labeled this one “No-ShowBox.” Even by Gary Shaw standards, this was eye-opening.
- Tony Thompson shocked the world by stopping David Price in two with a punch behind his ear. Hey, there’s a reason you fight the fights.
- The bout between Ishe Smith and Cornelius Bundrage was pretty much what Dennis Green and everyone else thought it would be (so no need to crown it) but it was the superior fundamentals and technique of Smith that allowed him to pull away in the second half of the right. For Smith, this was more than just a title he won (the IBF junior middleweight crown) but a watershed moment in a life he felt wasn’t worth living just a handful of years ago.
- I had Malik Scott beating Vyacheslav Glazkov by the scores of 97-93 on NBC Sports Network. Scott was Scott, which meant he showed an educated left hand and smooth boxing skills but not much of a finishing kick. Regardless, he controlled the tempo and pace of this fight throughout and it’s almost unanimous that he deserved the nod. Instead, he settled for an unpopular draw.
Part Two with Abraham covers the network’s ties with fighters and will be out on Wednesday... Here’s veteran boxing scribe Ron Borges’ perspective on the Mayweather/Showtime deal: http://bostonherald.com/sports/other/boxing/2013/02/showtime_sure_to_lose_on_money...Is Malik Scott’s new nickname “97-93”?...Big win by the Lakers on Sunday in Dallas? Have they finally turned the corner? We’ll find out in Denver...I don’t care how light Tavon Austin is; I draft him early if I need a playmaker…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.