HBO Boxing Gears Up For Epic Fall Season

by Kieran Mulvaney

Summer is officially over, and its demise presages the start of HBO's Epic Fall Boxing Season (download poster). From now until late November, HBO is broadcasting bouts from four countries – the United States, Canada, Russia, and China – across three continents, featuring fighters from super bantamweight to heavyweight. Here's a brief rundown of what the first half of that schedule has in store:

September 28: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs Bryan Vera

Chavez returns in his first outing since losing to middleweight champ Sergio Martinez 12 months ago. Can he return to winning ways against Vera, a gritty competitor best known for his 2008 upset win over Andy Lee, but who also owns victories over the likes of Sergio Mora and Sergiy Dzinziruk? Also on this international  double-header, light-heavyweight Adonis Stevenson, fresh off his stunning one-round knockout of Chad Dawson, takes on former titlist Tavoris Cloud in Montreal. A previously scheduled bout between British heavyweights David Haye and Tyson Fury has been canceled.

October 5: Miguel Cotto vs Delvin Rodriguez

For the first time in his professional career, future Hall-of-Famer Cotto suffered back-to-back losses in 2012. But after taking nine months away from the ring and joining forces with trainer Freddie Roach, Cotto is ready to take on Rodriguez— who defeated Pawel Wolak on the undercard of Cotto's revenge win over Antonio Margarito in 2011—in a junior middleweight bout from Orlando. The co-main event will feature rising lightweight star Terence Crawford, while the broadcast will also include Wladimir Klitschko defending his heavyweight belts against Alexander Povetkin in Moscow.

October 12: Timothy Bradley vs. Juan Manuel Marquez

HBO returns to Las Vegas for pay-per-view action featuring the two men who scored victories over Manny Pacquiao last year. Marquez is lacing them up for the first time since his sensational knockout win in December, while Bradley's most recent action was a fight-of-the-year candidate in which he survived being rocked in the first and knocked down in the 12th to score a points win over Ruslan Provodnikov.

October 19: Mike Alvarado vs Ruslan Provodnikov

Despite dropping a decision to Bradley, Provodnikov's stock rose on the back of his stellar performance, and his reward is a mouth-watering battle with fellow junior welterweight Alvarado. Alvarado avenged last year's loss to Brandon Rios in a hellacious rematch in March, and will be fighting in front of his hometown Denver crowd for the first time as a champion.

The month ends with the October 26 return of "The Fight Game with Jim Lampley". November brings another flurry of action featuring Gennady Golovkin defending his middleweight crown against Curtis Stevens in New York; Rocky Martinez against Mikey Garcia and Nonito Donaire against Vic Darchinyan in Corpus Christi, Texas; and a pay-per-view blockbuster in Macau, China, where Manny Pacquiao takes on Brandon Rios. We'll preview that action, and provide more in-depth analysis of the fights thumbnailed above, over the coming weeks.

Jim Lampley Previews the Next Installment of ‘The Fight Game’

by Kieran Mulvaney

The third episode of ‘The Fight Game with Jim Lampley’ airs on HBO on Saturday night, following the re-broadcast of last Saturday’s victory by Sergio Martinez over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. We spoke with Lampley, while he was in Las Vegas preparing to call the Martinez-Chavez fight, about what we can expect from episode 3, and what he has learned from producing the previous two episodes.

It’s a very small sample size, but is there anything that has surprised you about the process of putting these shows together, if there is anything that has stood out to you?

My experience on ‘The Fight Game’ has affirmed my perception that there is a very large core within our audience: well-versed, well-educated fight fans, who are on the web maybe every other day and at least once a week, who are following the schedule, who understand the business conflicts and business parameters and how they contribute to what we see in the ring, and who are just as interested in following the business steps that take place from fight to fight as they are the fights themselves.

You threw out the script for episode 2, and went with a powerful editorial slant, including a segment at the end in which you called on fans to ‘occupy boxing.’ I’m curious what was the response to that?

The response from fans is enormous. I’ve always been recognized in the arena; there have always been people who’ve called out my name and wanted an autograph or photograph, something like that. That’s not new. But the intensity of it, and the number of people, is significantly larger than before. People are yelling at me about The Fight Game as soon as I walk into the arena; people are confronting me about it, and asking me what’s on the next show, and that’s very gratifying.

And I have people who send me emails or call me up, both from boxing media and from the fan group, who want to advise me on what to do next and what the editorial content of the next show should be.

What can we expect for episode 3?

You know, 9/22 is an interesting date, because it’s one week beyond this unusual business confrontation of 9/15, and so for me the lead story is obvious: What happened when Chavez Jr. and Canelo Alvarez went head-to-head with each other down the street in Las Vegas, and is that, as most people see it, a sign of the sport’s insanity? Or could it be seen as a positive? Is it a sign that boxing’s health is back, that 19,000 people [were] in the Thomas & Mack Center, and apparently [almost] 15,000 in the MGM Grand? And even though Mexico’s two great attractions were forced to split their audience that night, both business enterprises feel as if they’re going to be making out OK. So maybe our sport isn’t as dead as all those general media people think it is.

Which leads to my final question: Over the years, there has always been despair when the top fighters approach retirement, but there is always somebody else to take their place. As Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao near the end of their careers, did Andre Ward make the definitive case on September 8 that he is next in line to sit in the throne atop the sport?

He certainly came off the page in a big way, and he provided the kind of dramatic excitement that hasn’t always been the case in his other fights. He’s demonstrated extreme competence, and he’s shown that he can beat good opponents, that he can shut them down defensively and with his enormous intelligence, but he has not produced a real offensive explosion prior to last week. And now, viewers have the image of him knocking down Chad Dawson three times, and really exploding with that left hook, and that provides a tantalizing template for the future. Can he do that kind of thing again? Can he do what [Sergio] Martinez has done: going from having a good career to suddenly skyrocketing and saying “Wow, look at me, I’m really one of the best there is”?

'The Fight Game' Goes Live, Pays Tribute to Retired Fighters

By Kieran Mulvaney

When episode two of 'The Fight Game with Jim Lampley' airs immediately after Saturday's World Championship Boxing broadcast from El Paso, Texas, it will air live from on-site—a departure from the opening gambit of the series last month, which followed a "taped-in-New York" format.

"When the schedule showed up and I realized I had the Fight Game scheduled immediately following a live fight, I went to my production team and eventually to management and said, 'We can't do a live fight and then put a news show on afterward that doesn't say anything about the live fight,'" Lampley told InsideHBOBoxing last week at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. "So the lead story in this show has to be what just happened between Julio Cesar Chavez and Andy Lee, because it's a tremendously significant fight. It may or may not set up a unification fight we've all been waiting for with Sergio Martinez, so the first segment of the show will play directly off what happened in that fight."

Of course, subsequent to that conversation at the MGM, there was a reasonably high profile bout that generated fair amount of controversy and that must also be reviewed, but after Lampley and guests have dissected the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley brouhaha and then examined the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport, there will remain one important matter to address, in five different ways.

Since the premiere episode of the show aired on May 12, five prominent professional prizefighters have left the sport – and in one case, this mortal realm – in very different circumstances. Shane Mosley, Winky Wright and Antonio Margarito have all retired , making the ultimate concessions to age and, in Margarito's case, the right eye injury that resulted from his 12-round battering by Pacquiao in November 2010. All will receive acknowledgment on the show, as will of course Johnny Tapia, the hugely popular former three-weight champion, who was finally consumed on May 27 by the lifelong demons that only truly dissipated during the times he was in the ring.

It was, Lampley concedes with emotion in his voice, an event that many people had been uncomfortably anticipating. "Something I'm almost certain to say in the script is that there's only one thing that could have kept Johnny Tapia alive, amid all his depredations, and he retired from boxing last year," he said. "And when I read he was 45 years old, it filled me with joy that Johnny had somehow made it to 45."

Then there is Paul Williams, who, on the same day Tapia died, was severely injured in a motorcycle accident that badly damaged his spinal cord. Williams' boxing career is assuredly over, but the news that the cord is damaged and not broken gives at least some hope that he may win the most important fight of his life so far, and one day walk again.

His public determination to do just that is testament that he will apply to that battle the same spirit that he showed over 43 professional contests, a spirit to which Lampley will pay tribute on Saturday.

"There will be 11 fighters on the Gatti list," he said, referring to his episodic guide to the ten most exciting current pugilists in the sport. "Paul Williams will gain an honorary mention because he was that kind of fighter."

He still is.