Dust Settles, Final Thoughts On HBO Boxing Curtain Call

If this world were fair, if everything happened as it should be, then little kids wouldn’t get cancer.

And, then sub-secondarily, much further down the list, but still deserving of consideration…the final HBO show should have been a pull out all the stops extravanganza.

The card should have been packed…the best efforts from multiple promoters should have placed their fare in Madison Square Garden, and it should have been like a Live Aid. (Wiki it.)

It should have been a parade of greatest hits, in the ring, where we should have seen three great on paper bouts scheduled…and on video, where the deepest of dives should have been done into the tape collection.

Ideally, that deep dive would have resulted in some “shoulder programming”…is that the fancified term used correctly? No reason not to—unless, which is possible, tapes were taped over, or tossed inadvertantly in a move, or something not to show us vintage era content, reward us junkies with some good stuff from deep in the drawer, brought out for when Keith Richards is in town.

Oh but life features so many “should have been” deals, every day.

And it probably wasn’t vitally important that the last one featured three ho hum on paper scraps…and not perhaps enough “special” moments which conveyed the immensity of the breadth of stellar content this provider gave us since it started as a regional cable company that very nearly went under because of the droves of people who weren’t signing on to pay for TV when you could bloody well watch it for free. Yes, that was before they took water out of the tap, filtered it a bit and then sold it to you at a ten thousand percent markup in a plastic bottle… But back to how business is done in this age, and how consumers are treated.

Inexplicable I guess it was, to me, that more sentimentality wasn’t shown…that we didn’t luxuriate in the wallowing in the bath of nostalgic tears for a few hours. A 45 year old franchise deserved that. And I suppose I will have to poke a bit more, and ask around, to truly determine how and why that didn’t come to pass. Was it business..or egos..or feelings? Or; simply a style of behavior, a focus on living for and in the moment, spending more time on what can be influenced the future, rather than on what can’t be changed, the past?

Let me be thankful for the bones we nostalgists were thrown. It was stellar seeing Larry Merchant, perhaps symbolically choosing to not remove his scarf as he chatted with Jim Lampley, as though re-connecting at the 50th college reunion bash.

“Larry, are you surprised that our network, HBO, has decided for the moment to move away from live boxing telecasts?” asked Jim Lampley.

Larry took the patented half a one-one thousand pause and said, “After its historic run it was uh, a bit of a body blow even though everyone in the game saw it coming,” the 87 year old returnee answered.

We pulled back, to the bigger picture, the longer term wide-lens one, as Lampley shared that Merchant was part of in the 70s the new breed of truth tellers in media who weren’t as likely to always see and also cover the athletic royalty as if they didn’t have to use the john every day, five times a day, like all the rest of us.

Larry referenced Hemingway, and then Lampley recalled that Larry’s first fight was a James Scott special, from a prison. Yes, you had to be reminded that OUR sport is different…has a personality that is truly original, at its best wild and free and savage and sweet…

Better than anything that occured in the three featured fights came when Lampley choked up as he said “oh my gosh, so many memories of that man.”

Larry talked about this place and platform being “the last fireside around which fathers and sons and families and friends have gathered, and…it’s a historic run that we should be proud of.”

You could have, they maybe should have, left it right there…Fade to black.

But no, there was upcoming fare to be intrigued by…there’s a documentary on surfing in the 1990s to be lured into, or not. And LeBron’s The Shop is referred to by Lampley…without adornment. Should I fill in the blank, ponder that maybe he refused to read furnished copy, a small effort at conveying dismay that that’s where the boxing money is being spent? I won’t, because it is what it is, the decision has been made, although…Did you not catch Lampley leaving the door open a crack? We will come back to that…

We heard Max Kellerman talk about the main event, and wondered about symbolism and somatic symptoms and timing and fate. Max, have some tea and honey and props to you for soldiering through the throat woes….

And then you maybe watched that main event, or like me, I fast forwarded to the good parts, no offense to Ms.’ Breakhus and Lopes…

The closing bell clanged, as the maybe one thousand people in the building reacted commensurate to the gravity of the clash. They waited for the scores to be tallied and Lampley, pro to the end, offered tidbits of analysis and backstory. We didn’t hear Harold Lederman’s voice as we saw the results of his final unofficial card…why I don’t know…You got it right Harold, as you mostly did, sir, and bless your enthusiasm and delivery.

We noted every “last.” The last interview with the main event winner saw Lampley chat with Braekhus, ringside, because of Max’s throat woes. They could have used the time for more vintage footage but props to the gang for their adherence to the formula and reliable structure. “You of course are the winner in the last fight ever to appear on HBO Boxing,” Lampley told the winner. And bless him, setting up storylines for chapters that will appear in others’ books, he mentioned that Claressa Shields was scouting Braekhus from ringside.

Then, the emotions could come forth…Roy Jones displayed humble eloquence as he thanked Max and Jim and HBO for being there for him. “God bless y’all,” he said. Kellerman, through be-frogged throat, said he’d miss all the special people in the HBO family, especially “the best who did it,” Lampley and Jones and Manny Steward.

Lampley got the closer slot….His voice quavered as he lauded Barry Tompkins, who preceded him for a 15 year run, and then execs, including Seth Abraham, Lou Dibella and Ken Hershman…and talent like Roy Jones on down to Gil Clancy. He shouted out some players who’d departed, such as Artie Curry. “This family was also a business,” he said, and businesses are opened with the knowledge they will eventually close. He thanked the fighters, who gave of themselves, and who are “uniquely precious.”

We then saw “the indelible evidence,” in the form of the moving pictures from the Ray Leonards and Marvin Haglers and Arturo Gattis and the like as Lampley did a majestic narration. We were reminded of the best and the brightest soldiers of the ring, and their exploits, which had us bellowing in bewonderment, or silent, mouths agape at their bravery. Will there ever be another like The Baddest Man on the Planet, shown to such effect on such a platform, shepherded by overseers who respected the power of the telling of the story in a fashion which reflected the heights of excellence the pugilists summoned from their deep interior? In two or five or fifty years, these players and these moments will be what HBO Boxing is remembered for. How the champ plays out the string becomes immaterial as memories get older and become history.

It’s innate in man to edit the stories and strip away some of the dips and drops into the depths…makes sense, the human race needs such a default mechanism, otherwise light can become overwhelmed by shade. But this is boxing, and we the people who are addicted to it are fascinated by the characters who skirt and sometimes obliterate the lines …we saw Panama Lewis ask for the other bottle, and watched Larry Merchant wish he was 30 again, so he could take a crack at Floyd Mayweather…and highlights which presented the single trait most neccessary in the majority of the planet’s human inhabitants: perseverence, in the face of extreme adversity.

No platform showcased that admirable character trait so skillfully…with such reverence for the characters and their arcs of life summed up in three minute bits…as HBO did.

Oh, and the final snippet of action we saw in the ending montage…Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, hugging it out after slugging it out.

Well chosen, Team HBO…

You will be missed and I dare say, you will not be replaced. Like I sometimes say to people who ask me how the sport is doing, you never know when the next Mike Tyson is going to walk into some dingy gym in some boys club in some small town…I say it, but I confess I’m not sure if I mean it. Along the same lines, I don’t think the times we are in will allow the sport to be covered in the way you all did, with skill and zest and respect for the combatants, in the future. Farewell, HBO Boxing, thank you for your service to the sport, the fans and the fighters. Be well.

Oh…wait. Somehow, this takeaway is most appropriate for the sport which features a magnetic attraction unlike any other, which does a siren call to practitioners way past their prime times…”Come back. You can still do it. One…more…time.”

‘Member what Lampley said to Larry, about how “our network, HBO, has decided for the moment to move away from live boxing telecasts?”

FOR THE MOMENT, he said.

That leaves the door open for a comeback, doesn’t it?

It does. HBO was boxing..and so, leaving the possibility of the comeback on the table, yep, THAT is the proper way to do it. Goodbye, HBO Boxing…for now and possibly forever.


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Michael Woods
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Michael Woods. Host, TALKBOX podcast, powered by EVERLAST; 1st VP, Boxing Writers Association of America; is my site