HBO looks forward to second part of '10
As we hit the halfway mark of 2010 this weekend, HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg did not want to spend a lot of time looking back at the first half of the year. Instead, as fits his personality, he was more interested in looking ahead to what he hopes will be a second half that will produce more competitive fights and fireworks than what turned out to be a fairly lackluster first half.
As the person who presides over the largest budget in televised boxing -- tens of millions of dollars each year -- as well an HBO PPV division that produces and distributes boxing's biggest fights, Greenburg is a kingmaker.
He decides which fighters, managers and promoters get the network's backing. Ultimately, it is his decision which fights HBO will buy, or not buy, giving his opinion tremendous weight.
The two biggest fights of the first half of the year -- Manny Pacquiao against Joshua Clottey at Cowboys Stadium in March and Floyd Mayweather against Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in May -- were both HBO PPV events that resulted in one-sided blowouts. On top of that, Greenburg had been outspoken at the end of 2009 about how much he wanted -- like most other boxing fans -- to finalize Pacquiao against Mayweather. It didn't happen, and he was brutally disappointed. Now, the sides are again inching closer to an agreement for a fall fight.
Greenburg has been a steady hand in the talks, but is sticking to the promise not to discuss the negotiations in the media.
"I can't even discuss it," he said. "No comment. None."
Besides that, however, Greenburg was talkative in covering several topics during a half-hour interview with ESPN.com this week as he looked back, briefly, on HBO's first half of the year and looked ahead to the second half.
HBO got off to a rough start when its big winter fight, a welterweight unification fight between Mosley and Andre Berto, was called off a few weeks before the fight when Berto withdrew following the massive earthquake in Haiti that killed eight of his family members.
"The loss of Mosley-Berto in January hurt us," Greenburg said. "We were looking forward to that fight, obviously. It was a double whammy in that we lost that fight and Pacquiao-Mayweather couldn't be made. That triggered Mayweather-Mosley and Pacquiao-Clottey, which were two big pay-per-view events that clearly broke through to the mainstream. They were the cornerstone of the first half of the year and they at least overshadowed somewhat the disappointment of not having Pacquiao-Mayweather. Having said that, we got off to a slow start because we didn't have a big HBO fight, Mosley-Berto, that we had planned, so we had to make do. I think we came through it OK."
Greenburg pointed to the April 17 card that featured Sergio Martinez winning the middleweight championship from Kelly Pavlik in Atlantic City, N.J., with super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute scoring a knockout of Edison Miranda in Montreal on the same telecast.
"That was a big night for us," Greenburg said. "Martinez beating Pavlik and Bute looking good in front of a packed house was exciting television. And then, of course, closing the first half with Miguel Cotto and Yuri Foreman at Yankee Stadium [on June 5] was a real boon. Unfortunately, Foreman tore his ACL and there was some controversy, but we did a big rating, it was a big night and a major splash in New York. We were happy with that."
Other than the possibility of Pacquiao-Mayweather at welterweight, Greenburg hopes to get big fights done in other divisions.
There has already been some disappointment, however. Greenburg wanted to put Mosley-Berto back together for September. On Tuesday, he was bullish about it, claiming during the interview that there was no Plan B for either fighter as it related to an HBO fight if Mosley-Berto didn't get made.
But then came the news Wednesday night that Golden Boy had made a fight between Mosley and Sergio Mora, whom it also promotes, for Sept. 18 on pay-per-view -- a card HBO has not committed to being involved with.
After Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer announced Mosley-Mora, Greenburg declined to discuss the implosion of one of the fights he most wanted to make for the fall.
The other biggie he wants is a rematch between Martinez and Paul Williams. They waged a sensational fight on HBO in December, one bout before Martinez beat Pavlik. If Greenburg can convince the sides to make the fight, it would take place in November.
While Martinez's camp isn't anxious to make it, promoter Lou DiBella said he is willing to do it on a 50-50 deal. Convincing the Williams camp has been more daunting, especially with promoter Dan Goossen continually saying that Williams is moving back down to welterweight.
Greenburg doesn't want to hear it.
"For whatever reasons we are having trouble seeing [Williams-Martinez II] through," he said. "Same with Mosley-Berto. The promoters and managers are bickering over splits and I'm getting tired of this split war every time a fight is to be made. I wish there was an objective voice in the background to tell them to stop the grandstanding. I think promoters, managers and fighters have to take a step back and analyze the situation a little more effectively. We need to make these fights. Boxing needs big fights, not just HBO. The sport needs big fights. Other than Pacquiao, Mayweather and maybe Mosley, none of these fighters we're talking about have attained superstar status. You need them to fight each other to create superstars. We're here with a big check and we're here to market all of these fighters when they want to fight each other."
Greenburg didn't want to address how the network would schedule -- or if it would at all -- Martinez and Williams if they didn't fight each other. Ditto for Berto, now that there is no Mosley fight.
HBO is also deeply involved in the junior welterweight and featherweight divisions, both of which are stocked with young talent ready to fight each other.
The 140-pound junior welterweight division, with fighters such as Devon Alexander, Timothy Bradley, Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana and Victor Ortiz -- has Greenburg particularly excited. He knows fights among them could be a staple of HBO's boxing franchise for the next few years.
"These guys are flamboyant and charismatic in the ring and real athletes," Greenburg said. "I think the mix of these young guys, and then you throw in a veteran like Juan Manuel Marquez [who probably will move up after his July 31 HBO PPV rematch with Juan Diaz], and this is a hot division with some really scintillating matchups. We are going to try to make them happen. I think Khan-Marquez is certainly in the works [for Dec. 11 if Marquez wins July 31]. We hope it happens. Diaz can disrupt it in less than a month, but if Khan-Marquez happens and if Bradley-Alexander happens, we have a hot division. These fights have to take place. We ultimately have to get to a point where somebody is standing on the mountaintop."
Alexander defends his two belts against Andreas Kotelnik on Aug. 7 and Bradley makes his HBO debut on July 17 against Luis Carlos Abregu in a nontitle welterweight bout.
In Greenburg's perfect world, if Alexander and Bradley come through, he'd like to see them face each other, ideally in the first big fight of 2011 -- Jan. 29, the Saturday before the Super Bowl, when HBO usually tries to schedule a major fight.
"Maybe the fight could happen earlier," Greenburg said. "But we are deep in that division and we're ready to roll. We think all the parties are on board and ready to make some big fights."
The talent is similar at featherweight, which boasts Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Celestino Caballero and Chris John, all of whom have appeared on HBO, as well as Elio Rojas, who will face Gamboa in a Sept. 11 unification fight on the network.
However, Lopez, who had been fighting on HBO, is moving to rival Showtime for a fight July 10. If he wins, a plan is already in place for him to return to Showtime on Sept. 18 to face Rafael Marquez. So how did Lopez get away from HBO?
"When we sat with Top Rank a few months ago to discuss several possible fights, and we couldn't do them all, we thought 'Juanma' was going to have his next fight on one of their pay-per-views. That's what they told us," Greenburg said. "And the next thing we go on [ESPN.com] and find out he's fighting on Showtime. So it's going to take some time to figure out things in the division. Arum said his plan was to work toward 'Juanma' fighting Gamboa. Clearly, that is not the plan right now. The doubleheader [on HBO in January] is as close as they got. But we really like Gamboa [who is also with Top Rank]. We think he's a major talent and we'll continue to track his career. We also like Chris John, who has been in some good fights on HBO."
Eventually, Greenburg hopes to match Lopez and Gamboa.
"What we will do is wait to see what happens with Lopez next week and then again in the fall, presumably on Showtime, and then we'll march on and see if we can create the big one," he said. "Obviously, we are very interested in Lopez-Gamboa."
The division Greenburg is not interested in is heavyweight. Wladimir Klitschko and Vitali Klitschko are fine champions, he said, but there is a lack of interest in them in the United States, meaning a lack of interest in them from HBO.
"I'm really souring on the heavyweights," Greenburg said. "There doesn't seem to be any interest in the U.S. and there doesn't seem to be any heavyweights besides David Haye who would have any juice in challenging the Klitschkos. We're out of the heavyweight division. We're not playing in that sandbox right now. It doesn't make any sense for us. The fights happen over there [in Europe], they're on tape delay. There is just very little interest in this country."
Greenburg said HBO won't make an offer for Wladimir's September fight with Alexander Povetkin.
"We made a decision [Monday]," Greenburg said.
What about doing Vitali's next fight in the fall?
"Nope," he said. "The heavyweights have clearly lost their edge in the United States. I think we have enough stars in the lower weight divisions to get us through a down period for heavyweights. I think if we had a strong American heavyweight champion it would do wonders for American boxing, but it's just a dream at this point."
Other than a Klitschko against Haye, or one of those three against Tomasz Adamek, Greenburg said he doesn't see any heavyweights HBO is interested in.
"Other than that, we'll take a pass," he said. "It would be great if the Klitschkos came over here and reignited some interest in this division. It's tough to continually go over there. I understand their financials. I know how big they are in Germany and they will continue to fight over there. I understand the economics of their business."
Greenburg also covered some other topics:
• Buying Bute's fall fight against Jesse Brinkley: "We may not have a slot for this Bute fight but [we're] looking forward to working with him in 2011."
• HBO's future with Cotto: "You have to talk to Bob. He has a Cotto plan, but we really like him. I thought [HBO broadcaster and trainer] Emanuel [Steward] did a great job with him in the Foreman fight. Bob is talking about a rematch with Antonio Margarito. He is looking at it as pay-per-view event. He's really salivating over that and we'll follow his lead."
• The possibility of HBO staging a tournament like Showtime's ongoing Super Six World Boxing Classic in the super middleweight division: "If we do tournaments there will be two semifinals and a final four months later. We believe in knockout tournaments where fighters fight quickly and efficiently over a couple of nights three or four months apart like we did with the middleweight series [that HBO did with Don King in 2001]. The idea is for speedy results, not to drag it out for more than a year."
As Greenburg was wrapping up on various topics before 9 a.m. on Tuesday, DiBella arrived at his New York office for a meeting about Martinez and Berto. Greenburg was busily planning for the second half of the year.
"I am optimistic," Greenburg said. "I think there are some big fights to be made and we'll try to make them. We are always looking forward."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.