Ken Hershman was understandably in a good mood Tuesday. The president of HBO Sports who previously held a similar position for rival Showtime was basking in the glory of a terrific 2013. It was a year in which his company had the five top non pay-per-view boxing events on cable television in terms of audience participation.
They are as follows: Miguel Cotto vs. Delvin Rodriguez — 1,555,000 viewers (1,706,000 peak viewership); Julio Chavez Jr. vs. Brian Vera — 1,416,000 viewers (1,542,000 peak); Gennady Golovkin vs. Curtis Stevens — 1,410,000 viewers (1,566,000 peak); Adrien Broner vs. Gavin Rees — 1,398,000 viewers (1,551,000 peak); and Adonis Stevenson vs. Tony Bellew — 1,305,000 viewers (1,358,000 peak).
It was just one of many things that has made Hershman a happy man. During a telephone interview from the HBO offices in New York City, Hershman spoke in joyous tones about the year HBO had and what's ahead.
Keep in mind that HBO lost several star-power fighters to Showtime this year, including the likes of pay-per-view king Floyd Mayweather Jr., Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Broner, who had just the one fight for HBO against Rees before moving over to Showtime.
The key element: All three fight under the Golden Boy Promotions banner. Broner and Alvarez are under contract to Golden Boy, and Golden Boy helps Mayweather promote his fights.
“The ratings stars that left the network had to be replaced and I think we did that and then some, and over-delivered in that area,” Hershman said. “So if I'm most proud of anything, it's really that. Just identifying these new guys with tremendous fan-friendly fighting styles, great personalities, putting them on and seeing the audience respond so favorably.”
Those newer stars include middleweight champion Golovkin, light heavyweight champions Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev, super featherweight champion Mikey Garcia and junior welterweight champion Ruslan Provodnikov.
All five of those fighters are vicious and outstanding. Hershman didn't even know for certain what to say when asked which among them is the biggest rising star.
“Tough question to answer,” he said. “It's a good dilemma to have. I think, obviously, Golovkin has tremendous potential. His ratings growth has been the largest of all the newcomers. His personality outside the ring, his persona inside the ring, gives me tremendous optimism for his future.”
Hershman couldn't say enough about Garcia, who is 33-0 with 28 knockouts.
“It's hard not to talk about Mikey Garcia, who just as a boxer, a technician, is so incredibly skilled and gifted,” he said of the undefeated and ultra-talented super featherweight champion from Oxnard. “I just don't see anyone being able to compete with him, and there are so many attractive options as he moves up in weight that will test that theory. So I'm really stoked about Mikey and what we can look forward to in 2014 with him.
“And Kovalev and Stevenson are right in that mix as well. We love those guys. Ruslan Provodnikov as well. It's so hard to pick one.”
No doubt, there is plenty about 2013 for which to be happy if you're Hershman. Heck, the boxing community as a whole — not just HBO viewers — benefited from a terrific 2013. But with all that good comes some negative stuff.
Hershman admitted that he is truly concerned about so many poor scorecards these days, and we saw many of them in 2013.
“I think even one wrong scorecard is too many because it does impact people's careers, impacts the credibility and foundation of the sport,” said Hershman, who said the industry needs to perhaps re-educate judges and make sure only the best work.
There is also the rivalry between HBO and Showtime, which is now run by Stephen Espinoza, former Golden Boy attorney. Showtime does all of Golden Boy's big cards, and after so many Golden Boy fighters left HBO for Showtime, Hershman dropped a bomb when he announced HBO would discontinue doing Golden Boy fights for the time being.
Officially, Hershman said he wants to do business with a company that is on the same page with HBO. In other words, HBO developing fighters on its big stage only to have them bolt to Showtime is not the same page.
Now we have this situation where if one big-name fighter operates for HBO and another of the same ilk and weight for Showtime, chances of them fighting are slim.
“I think in boxing, all these impediments and challenges to making fights, whether it's based on promoters, managers and networks, alliances, agreements, where people want to take their careers, that's just been a part of the sport,” Hershman said. “You have to live with it. And we do.
“And I'd rather focus on all the great fights that we can make, because I think if you're a boxing fan and you look back at 2013, it was a spectacular year and fights were made that the fans clamored for.”
As frustrating as it is to hear about fights not being made, Hershman has a bit of a point. Boxing has always been difficult from a business standpoint. It probably always will be. That doesn't mean we have to like it.