2011 was supposed to be a big year for the sport of boxing. No one stood to gain more from the potential for great fights than HBO, who started the year with what should have been a de facto semi-final 140-pound contest between rising stars Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander. The winner was sure to face Amir Khan after his 2010 Fight of the Year victory over Marcos Maidana, and the winner of that match-up was supposed to be in line to face either Mayweather or Pacquiao. We all know now how that played out. Bradley won a terrible fight by technical decision due to headbutt, refused to fight Khan, Zab Judah took Bradley's place, yada yada yada. Plus, not only have Mayweather and Pacquiao not fought each other yet, but there seems to be no means to an end in that soap opera. It got so bad that Pacquiao, much like Lebron James, took his talents elsewhere, fighting Shane Mosley on Showtime Pay-Per-View.
And let's not forget some other classic duds on the HBO airwaves this year, like Khan-Judah, Alvarez-Hatton, and of course Klitschko-Haye. The saving grace for HBO was the war between Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto, but for the most part, everything else has either been forgettable or just fights we want to forget. In the meantime, Showtime has taken advantage of the turmoil going on at HBO by consistently delivering top quality fights on a regular basis. The Super Six Tournament has somehow kept its course, to much surprise despite some of the fighters being replaced, and has a quality championship fight on tap in October featuring Andre Ward and Carl Froch. The network has also signed top super middleweight Lucian Bute in hopes of matching him with the winner of that fight. It was Showtime that broadcast the entertaining pay-per-view fight between Miguel Cotto and Ricardo Mayorga. Showtime staged an epic 3-round war between Brandon Rios and Urbano Antillion the same night as the Paul Williams-Erislandy Lara disaster on HBO. August features the Bantamweight tournament final between Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares, what is sure to be an entertaining war of wills. On top of all that, the network just aired its 10-year anniversary broadcast of ShoBox. The marketing efforts by Showtime for that episode were brilliant. If you want to see the future champions of the sport, tune in to ShoBox.
The other player in this chess game that is constantly overlooked is ESPN. In case you haven't noticed, program director Doug Loughrey and company have aired some great fights featuring some big names in 2011. Ruslan Provodnikov, Demetrius Andrade, Peter Manfredo Jr., Cristobal Arreola, Sergio Mora, Fernando Guerrero, Shawn Porter, and David Lemieux have already left their stamp, both good and bad, on Friday Night Fights. The year still features Tim Coleman vs. Vernon Paris in a jr. welterweight showdown, Provonikov once again, David Diaz, Montel Griffin, not to mention this Friday night's tremendous doubleheader. The co-feature has Edison Miranda taking on Cuban Yordanis Despaigne, followed by the main event clash between top jr. welterweights Lamont Peterson and Victor Cayo. Don't even think I forgot about the Fight of the Year thus far either when, on July 15th, Friday Night Fights featured a 10-round war between Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez. That fight was a breath of fresh air after the Williams-Lara debacle on HBO just six days earlier. No one complained about a draw in the Wolak-Rodriguez fight because fight fans were too busy watching two warriors make the sweet science proud.
HBO still has time to salvage the rest of 2011 with upcoming fights such as Marcos Maidana vs. Robert Guerrero, Yuriorkis Gamboa vs. Daniel Ponce De Leon, Floyd Mayweather vs. Victor Ortiz, and Bernard Hopkins vs. Chad Dawson, but with the departure of Ross Greenburg and no clear replacement in sight, it might be difficult for them to regain any momentum for quite some time. The time is right for Showtime and ESPN to strike while the iron is hot. The gap is closing on HBO. Let's see if the two networks can level the playing field.
Be sure to "Like" The Boxing Observer on Facebook, become a follower on http://twitter.com/#!/boxingobserver, and follow my blog at http://boxingobservers.blogspot.com/