A farewell to Showtime Boxing

And so, after 37 years, it comes to an end.

Showtime Boxing says farewell on Saturday with a triple header from Minneapolis, ending an era in which, alongside HBO, there were two premium cable networks who bestrode the sport as
none had before, and none likely will in the future.

It was on Showtime that Marvin Hagler enjoyed his final victory (over John Mugabi), Roberto Duran produced perhaps the most remarkable win of his long career (against Iran Barkley), and Ray Leonard suffered the most brutal loss of his (to Terry Norris).

It was on Showtime that Evander Holyfield, after losing once to Michael Moorer and twice to Riddick Bowe, after retiring with a heart condition and unretiring after claiming he was healed by God, stopped Mike Tyson in 11 rounds and lost a part of his ear in the rematch.

It was where Julio Cesar Chavez should have lost to Pernell Whitaker and did lose to Frankie Randall, where Ricky Hatton stopped Kostya Tszyu on one of British boxing’s greatest nights, and where Nigel Benn halted Gerald McClellan in one of its most tragic.

And it was on Showtime that Diego Corrales rallied from two tenth-round knockdowns to stop Jose Luis Castillo in what may have been the greatest fight anyone ever saw.

A competitor to HBO

There were the co-productions with HBO, its rival superpower over the course of more than three decades: Lennox Lewis beating down a faded Tyson, Anthony Joshua ending the career of Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 people, and Floyd Mayweather handling Manny Pacquiao in what was, is, and will likely remain the highest-grossing pay-per-view boxing event of all time.

The network frequently fought to escape the shadow of the bigger behemoth, HBO. Showtime had fewer subscribers than HBO, its programming generally lacked the mega marquee offerings like Game of Thrones or The Sopranos, and its boxers were generally of a slightly lower wattage.

Andre Ward started out on Showtime and won the network’s Super Six tournament, but he finished at HBO.

Miguel Cotto fought a couple of times on Showtime, but was largely an HBO fighter; Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones, and Oscar De La Hoya were almost exclusively so.

But Showtime executed two coups that kept it competitive.

One was becoming, in the mid-1990s, the primary purveyor of Don King cards, which saddled it with some dreck but also brought post-Buster Douglas Mike Tyson.

The other was signing Floyd Mayweather following his release from incarceration and taking advantage of HBO’s decision to exile Al Haymon and his stable; thereafter, despite Haymon’s periodic flirtations with NBC, FOX, and other networks, Showtime remained his spiritual home, and it will almost certainly be with Showtime personnel at his side that he relaunches PBC’s boxing offerings on Prime Video and other outlets in 2024.

Like HBO, Showtime produced quality shoulder programming to promote its pay-per-view fights, with All Access occupying the niche that 24/7 filled across the street.

In its latter years, Showtime also took advantage of the digital space in a way none of its rivals bettered or even matched, with series like Fight Town and online coverage of untelevised undercards.

Ask most people at Showtime Sports about the programming of which they are most proud, however, and chances are they’ll mention, not the big pay-per-views or the mega-clashes on Showtime Championship Boxing, but ShoBox: The New Generation, known affectionately in the company as “the little show that could.”

The idea of a premium network hosting a series that was a proving ground for unknown boxing talent was bold, but had its skeptics; 22 years after its launch, 90 of those unknown boxers have gone on to win at least one world title, ShoBox has earned the deep affection of fans and fighters alike, and the fact that it went off the air without the opportunity for a farewell is one aspect of the network’s departure from boxing that has caused genuine internal resentment.

Ultimately, for all their rivalry, HBO and Showtime were more alike than they were different, and that is reflected in their exits from the sweet science.

Five years ago, the self-described “heart and soul of boxing” left with a whimper, with a bout between Cecilia Braekhus and Kali Reis in a half-empty StubHub arena.

By the time HBO Boxing finally closed its doors, its demise had been evident for the best part of 18 months as the quality of its matchups gradually diminished.

Showtime, in contrast, has finished strongly.

This year was one of the strongest for the network in recent memory thanks in large part to Terence Crawford and Gervonta Davis, and in David Morrell, it is exiting with a genuinely exciting young contender.

And whereas HBO’s departure from boxing was caused by a multiplicity of factors, the short-lived corporate merger between AT&T and Time Warner was a significant contributor; for Showtime, the decision by parent company Paramount to take the network into a different direction and double down on scripted programming at the expense of everything else was the sole determinant.

This is a decision that has almost nothing to do with boxing, which in this instance was an innocent bystander to the tumult that is the current broadcast media landscape.

Nothing will kill boxing

Boxing has survived the loss of HBO; it will survive the exit of Showtime, too.

But too often, boxing cannot stay out of its own way, seems intent on self-sabotage, and survives and even thrives in spite of itself.

It is a sport and a business that needs all the friends it can get; and for 37 years, in Showtime it had one that looked out for boxing and boxers like few others.

It will be missed.