LONG before the announcement, we knew. HBO officially declared its departure from boxing on September 27, and completed its protracted and underwhelming goodbye on December 8, but the writing had been on the wall – in giant, luminescent letters – for months before. If 2017 had given cause for concern, with a slate of steadily declining quality, 2018 dawned with the warning signs flashing red and the claxons sounding until, suddenly, the end was no longer near but here.
Whether ultimately brought about by mistakes, internal sabotage or neglect (or some combination thereof), the demise of HBO Boxing after 45 years and 1,119 televised fights was catalysed by a perfect storm of events. Uncertainty about the merger of parent company Time Warner with AT&T was at least a factor in the tightening of purse strings at just the time when, after a couple decades of effective duopoly at the prestige end of boxing broadcasting in the U.S., the media landscape underwent a giant convulsion. Bob Arum, never slow to sense an opportunity or express dissatisfaction with HBO, saw an opening and took his Top Rank stable to ESPN, leaving a gaping hole in the network’s lineup; the departures of Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko, who had risen to stardom on HBO to become arguably the two best boxers in the world, hurt especially acutely. Then, in rapid succession, some of the biggest names of HBO Boxing over the last several years announced their retirement and exited the stage: Tim Bradley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Wladimir Klitschko, Andre Ward, Miguel Cotto.
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