HBO, the leader in televised boxing in the United States for decades, on Monday made the stunning announcement that it was severing ties for the foreseeable future with Golden Boy Promotions, the company with the deepest stable of talent in the sport and a company the network helped put in business in the early 2000s.
That means fighters such as light heavyweight titleholder Bernard Hopkins, who broke his own record as the oldest fighter at 48 to win a world title last week on HBO, lightweight titleholder and rising superstar Adrien Broner, former welterweight titlist Andre Berto, top welterweight prospect Keith Thurman and heavyweight hopeful Seth Mitchell -- all of whom have been regulars on HBO -- will have to find a new television home.
For years, HBO and Golden Boy were closely aligned, but the relationship has been rocky for the past year or so since the expiration of an output deal that Golden Boy had with HBO from 2007 until it was not renewed in 2011.
Since then, there has been a steady migration of Golden Boy's top talent -- star fighters such as Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, Danny Garcia, Amir Khan, Victor Ortiz, Peter Quillin and a slew of others -- to rival Showtime, whose sports division is now run by Stephen Espinoza. Espinoza is close with Golden Boy executives because he was the company's chief attorney before taking the network job.
Since Espinoza arrived at Showtime in late 2011, virtually every boxing event he has programmed has been a card Golden Boy has been involved in. He replaced Ken Hershman, who left Showtime to head rival HBO Sports when longtime division president Ross Greenburg was forced to resign in mid-2011. It was Hershman who called Golden Boy chief executive Richard Schaefer on Monday morning to inform him of the decision.
"I'm hardly surprised. I cannot be surprised, and I am not surprised," Schaefer told ESPN.com. "The president of HBO Sports did not have any conversations with me since last November or December about anything. It is clear that in the aftermath of the biggest names in the sport, Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez, leaving HBO for Showtime that HBO is obviously upset at [Mayweather adviser] Al Haymon and me, and this is their way of getting back at us.
"I think it's an ill-advised strategy because the only ones that are getting hurt are the HBO subscribers, which were used to seeing the best fighters on HBO. That will obviously no longer be the case. Having said that, I wish HBO well. They're a terrific company, and life goes on. For us, it's business as usual."
According to HBO sources, the company had grown tired of demands from Schaefer for specific dates and matchups and constant threats to take fighters to Showtime if he did not get his way. That is what happened, for example, when Golden Boy and HBO were negotiating a fight for junior middleweight titlist Alvarez, Mexico's most popular fighter, last year. When HBO elected to go with the much-anticipated Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. middleweight championship fight on pay-per-view on Sept. 15 instead of an Alvarez fight, Schaefer took him to Showtime and put on a competing network card.
The relationship hit bottom last month when pound-for-pound king Mayweather, boxing's biggest pay-per-view attraction with whom Golden Boy has worked since 2007, left career-long television home HBO and signed a multiyear deal with Showtime and parent company CBS. That deal kicks off with his May 4 Showtime PPV fight against Golden Boy fighter Robert Guerrero, who also had fought several times on HBO. HBO sources tried to downplay the Mayweather defection as well as that of Alvarez and others.
Hershman chalked up the decision to a difference in "business philosophies."
"In order to achieve our goal of the best fighters in the most compelling matchups we've decided to focus our efforts and resources on those strategic relationships where we better share common goals and business philosophies," Hershman said in a statement given to ESPN.com.
It means HBO, still with an audience much greater for boxing than Showtime, is now even more closely aligned with Top Rank, the other major American promoter. That means HBO will have a greater emphasis on Top Rank fighters such as Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Timothy Bradley Jr., Nonito Donaire and Mikey Garcia.
"I see [HBO is] drinking the Top Rank Kool-Aid, and the only thing I can say is, 'Beware, you're drinking at your own risk,'" Schaefer said.
Top Rank and Golden Boy have been bitter rivals for years -- one reason Pacquiao-Mayweather was not made -- but the cementing of the network relationships means it is now even more unlikely that boxing fans will see matches between their fighters, including one that was recently discussed, a showdown between junior featherweight stars Donaire and Golden Boy's Abner Mares.
HBO also said it will focus on several non-Top Rank fighters in super middleweight champ Andre Ward, Martinez, middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin and junior lightweight Yuriorkis Gamboa.
Schaefer now will have to hope that Showtime can absorb his additional inventory or that another network will want to spend on his fights.
"HBO decided they want to go in a different direction, and I respect their decision and I wish them well," he said, "but I saw this coming last September with the Canelo situation."
What makes Monday's decision so surprising is that it was HBO that helped put Golden Boy in business through its relationship with Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya, who fought virtually his entire career on HBO and HBO PPV. As he was transitioning from active fighter to promoter, HBO gave his fledgling company a slew of dates on its Spanish-language network and later an output deal guaranteeing it dates on HBO.