HBO Sports president Ken Hershman admitted to TSS he’s just as sick of judging controversies as the rest of us.
“We want great fights first and foremost, and we want those fights to be scored appropriately. We’ve invested a lot in the sport for over 30 years, and its integrity is very important to us. So anything that interferes with that or diminishes the integrity of the sport is a negative. We take it very seriously.”
So can the cable television giant, the one that pours millions and millions of dollars into boxing every year do anything to help turn the tide? Is there a world on the horizon where fight fans won’t have to hold their breath every time a decision is announced after 10 or 12 hard-fought rounds?
“Obviously, we don’t control the judges. We don’t select them, and we don’t train them. We can only present the facts about what is going on.”
Hershman said HBO’s role was just like that of any other boxing media member: to shine a light on things where needed. He said HBO’s partnership with promoters doesn’t necessarily put them into a position to do anything more than other media types.
“I don’t think we want to get into picking the officials any more than Fox wants to get into picking the officiating crews from a NFL games. That’s up to the state commissions and the promoters to ensure they’re getting the highest level of professionalism and that they’re responsible for them. I think what we can do is make sure our announcing team has the independence to call it like they see it, which we give them.”
Hershman also said it might be important for HBO to better educate fans on the intricacies of judging. If you follow the sport via social media, you probably agree. Fans are often too quick to call close fights robberies even though the nature of judging a fight is largely subjective and the scoring system used doesn’t differentiate much between close rounds and one-sided rounds unless there is a knockdown.
“For the most part, what I glean from these situations is that 95 percent of fights are scored appropriately. It just happens that some of the more high profile ones get a little upside down from time to time, and it sends everyone into a tizzy over whether this sport is legitimate. That’s what’s so frustrating, because in nine out of the 10 cards that I watch, everybody comes to the same conclusion.”
Hershman said HBO might consider going more in-depth on the issue in various ways.
“Some judges do award different kinds of styles, and maybe it’s incumbent on us to do a better job explaining that to the audience: how judges look at fights, how ring generalship and defense may factor in more for one judge versus power and dominating that way for another judge in the same fight.”
And of legitimate controversies, such as Timothy Bradley’s decision win over Manny Pacquiao back in 2012?
“Hopefully, through just being present, televising and calling attention to some of these things when they go awry, it puts the necessary pressure on everyone who does train or who is responsible for the officiating to further hone their techniques. We want the sport to be as transparent as possible and as legitimate as possible. And all that can be done, whether it’s instant replay, mandatory drug testing, better training of officials–whatever needs to be done–we’re here to support and encourage it. And we stand to gain from it, because the bigger the sport, the bigger and better bang for the buck for HBO.”
Hershman said Pacquiao might appear to be running out of options for opponents in 2015. While that might encourage you to believe a long-awaited megafight against Floyd Mayweather is closer to happening than ever, he also said he was confident Pacquiao would find a viable dance partner if that turned out not to be the case.
“I always believe in boxing that you might look at the landscape one day and one particular moment in time and it might seem pretty thin, and then a week or a month later, somebody emerges and a fight comes along that we hadn’t thought about.”
Pacquiao defeated Timothy Bradley and Chis Algieri in 2014, the latter emerging as an opponent after the New Yorker’s upset win over Ruslan Provodnikov.
“If I’m being totally objective at the moment about big fights for Pacquiao, there are a few but they’re limited at the moment. But Manny has a way of putting on amazingly entertaining shows. Somebody will materialize, I’m confident, and become a compelling opponent for him.”
Still, I did the dirty deed and asked him on the tail end of our 30-minute conversation about alleged negotiations for Pacquiao-Mayweather. Were they happening as suggested recently by Bob Arum? And was he surprised I hadn’t asked him about the topic up to the final few moments of the call?
“What I find interesting, Kelsey, is that every reporter has their own technique of getting to it. You tried to soften me up and get me relaxed, and I appreciate the technique. Some people hit me over the head with it first.”
We had a good laugh, but Hershman remained consistent with his no-comment approach on the matter nonetheless.
“As a fight fan, I’d love to see the fight. I’m not going to comment on the negotiations publically because that would not be fruitful for anybody, but I want to see the fight. I want to be there at the fight like any other fight fan. I know how much it means.”
On Golden Boy Promotions and Al Haymon
Hershman said HBO was glad to be working again with Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions.
“They’re a great promotional outfit and really good partners right now. It’s been exciting for us and for them. We’re pretty easy to do business with if you understand where we’re coming from. We try to be transparent and communicate well. I think Oscar and team think and act the same way. They’re very transparent. They’re very open to ideas and communication. They really want what’s best for the sport, what’s best for their fighters and what’s best for their company. They’re really doing a great job of bringing big fights to the market and being good partners.”
I also asked if Hershman thought we might see any of the numerous fighters managed by boxing powerbroker Al Haymon on HBO anytime soon, fighters like Erislandy Lara, Jermell Charlo and Danny Garcia.
“We’re open to anything. As you see with the Golden Boy relationship, if our philosophies and thought processes sync up and the opportunities are there, we’re happy to entertain anything. But we have a really amazing roster of talent. We’re so fully stocked that we’re not really chasing anybody, and we don’t think we need to. We just want to put on the best shows we can with fighters that we’re working with.”