Kovalev, Bivol, and The Gloomy Showcase

By Paul Magno on August 2, 2018
Kovalev, Bivol, and The Gloomy Showcase
The worst part is that HBO did this to themselves, guided by their own “expertise.”

If the goal is to tantalize and whet fan appetites for an impending war, HBO could not have matched their guys more poorly…

If I were one of the Ivy League suits at HBO Boxing tasked with putting together Saturday’s Sergey Kovalev-Dmitry Bivol showcase doubleheader, it might’ve crossed my mind very early on in the matchmaking process that I had royally screwed up.

The light heavyweight twin bill, booked to hype fans for an eventual Kovalev-Bivol clash, features the two explosive talents paired against dreary, fun-stifling spoilers in Eleider Alvarez and Isaac Chilemba, respectively. 

If the goal is to tantalize and whet fan appetites for an impending war, HBO could not have matched their guys more poorly.

Alvarez, the Colombia-born Canadian resident, has made a career of putting opponents to sleep—and not in the one-punch KO sense, either. With the exception of his early shellacking of shot-to-shit Lucian Bute last year, “The Storm” has drizzled on all high-end fighters he’s faced, aiming to nullify opponent offense and score just enough to win rounds. He’s great at what he does, it’s just that what he does is pretty damn boring.

Malawi-born South African Chilemba has a similar mindset to Alvarez, although he’s significantly more battle-weary and past-his-prime than the Colombian. Fans will remember his 2016 unanimous decision loss to Kovalev that resulted in a bevy of excuses from a Team Kovalev trying to explain why the all-action “Krusher” looked lethargic and confused for much of the bout.

I mean, intellectually, I “get” the Kovalev-Bivol opponent selection.

Alvarez was the forever no. 1 contender to Adonis Stevenson’s WBC belt and, also, forever avoided by the Haitian world champ. Beating the guy Stevenson “ducked” is a good visual. And Chilemba, as the man who gave Kovalev his toughest pre-Andre Ward bout, is, on the surface, a reasonable choice for a Kovalev-bound Bivol.

But this is BoxRec matchmaking—nothing but matching names and records without any consideration of styles or intent to build towards a war with a pair of smaller wars. It’s not like the HBO Boxing people are overwhelmed with boxing business these days, stretching themselves out and making obvious matchmaking errors due to sheer exhaustion. This is pretty obvious stuff—do NOT run the risk of diminishing a really good, really marketable fight down the road by showcasing your guys against professional wet blankets.

And there’s a very real possibility that Alvarez and Chilemba could stink up the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino this Saturday, significantly diminishing the buzz that a Kovalev-Bivol title unification should generate. An upset against a stifling and uncomfortable opponent is also a slight possibility (exceptionally slight in the case of Bivol-Chilemba). The greater risk is in two spoilers making two bangers look all-around “blah” as a prelude to the one non-PPV fight the premium channel can actually crow about this year.

The worst part is that HBO did this to themselves, guided by their own “expertise.” There was absolutely no pressure to match Kovalev and Bivol against these guys. Neither Alvarez nor Chilemba were mandatory opponents for the A-side world titlist. No, the brain trust at HBO either picked the opposition, themselves, or green-lit this choice of opposition.

Did the network suddenly forget how they built Kovalev in the first place—showing off his considerable offensive gifts against game, but overmatched opposition? It’s no great shame to admit that this is how most fighters are built. It’s also no shame to admit that when one is trying to build towards an all-out war with a twin-bill showcase, it’s probably a good idea to go back to that “game, but overmatched” opponent bin.

This isn’t about matching fighters easy, it’s about matching fighters for optimal fan enjoyment and with an eye towards building towards something big. Nobody benefits from two masters of war—who are most likely going to win, anyway—being bogged down with opponents whose primary goal is to make them look less masterful at war.

It’s possible that Kovalev and Bivol could blow right through their flow-killing opposition and make all of the hand-wringing in the article above null and void. But why risk it? If you’re HBO, why risk making Kovalev and Bivol look bad right before (finally) being able to play host to a good, big fight everyone wants to see?

Just between us, but the answer probably has something to do with HBO Boxing being inept.

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  1. Paul Magno 10:31am, 08/05/2018

    Kinda obvious now, ain’t it…“Your Name?”

  2. Your Name 09:07am, 08/05/2018

    “...HBO could not have matched their guys more poorly. “


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