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Thursday, December 15, 2011
HBO's 2012 first quarter looking good

By Dan Rafael

HBO put a solid 2011 in the books last week with Lamont Peterson's upset of Amir Khan to win a pair of junior welterweight titles in an exciting fight, albeit one saddled with the controversy of two questionable point deductions of Khan, which impacted the result.

Now attention can turn to 2012. Ken Hershman will take over as president of HBO Sports on Jan. 9, after leaving rival Showtime in mid-October for the gig -- one he couldn't start right away because of his contract with Showtime.

So while HBO waits for Hershman's arrival, the folks running the department for the time being, namely Mark Taffet and Kery Davis, have done a good job of putting together the first few cards of the year, even if they did lose the Feb. 11 Victor Ortiz-Andre Berto rematch to Showtime, after putting on their first (terrific) fight in April.

Despite that loss -- and make no mistake, it's a loss, especially when you consider how good the first fight was, how well it performed ratings-wise and how much money HBO has invested in the careers of Ortiz and Berto over the past few years -- the schedule being put together for the early part of the year looks very good. Let's take a look:

• Jan. 28: HBO is due to kick off its boxing year in Houston with a card that will be announced at a news conference Thursday: Future Hall of Famer Erik Morales will defend his (paper) junior welterweight title against energetic youngster Danny Garcia. When I first heard about the fight, I was a bit surprised it was happening because it wasn't a match I had ever contemplated. I figured Morales would look for a much bigger name for a fight that would generate more money. But Morales has never ducked anyone, and Garcia is one of the 140-pound division's rising contenders. They are both with Golden Boy, meaning it was a relatively easy fight to make. Morales' title is a joke, but that doesn't take away from the matchup. How can this not be an action fight?

I like the undercard fight, too, as it pits all-action junior middleweight James Kirkland -- coming off his memorable battle with Alfredo Angulo -- against Carlos Molina, who muscled his way into the 154-pound top 10 with an excellent recent run. He deserves this kind of fight. Frankly, Kirkland could shadowbox and it would probably be exciting.

• Feb. 4: HBO will stay in Texas -- San Antonio this time -- for the next installment of the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. show. He'll defend his version of the middleweight title against an opponent to be named, and either of the fighters being mentioned for the assignment are solid: veteran contender and former title challenger Marco Antonio Rubio and undefeated junior middleweight contender Vanes Martirosyan. I'd prefer to see Rubio in the fight, but either would be a good opponent for Chavez, who usually makes for crowd-pleasing fights.
I love the undercard fight. Nonito Donaire, one of the best fighters in boxing, is leaving the bantamweight division, where he was champion, for the junior featherweight division to face former titlist and top-five 122-pounder Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. for a vacant belt. Simply, I think this will be an action fight for as long as it lasts.

• Feb. 25: Marcos Maidana is like Kirkland in that both are prodigious punchers and make action fights no matter who they face. For this one, Maidana is moving up to welterweight and going to St. Louis, the hometown of his opponent, former junior welterweight titlist Devon Alexander, who is also rising in weight. It's a good style match, too, with Maidana (a pure brawler and banger) clashing with Alexander (a speedy technician). The winner will become a player in a very lucrative division.

The undercard features newly crowned junior lightweight titlist Adrien Broner in his first defense, against fellow undefeated fighter Eloy Perez. Considering how weak the 130-pound division is overall, it's a reasonable first defense for Broner. If Broner wins, you at least know you'll be amused when he busts out his hairbrush after the fight.

• HBO has two other shows in the works. A March 3 card is tentatively supposed to feature Brandon Rios and Yuriorkis Gamboa in separate fights. Rios, who failed to make weight and was stripped of a lightweight belt before his Dec. 3 win, may still fight at lightweight. His opponent is not determined. Gamboa, who is moving up from featherweight, likely will fight at junior lightweight. One name I've heard mentioned as a possible opponent is titlist Juan Carlos Salgado, which would be a nice fight. Rios and Gamboa, who may eventually fight each other, are two of the most exciting fighters around, so to get a chance to watch both on the same card in legitimate matches is a good thing.

The other card being discussed is for March 17 -- St. Patrick's Day -- with middleweight champ Sergio Martinez likely facing Irishman Matthew Macklin in New York. An excellent matchup, with a crowd that will be going bonkers. Andy Lee, another Irish fighter and a top middleweight contender, probably will be on the televised undercard, according to promoter Lou DiBella.
I wouldn't classify any of the fights on HBO's early 2012 schedule, or on the drawing board, as megafights. But to me, they are all worthy shows (assuming Chavez, Rios and Gamboa are matched legitimately) that should provide the two most important things: action and entertainment.