HBO Sports is often known for its wonderful storytelling, from the Emmy-winning Real Sports to the way it uses taped pieces to build up boxing matches into seemingly-epic affairs.
And that was on display Saturday night for a fascinating fight between Manchester, England’s Ricky Hatton and Mexico’s Jose Luis Castillo.
The taped pieces at the start of the show absolutely pulled you right in – from the story of Hatton and the 11,000 fans traveling from England to Las Vegas to support him, to how Castillo was trying to build on a previous fight considered one of the best of all time against another boxer, Diego Corrales, who recently passed away.
But when the broadcast came out of the taped pieces and into the live action, it hit the apron with a louder thud than when Castillo took a knee and gave up in the fourth round.
HBO is trying to build a new broadcast team, bringing along Max Kellerman to eventually replace veteran Larry Merchant. Judging by Saturday’s show, HBO should consider breaking Kellerman in on much lower profile fights.
First off, Kellerman knows a lot about boxing, and will eventually be an asset to HBO.
But unfortunately he decided to take some of the silly persona usually reserved for sports talk radio (he hosts a show in New York) and that of his (mercifully) short-lived show on Fox Sports Net and show it off in the pre-fight chatter.
From the outset, Kellerman seemed to be almost screeching and over-emphasizing everything, and looked stiff and wide-eyed to boot. Max – you know boxing, just settle down and act like it.
Once the fight started, the three-man booth of Jim Lampley, Manny Steward and Kellerman just never found its rhythm. That should come in time, but on the night this team performed about as well as the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
And for a sports division normally so talented at telling stories, they absolutely missed a huge one standing right in the ring next to the victorious Hatton before and after the fight.
Hatton is backed by the die-hard supporters of the Manchester City soccer team, many of whom were at the fight, and he wears the team’s blue colors. That was well documented by HBO.
But standing in the ring holding his belts before the fight was none other than Wayne Rooney, not only one of the most popular soccer players in England and all of Europe, but a standout for Manchester United, the bitter cross-town rival of Manchester City.
The HBO talent talked about the parallels with soccer all night, and then swung and missed when a fascinating story was standing right in front of them (the two are friends, but I had to look it up on the Internet to find that out after the fight).
Not what you’d expect from HBO Sports, but once the taped pieces were done, not much else on the night was, either.
The sport of boxing is in enough trouble as it is, under siege by a lack of high-profile fighters, a useless heavyweight division and the rise of mixed martial arts.
But boxing has always had HBO to make it look better. The sport better hope HBO was just having an off night.
And with HBO as a whole needing to find some heavyweights to replace The Sopranos and bring some buzz to the network, it can’t have its usually-reliable sports division delivering anything but knockouts.