Kathy Duva says a ‘proxy war’ is taking place
Last week it was announced that ESPN would televise the rematch between newly-crowned WBO light heavyweight champion Eleider Alvarez and the man he defeated for the title in August, Sergey Kovalev.
HBO, which televised this bout, had a matching rights stipulation but declined to exercise its option on the rematch.
So as Alvarez-Kovalev II went to the open market, eventually the “Worldwide Leader” picked up this event, that will be broadcast on Super Bowl Weekend, in early February.
“In the end, I think there’s a great deal of competition going on between ESPN and the upstart DAZN and I think anybody who is a leading fighter right now is going to benefit from that and that’s what’s happened here,” said Kathy Duva, the CEO of Main Events (which promotes Kovalev), who cut the deal with Top Rank, which has an exclusive deal with ESPN and has been picking up fights from other promoters to put on its platforms.
DAZN, which makes its Stateside debut this weekend with the heavyweight title bout between champion Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin, from the U.K., has been on the prowl the past few months, looking to acquire fights and fighters, for its own streaming platform. Duva continued, “Both of them wanted the fight very much and were willing to pay a premium to get it. So Sergey and Eleider Alvarez, who deserve it, are going to benefit from it.”
As for why ESPN landed this fight instead of DAZN, Duva explained it wasn’t just about the money, “There were a lot of things taken into consideration and there’s a comfort level. We’ve dealt with Top Rank since the beginning of our business. Clearly Egis (Klimas, Kovalev’s manager) has a comfort level with Top Rank because he has so many fighters with them. The money, there came a point, once we came to terms, when DAZN started calling us and trying to give us more money. In the end, look: ESPN is going to make a seven-year commitment to boxing and this is a company that’s in the United States and I know is going to be here.
“Top Rank is going to be here. They’ve been here ever since I’ve been in boxing, so it seemed to me that, if I was going to bet, I was going to bet on them.”
So the question – actually the assumption many have – is, could this be is another clear signal that HBO is no longer the “Network of Champions” and will inevitably be out of the boxing business?
As Duva was asked this question, her answer to UCNLive.com was interesting. “There is absolutely a ‘proxy war’ going,” she stated, talking about ESPN and FOX (which is now aligned with Premier Boxing Champions). “And they are trying to crush DAZN because this is an upstart that’s coming into the country and going to be competing with them for rights to every sport and I don’t see where the networks are going to afford another player coming in to take a piece of their pie and so they are fighting right now on this ground, boxing, and between FOX and ESPN, they are going to buy up everything they can so DAZN won’t get in.”
(OK, I admit I had to look this up but a “proxy war” is defined on Wikipedia as “an armed conflict between two states or non-state actors, which act on the instigation or on behalf of other parties that are not directly involved in the hostilities.”)
“Just as they will when they start competing for other sports franchise rights,” continued Duva. “So I think that HBO is saying here, ‘How does it benefit us to get involved in their proxy war and start escalating our payments?’ when it’s clear ESPN and FOX have a great deal to gain by crushing DAZN. HBO is not in the same business. They are a premium service that puts boxing on because it checks one of their boxes and it keeps some viewers interested and it provides them with programming that’s consistent, that they can do however many times a year they decide to do it.
“It would make no logical sense right now for HBO to spend the kind of money that ESPN and FOX has indicated that they’re willing to spend. So I can understand the position that they’re in. You’re going to start to see some interesting stuff with FOX and Showtime because where are those premium fights going to go? Is Showtime going to start putting up more money to keep the fighters they built? I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Duva, who is still doing business with HBO (as Main Events will be doing a Dmitry Bivol fight on the network, in the fall) says, “It’s all very interesting. It’s a really good time to be a fighter.”
Hear what Mario Lopez and I had to say about the Saul Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin rematch and everything else in the sport of boxing on a fresh episode of “The 3 Knockdown Rule.”:
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