A Q&A with Peter Nelson: Part two
The following is Part Two of our discussion with the Executive Vice President of HBO Sports Peter Nelson…
UCNLive.com: Peter, with some of the defections of certain content providers like Top Rank and some of the stuff that divides the sport, I noticed this, in the second half of your programming for 2017, and described it as a rebuilding process, as you brought aboard fighters we hadn’t seen before, like WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol. Do you think it was a fair statement that you were kind of going through a rebuilding process, regarding the HBO boxing franchise?
Peter Nelson: The sport is highly cyclical and it has peaks and valleys, as anyone is aware of. Whenever we’re at a peak, it’s always that “Boxing is back and it’s the greatest thing ever,” and when we’re in a valley, it’s “Boxing is dead and will it ever come back again?” It always does and we saw, this year, a title wave of retirements from Juan Manuel Marquez to Andre Ward to Miguel Cotto, Wladimir Klitschko, Timothy Bradley, among others, and, so, to a large degree, it’s been a transitional year, from a generation of Hall-of-Fame-worthy fighters to a new, hungry generation that’s coming up.
And so, to answer your question, the reality is if you’re not developing and building and rebuilding, at the same time, as you’re at the top, looking out over the sport itself, then you’re not taking care of the fans, long-term. You’re not taking care of the ecosystem of the sport, as a whole. So we always look to do that. That’s why you always see us there early, trying to scout the fighters and the prospects that are on the early part of the untelevised show, in order to see a glimpse into the future.
UCNLive.com: I know you’ve heard some of the comments of Top Rank CEO Bob Arum. I hear it on social media, sometimes when I bring up HBO, or something you may have said or a decision you have made – Is this job like being the President of the United States, that no matter what you do, half the people are going to disagree? Do you ever feel beleaguered in this role?
PN: Well, I don’t have a Twitter account, so it’s a little bit different. I think that a sport like this, it’s highly subjective which fights get made, when they get made. It can be sporadic, at times, with various competing interests. But we have a deep, profound respect for anyone who wants to see the sport succeed. And people who disagree with us still want to see the sport succeed and we have respect for them too. This position, by nature, is about working with our partners, the fighters, our team here, to produce the best events we possibly can for HBO subscribers and, as far as we’re concerned, the rest is noise.
UCNLive.com: When you first got into this job, I’m sure you had certain aspirations, certain goals, certain perceptions of what it entailed. Has this job been more difficult than you expected or different in any way?
PN: Well, part of what I do here is in the boxing category but also with Bryant Gumbel (“Real Sports”), “Hard Knocks,” documentaries like the one we’re doing with Bill Simmons, on Andre the Giant, that’s going to be coming out shortly and another project that we’ve done with UConn’s women’s basketball, which we did in conjunction with IMG. So a lot of the projects that we do cover, the wide array of sports, the gamut and then, with the boxing category, are there challenges?
Every negotiation, every fight, if I were to tell you that it’s as smooth as I envision how it would go and it always goes according to plan, I’d be lying to you. Each one is like it’s own diamond, it’s own little snowflake and you have to navigate how each one is going to go and, each time, there’s something that takes you for a turn, in some capacity. But that being said, that’s why we have a great team here internally. That’s why, with all our partners, I feel strongly that we work with some of the best developers of talent in the sport, who really want to see the big fights get made.
We’ve seen that again and again and when people are willing to work with each other and they’re willing to see one another and get to a negotiation table together, that’s where the fans win and that’s the mission here: To deliver on that each and every time.
UCNLive.com: Peter, my final question is this: We know some of the stuff that’s already been scheduled for HBO in the first half of 2018, from Dmitry Bivol (versus Sullivan Barrera on March 3) to the show at the Forum (in Inglewood, California, on January 27, featuring Lucas Matthysse and Jorge Linares) to “SuperFly 2.” What else can we expect to be filled in for the first quarter that has not been finalized?
PN: I think you’ll see, beyond the fights you’ll see in January, February and March, that you just listed, we’ll also see the return of Danny Jacobs. We’ll see the return of (unified middleweight champion) Gennady Golovkin and (Saul) “Canelo” Alvarez, in everyone’s hopes, will be facing one another and, right now, they’re hunkered down in negotiations with one another. We remain optimistic about that and, while the two sides are talking, we feel like the big fight that everyone wants to see will end up happening.”
I think you’ll continue to see the development of fighters that you saw, that had breakout performances, whether that’s Dmitry Bivol or whether its (WBO junior middleweight titlist) Sadam Ali. Again, I think it’s 50/50 competition what we’re looking for. That’s what creates stars, not just putting fighters on TV and hoping that fans will rally around the closure. That is proven to be a recipe for mediocrity and that isn’t our strategy and we know quite clearly from fans – and including your readership – that’s not what fans of the sport want to see.
They want to see 50/50 fights, where anyone can win and they love nothing more than going in thinking that a fight is going to go a particular way and go see an upset.
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