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L-R is director Rick Phillips, Executive Producer Gordon Hall and Producer Rich Gaughn

ShoBox mission is clear: Young Fighters Matched Tough!

Story by Alex Dombroff
Photo courtesy of Tom Casino/Showtime

Ken Hershman put his hands together. He expressed adoration for James Kirkland and Alfredo Angulo, two fighters who in recent months have climbed rapidly up the junior middleweight ranks. Two fighters who have been featured prominently amongst other young talent on HBO’s Boxing After Dark, with Kirkland fighting on the series this Saturday.

It might not have seemed strange if Hershman wasn’t the Senior Vice President of Sports at Showtime.

But instead of harboring bitterness, Hershman was proud. Proud of two fighters he feels have made it where they are because of the exposure they received on the Showtime series ShoBox.

And that was the point of this particular gathering of media Showtime Boxing executives last Friday in New York City: to celebrate and discuss the show that for nearly eight years has been expediting the development of young fighters and exposing them to large audiences.

And while fighters are bound to move on from the show, and sometimes even the network, a sense of pride could be felt for the accomplishments of those who have been featured.

“This show has fulfilled its mission,” said Hershman. “There’s no denying that when you look at who has come off ShoBox.”

That mission is clearly stated in the unofficial mantra the show has carried throughout its entire run: Young Fighters Matched Tough.

With 30 fighters that would go on to win world titles featured in the 120 shows the series has produced, there is no doubt the series has done its part to give boxing fans an early look at rising talent.

“The real advantage of ShoBox is it serves as a test platform,” said Hershman. “Every promoter calls saying I have the new Mike Tyson, the next Oscar de la Hoya. And if they really believe that, we’re going to put them in tough. And we’ve seen fighters stumble. Others have risen to the occasion.”

Stumble, indeed. Even fighters who have risen past the ShoBox stage have had their struggles. Some of the more notable examples include:

*Ricky Hatton being dropped by Eamonn Magee before escaping with a decision victory.

*Luis Collazo getting stopped in three rounds by Edwin Cassiani in his 15th pro fight, but first against an opponent who had won had won more than 80% of his pro fighters.

*Robert Guerrero losing a decision to Gamaliel Diaz three fights before winning a title vs. Eric Aiken.

The above examples are why Hershman, and ShoBox’s executive producer Gordon Hall are so proud of fighters that move on, whether it be to Showtime’s Championship Boxing Series or elsewhere. They even have a name for those guys.

“We have something we call ShoBox graduates,” said Hall. “We start out with young fighters and we can show them multiple times. There is a still a point where they leave the series. They may not be ready for a title shot, but they are ready for a more experienced fighter.”

That was certainly the case for Hatton, Collazo, and Guerrero, even though two of them suffered losses when showcased on ShoBox.

Among the others who have come out of the show: Paul Williams, Kelly Pavlik, Diego Corrales, Chad Dawson, and Paulie Malignaggi.

An even bigger sense of pride is felt when the graduates cross paths in life after ShoBox. That will be the case in April when Timothy Bradley fights Kendall Holt in a junior welterweight unification bout.

“Both fighters got their title opportunities because of the bouts they had on ShoBox,” said Hall. “Kendall fought an undefeated David Diaz. He went on to fight Isaac Hlatshwayo and beat him. He fought ‘Mighty’ Mike Arnaoutis. Bradley in turn fought three or four times on ShoBox, all in important and step-up fights.”

While Bradley-Holt will be featured on Showtime, plenty of fighters have left the network to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

But that doesn’t bother the ShoBox team who insist the show’s goal is to create new boxing fans.

“I want good boxing on TV,” said Nick Charles, who has served as the series’ play-by-play voice since its inception. “We hate to lose them, but whatever is good for the sport is good for us.”

The rest of the team agrees, saying that in a sport that has become muddled with countless titles, overpriced and low quality pay per view shows, and fighters who use televised bouts as a means to pad their record, the best thing for Showtime, and boxing in general, is to introduce fans to the fighters at a young age.

Hall recounted his experiences working at NBC in the 1980’s, using a similar formula to build up fighters.

“John Mugabi, James Greene, Bobby Czyz became well known in the boxing fans’ household,” said Hall. “Because they were repeat fighters, you saw them on a regular basis. Of course [ShoBox] is probably good for Showtime because we are having on young, talented prospects in competitive matchups, but I would say that it’s good for the sport of boxing.”

It is not to say ShoBox goes off without a hitch, however. Matching fighters tough is a risky business, especially when promoters often care more about wins and losses than valuable experience gained in the ring.

It is one problem, Hall says, that ShoBox is happy to have so long as they hold true to their promise of not giving anyone a pushover.

“I don’t care who wins and losses,” said Hall. “I just care about putting on the best matchups for our audience. That being said, there are challenges because promoters, managers want their fighter to win. But I do believe that having their fighters matched tough at a younger stage in their career is helpful for them because it gives them an idea of what they have. In matching them tough, it helps escalate their careers at a faster pace.”

And the sky is the limit for that escalation. Just take Hatton, for example, who in 2007 fought Floyd Mayweather in the third highest grossing bout of all time that didn't include Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, or Oscar de la Hoya.

And that certainly earned Hatton a round of applause from the entire ShoBox team.

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