Abraham: Boxing ill but still nothing to sneeze at

Media Watch

April 23, 1996|By Milton Kent

With a weary chuckle, Seth Abraham, president and CEO of Time-Warner Sports, allows that boxing, the sport his company is tied to so heavily, is, to put it mildly, "always troubled," a sport that "has a perpetual cold."

"Sometimes the cold becomes pneumonia and sometimes the cold becomes malaria. It's never germ-free," Abraham said during a recent Baltimore visit.

But the fact is that no matter how sickly boxing may be, it always produces sufficient ratings and revenues for HBO and TVKO, the two programming arms of Time-Warner Sports, to ensure that the sport will never stay on the critical list for long.

"The sport is always going to have problems. It's the nature of the sport," said Abraham. "There's no commissioner, no infrastructure and the organizations have run amok. But every once in a while, there's a great fight and it lifts the entire sport. And that's why we're in it."

Though Time-Warner has had some luck with fighters in the FTC lighter weight categories, it's the heavyweight class that defines the sport, and that class is a mess.

For instance, the title of one of the three major arms of the heavyweight division, the International Boxing Federation, is vacant, having been stripped from Francois Botha.

The crowns of the other two major organizations, the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Association, are controlled through the auspices of Abraham's arch-enemy, promoter Don King, who deals exclusively with Showtime, appearing to leave Time-Warner on the outside.

To further muddy the waters, Time-Warner is being sued by former champion Riddick Bowe and his manager, Rock Newman, as they seek to get out of their contract to fight on TVKO or HBO.

Bowe is widely thought of as the only other marketable heavyweight besides Mike Tyson, and Abraham said much of what happens with the company in the division is contingent on how a judge rules in the case.

"If the judge rules that Rock is out from the contract, then Bowe would be a free agent and there would be further anarchy in the heavyweight ranks," said Abraham.

Beyond that, Abraham said he thinks Time-Warner has a few things in its corner. For instance, courts in Texas and New Jersey have ruled that Briton Lennox Lewis is to get the next title fight from the WBC, the crown that Tyson currently holds, and Lewis has just signed a contract with Time-Warner.

If the judge in the Bowe case rules for the company, Abraham said he would like to match Bowe against Lewis, in what he calls "a wonderful fight."

No matter the machinations of judges, managers and promoters, Time-Warner is not getting out of the ring any time soon.

"We are not the sport's policeman. One of the reasons we have been so successful is we know what we are, and we know what we aren't," said Abraham. "We're broadcasters. We buy fights from promoters. We advertise, we market and we try to develop stars. It's that simple."

If only anything in boxing were that simple.

More HBO doings

The next episode of "Real Sports," HBO's quarterly magazine show, will feature the first extended network interview with Ravens owner Art Modell since he uprooted the Cleveland Browns and relocated them here. The program is scheduled to air May 20 at 10 p.m.

Meanwhile, the pay-cable channel is to begin filming spots to promote its May 10 boxing tripleheader today at Madison Square Garden, featuring former New York Mayor Ed Koch and that light beer-seeking guy, "Johnny," who professes, "I love you, man," to all his prospective targets.

"Johnny," by the way, is portrayed in the ads by actor Rob Fitzgerald, a former Missouri football player, who, hopefully, is rapidly approaching the end of that 15 minutes of fame we're all supposed to get.

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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