There is a reason HBO is number 1 in boxing.....efficiency!
I found that out when contacting HBO for a interview with Lou
Dibella, the second in command at HBO behind Seth Abraham and
the man who makes the matches for HBO. 4 hours after I had
called HBO asking for a interview, I received a call from Mr.
DiBella setting up a good time for a interview the following
day. It is that kind of efficient lets get it done attitude
that gives the fans and HBO the kind of great boxing matchups
we have come to expect from the champions of boxing on
Lou DiBella is the senior vice president of HBO sports
and runs both the "HBO Championship Boxing" and the "Boxing
After Dark" series. He is the driving force behind the day
to day operations at HBO's boxing offices and thus holds
real power in the boxing world. I found him to be quick and
above all honest in his answers and he never shied away from
any questions I had for him.
BW: How long have you been with HBO boxing and what to this point has been the highlight and lowlight of your stay there so far. DiBella: I've been involved with HBO boxing for almost a decade I started out as the lawyer for HBO boxing and over the course of time my job evolved into being the primary deal maker and primary matchmaker of our fights. The highlight? There have been a number of them, I think whenever you get a great fight it is a highlight. Arturo Gatti vs. Wilson Rodriguez at Madison Square Garden. McKinney vs. Barrera those two fights were two of the first Boxing After Dark fights and they were both highlights because we couldn't have launched that new series with any more theatrical or emotional fights. The lowlight is allot of the fights I wanted to make over the course of the years and was not able to make. The fact that Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe never fought in the prime of their careers was a lowlight. The fact that so far we have not been able to make Lewis and Holyfield has been troubling. But hopefully that fight will get done in the next 6 to 8 months. BW: HBO's commitment to boxing how does that work? Is there a yearly renewal of budget which depends on ratings or does HBO place a certain amount of days aside each year which it devotes to boxing. DiBella: Every year we work out with the senior management of our company a budget for boxing. We have a great commitment to boxing. Boxing has been one of our primary types of original programming for a number of years and boxing does very well for us. I think we are clearly the leader in televised boxing. We have a new advertising campaign that is going to begin shortly and the concept is "HBO sports the heart and soul of boxing" and that is what we are. I think we are the heart and soul of boxing. BW: What goes into choosing a fighter who appears on Boxing after dark? DiBella: A evaluation of the fighters talents and also a determination that you can make a matchup for that fighter that will be pleasing T.V and a good solid competitive fight. You know the one thing with Boxing After Dark is that we are allot less concerned with the big names. You are not going to get the Oscar's, Roy Jones's, or Naseem Hamed's on Boxing After Dark. You are going to get still great fighters but guys whose names who are not household words and couldn't headline our prime time championship boxing show. I think what we look for is a terrific fighter who has been underexposed, who is hungry, has allot of desire and is going to give 110 percent when given the opportunity. So far that has pretty much worked out on every card. BW: Approximately how many fights do you attend during a year. DiBella: We do probably about 30 shows a year between HBO Championship Boxing, Boxing After Dark and TVKO. I attend pretty much all of those. I am a huge fight fan. I love boxing as well as working in it, so I probably go to a good 20 or 30 other shows. So I would say somewhere between 50 or 60 shows a year. BW: This is of course is a hypothetical question. If you could have any one of Showtime's fighters who would it be? DiBella: (a short pause) At this point I am not really sure who Showtimes fighters are? I think Ricardo Lopez is a good fighter, right now Naseem Hamed is a HBO fighter. We are waiting so see the result of a court proceeding involving Felix Trinidad and we are waiting to see what happens there. To be honest right now there is only one answer and that is Evander Holyfield. I want to make Lennox Lewis vs. Evander Holyfield but from what I am told Evander has no contract with Showtime. He is not a Showtime fighter he does have a promotional contract with Don King but he is not a Showtime fighter. BW: Recently I watched the Duran vs. Joppy farce and said to myself how can Showtime buy this fight! Was there ever a matchup that you didn't want to see but HBO said it needed to air because a certain fighter can draw more viewers. DiBella: Interestingly most of the fights I have been forced to do that I haven't liked have been mandated by the organizations. I have done a large number of mandatory fights that I knew going in were bad fights or fights that shouldn't have happend. One prime example is the second time that Oliver McCall fought Lennox Lewis. Where he was having problems with the law preceding the fight, where he had problems with drugs preceding the fight. Everyone pretty much knew he was not in a condition or shape to fight. We spoke out at the time and tried to stop that fight from happening. It happend anyway and it was a fiasco. Oliver had a breakdown in the ring and it was a terrible night for boxing. I was disappointed with Henry Akiwande vs. Lennox Lewis but then again that was a mandatory. There have been a couple of times where I have not liked the fights that we have done but the majority of them have been mandatory situations. Or a superstar level fighter who was taking a sort of a breather kind of fight. I don't like doing that kind of fight. I like the sort of fights where it is a toss of the coin type of fight. BW: Everyone has seen a fighter and said to themselves "That guy is a future star" and for some reason he just never lived up to his potential. Was there a fighter like that for yourself, and it does not have to be a HBO fighter but someone who just never lived up to his potential. DiBella: You know that happens with allot of people for allot of different reasons. I didn't expect James Toney's career to collapse after the lost to Roy Jones. But he had all sorts of problems with weight and his career never got back on track and I felt bad for him because I liked James. I was more disappointed for him than anything else. His career pretty much fizzled after the Roy Jones fight. I thought Barrera was going to be a great great fighter now he is still a young guy and maybe he can get it back together again. I was somewhat surprised by his two losses to Junior Jones. You see allot of prospects and it is very hard to judge what kind of professional fighter a amateur fighter or Olympian is going to be. So often you look at that sort of fighter and he doesn't pan out the way you thought he might of. But recently allot of the young fighters I have been scouting and keeping a eye on have been doing very well. I am very happy with the progress of David Reid, I am happy with the progress of Fernando Vargas, happy with the progress of Floyd Mayweather. When I look at some other young guys out there. I think Angel Mandfredy can be a terrific fighter and I think Shane Mosley is a future superstar. BW: Speaking of David Reid, HBO took a small chance on singing David Reid straight off his Olympic gold medal win since he was even loosing that fight before he landed that one big punch. Who is involved in the decision making process for signing a fighter to a exclusive HBO contract. DiBella: At the time I kept a eye on David and obviously he did win the gold medal. My boss Seth Abraham and I discussed it and made the decision. Yeah he is the only gold medal winner from the United States and he is a pleasing fighter who has a big punch and can be a good television fighter. We made a decision to go after him early and I think it was the right decision. BW: There are some very talented and exciting fighters in the lower weights in Asia like Saman Sarjataroung, Joichiro Tatsuyoushi which seem to be largely overlooked by everyone in boxing. Would HBO ever consider doing a show in Asia or bringing some of those fighters over here for a Boxing After Dark show? DiBella: There is a reason for that Marty. The reason that they are overlooked is that the majority of the Asian fighters wont leave Asia to fight. I've had some talks about a number of Asian fighters. I have been really unable to get the better of the Asian fighters to fight in the U.S.A. That being said I have just had some conversations with Mr. Honda the esteemed Japanese promoter and we are talking about the possibility of bringing Joichiro Tatsuyoushi who is pretty much known as the Arturo Gatti of Japan to the United States to fight a fight on Boxing After Dark. So that is something I would like to do next year. BW: I thought with the current economic troubles in Asia that there would be a better chance of bringing some of the Asian fighters to America to fight. DiBella: There might be a little bit better of a opportunity now but the guy I most want to bring over here is Tatsuyoshi. BW: Does HBO retain the rights to all the fights shown on HBO. Has there ever been any kind of consideration given to doing some kind of "Classic fight series" such as the ones on ESPN's Classic sports network or some kind of video series. DiBella: We have kicked that around and at some point in time I think it is something we will a look at. We are in the process right now of developing and building a library of fights and somewhere down the line I am sure we will do something on those lines. BW: Is the HBO announcing team signed to yearly contracts and has there ever been a thought given to changing the announcing team for maybe a Boxing After Dark show to see some new talent. DiBella: Our announcers are on contract, I cant tell you the exact terms of their contracts. I sense they are generally more than a year. When we started Boxing After Dark, Ross Greenberg our executive producer and the guys that worked for him thought it would be a great idea to put Roy Jones on the team. That is really the difference in the two teams, George is on the World Championship Boxing series. You know if it is not broke why fix it? I think we have the best team on televised boxing at the moment we are pretty happy and and pretty content. Obviously over the course of time things may change but right now we are happy with what we have. BW: USA TNF fight fight once held a poll to select a opponent for Oba Carr about 6 years ago, is this something that might be able to be done thru HBO's website by giving fans a vote on the fights or fighters they would want to see. DiBella: We have been thinking about that for a while actually and Roy Jones has actually on a couple of occasions indicated a interest to choosing a opponent that way. When your dealing with big fights and big fighters with multi million paydays and superstars it becomes a little more difficult too pick the opponent that way. But if you can get the fighter on board and come up with a good pool of fighters that the public could choose from I think it can done and it is something we would consider at some point. BW: HBO got allot of credit back in the 80's for unifying the heavyweight title. Is there any thought being given to holding some kind of unification tourney in any weight class. A tourney generates lots of intrest in any sport. DiBella: Of course theres talk and of course you want to unify titles but it is not that simple. It is not up to HBO to unify titles, promoters dont want titles unified because they want to control their own champions and their own belts. It is very difficult in this day and age to bring about a unification because the organizations themselves are not very supportive of unifications. Yes we would like to unify as many titles as possible but I am not very optimistic. Because I have no reason to be optimistic about that. It is definitely something that my boss has favored for a long time but is not something that is so easy to bring about. When you have different promoters, networks, sites and different alphabet organizations involved that have their own self interestes in mind, its almost impossible in this day and age to unify a title. BW: Arturo Gatti has taken alot of damage in his fights and some boxing fans I have talked with worry about his health after boxing. Is there a point where you say I wont use this fighter anymore on HBO because you believe he is taking too much punishment. DiBella: We are not God and we are not doctors. You can get a sense that a fighter has been taking allot of punishment. But if a fighter shows no obvious signs of damage and he remains a competitive world class figther it is difficult to shut him out. I look at Arturo Gatti and I get worried, I happen to love Arthur, I think he is a great kid and I get worried about him and the number of wars he's been in. I would certainly not use him again if he's beaten up again by Ivan Robinson. If he doesn't manage to win that fight I would certainly encourage him to retire and definitely would not look to do future Arturo Gatti fights on HBO. But if he can beat Ivan Robinson (that fight is taking place on November 14th on the undercard of the Roy Jones Jr. vs. Otis Grant) and get thru that fight healthy I would see no reason not to continue using him. BW: It must be hard because you see fighters like Jake LaMotta and Matthew Saad Muhammad who took massive amounts of punishment and they seem to be fine after their retired. DiBella: It is a very personal thing, Gatti has been in war after war and yet he doesn't show any signs of it. Terry Norris really hasn't had that many wars and clearly sounds, looks, and fights like he shouldn't be in the ring anymore. Based on what I saw I would not use Terry Norris on HBO again. In the past we have refused to use Thomas Hearns, we have been approached very often about Thomas Hearns and Roy Jones. But you know Tommy was a great fighter, a Hall of Famer and a tremendous person but right now Tommy Hearns should not be in a ring with Roy Jones and that is a fight we would not consider. BW: Senator McCain has introduced another boxing bill which looks to help the fighters, have you seen it and as one of boxing most powerful men do you support it? DiBella: I have, and I applaud Senator McCain for all his efforts. I think that any legislation that is written with the best interests of the fighters in mind is good. So far both the Health and Safety bill that Senator McCain was involved in and The Muhammad Ali boxing act which they are now considering have the best intrest of the fighter in mind. I support Senator McCain's efforts. BW: Floyd Mayweather, Fernando Vargas, David Reid all seem to be rushing to title shots, do you fear that they might not be experienced enough and will get in trouble once they are in title fights with established fighters. That their career could be damaged much like a Leon Spinks or Davey Moore even if they win the title fight. DiBella: What is the worse thing that can happen? If they loose they can always come back, my gut tells me that Mayweather might be a little bit inexperienced for Genaro. At the same time Floyd is much faster and much younger and I think it is a very interesting flip of the coin kind of fight. It is really up to the fighter and the people around him to decide if their ready and they appear to think they are. BW: There is a lack of coverage for boxing in allot of the print media like Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News do you ever give them a call and say "I have this great fight coming up that you should cover" or try to get them involved in HBO telecast fights. DiBella: We do everything in our power to try and get the word out about the fights we are doing and the fighters we are televising. You cant force a newspaper or magazine to give you ink, you do the best you can to get the word out there. We have a very good marketing department a very good public relations department and they work very hard to get the word out. I think they do a very good job of it. BW: You have worked with all the great promoters of the last decade who stands out as the easiest to work with and the most difficult. DiBella: The majority of them are difficult in their own way. I think to some extent the promoters who are not as big are a little easier to deal with because they are more appreciative of getting opportunities and are more willing to use their fighters in high risk competitive matchups. But in general promoters are difficult. BW: If you had a promising young fighter who would you send him to for training. DiBella: There are allot of terrific trainers, I guess it would depend on who the fighter is and where he is from. I have allot of respect for Don Turner, Tommy Brooks......I don't want to miss anybody. Jesse Reid is very good trainer Freddy Roach, there are allot of good trainers in this business right now. I think Teddy Atlas is a terrific trainer for the right fighter. I cant really answer that question, it would depend on who the fighter is and what he is like. BW: Are there any young fighters you are looking at now to use in future Boxing After Dark shows. DiBella: Yeah, I would like to try and do something with Mark Johnson who I think he has been waiting patiently. There is a fighter out of Great Britain a 168 pounder, Joe Calzaghe who I think might be the second best non heavyweight European fighter after Naseem. He is a possible future challenge to Roy Jones, I would like to do something with Calzaghe at some point. There are allot of fighters. I would like to continue and build Michael Grant because I think he is a future heavyweight champion. Bw: Is Michael Grant signed to a exclusive contract with HBO. DiBella: No, but we are talking about that. At this point of the interview I suggested to go off the record and I asked Lou DiBella if he had seen the jr. welterweight Shea Neary of Great Britain. I suggested that he would be a fun fighter for the people here in America to see. DiBella: Lets go on the record. I have been talking with Shea Neary's promoter John Hyland and I am very interested in using Shea Neary in March. As part of our Boxing After Dark show that we would try and time around St. Patrick's day. We have talked about possibly a Shea Neary vs. Mickey Ward fight. If Tatsuyoshi if the Arturo Gatti of Japan then Shea Neary is the Arturo Gatti of the U.K. I am actually looking forward to doing something with Shea Neary. BW: How do you keep in touch with the latest boxing news and personalities? Which boxing magazines do you read. DiBella: You have to pretty much assume I get all of them, and on a daily basis I am on the phone 100 times. I talk to promoters, managers, fighters guys in the gyms. I have allot of friends in the boxing business and I use them as resources. With respect to the magazines, I read The Ring magazine, KO, International Boxing Digest is a favored of mine. There is a new magazine called Fight Game, I also read the Flash Boxing updates. I pretty much read whatever is sent to me. You know what, lately I have found there are some very good publications out of Europe. Boxing Monthly is a very good magazine and so is Boxing News I read those religiously too. BW: Last question if there was one thing you could change in the sport what would it be. DiBella: I would get rid of the Organizations (WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO) they are a negative factor. That would be a good starting point.