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HBO Boxing replaced Mayweather with depth in 2013

ORLANDO, FL - OCTOBER 05: Miguel Cotto reacts

ORLANDO, FL - OCTOBER 05: Miguel Cotto reacts to winning a Super Welterweight bout against Delvin Rodriguez at Amway Center on October 5, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Mike Ehrmann

HBO's boxing division is no longer the only game in town. But an argument can be made that it still may be the biggest.

It's been a hard case to argue the last few years, however. Major defections including Floyd Mayweather Jr. to Showtime and executives Kerry Davis and Ross Greenburg, who both left the company, have led many to question where the network is headed.

HBO responded in a big way in 2013, broadcasting some of the sport's top fights. HBO's World Championship Boxing main-event fights averaged 1.2 million viewers, while the total program drew an average of 952,000, according to the network's public relations department.

Miguel Cotto's bout with Delvin Rodriguez on Oct. 5 drew more than 1.5 million viewers and peaked at 1.7 million, according to HBO, making it the most-watched non-pay-per-view boxing event on cable this year.

HBO vice president of sports Mark Taffet noted many of boxing's other top attractions, including, Andre Ward, Sergio Martinez, Wladimir Klitschko, Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao, all of whom fought live on the network in 2013.

"And you can't talk about 2013 without mentioning Gennady Golovkin, Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev," Taffet told Newsday.

Golovkin, Stevenson and Kovalev, all budding stars for the network, emerged as fighter of the year candidates. Golovkin has built a large following. But Stevenson was an unexpected surprise for HBO, scoring a first-round knockout of Chad Dawson last June.

Mikey Garcia, Guillermo Rigondeaux, and Terence Crawford all are rising stars Taffet said will add to HBO's "continued growth."

"In 2013, we wanted to identify the next generation of boxing stars and present them to our audience," Taffet said.

When Mayweather inked his six-fight deal with Showtime, the question for HBO executives was who would carry the network into the future. HBO answered that by featuring and promoting many fighters.

"We listened to what our boxing fans told us," Taffet said.

Other fighters Taffet referred to as "fan friendly" include Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios and Ruslan Provodnikov.

As for 2014, Taffet expects the network to start strong.

Pacquiao will make his return to the U.S. in an HBO PPV bout on April 12, light heavyweights Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal will fight on Jan. 18 and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will take on Brian Vera on March 1.

As well as HBO has done this year, challenges still remain. Mayweather's bout with Canelo Alvarez drew 2.2 million pay-per-view buys. Mayweather himself earned $40.8 million for the fight.

It's hard for HBO to find a fighter who can come close to matching those numbers right now, but Taffet believes that his company's depth of quality fighters will carry HBO going forward.

"We have a great starting lineup, bench and bullpen," Taffet said. "This is the deepest group of fighters we've worked with in many years."

New York Sports