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SportsColumnistsGreg Logan

Hershman laces up gloves at HBO Sports

HBO Sports president Ken Hershman told a group

HBO Sports president Ken Hershman told a group of boxing writers during his introductory news conference at HBO's Manhattan office that the back-and-forth between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather has become an obstacle to making other bouts. Photo Credit: Getty Images

'I'm over it," new HBO Sports president Ken Hershman recently answered when questioned about boxing's need for a Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. match.

That phrase had an ironic ring because Hershman's predecessor, Ross Greenburg, used the exact same three words to describe his feelings about losing the Pacquiao-Shane Mosley bout to Showtime a year ago when Hershman was in charge of HBO's biggest rival.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That is to say, Hershman can count on facing the same problems and pressures that wore out Greenburg before his resignation last summer, a move he said he made on his own but that many industry insiders believe was made for him.

Although the working conditions surrounding the most powerful seat in boxing remain the same, there will be changes in style at the very least. Greenburg was a giant in the boxing industry, a lightning rod who angered some promoters -- notably Top Rank's Bob Arum -- with some of the deals he made and also a brilliant creative mind responsible for producing some of the best sports documentaries ever.

From that perspective, Plainview native Hershman, 48, has some very large shoes to fill. Whether there will be changes in substance at HBO is the open question that will be answered over the coming months as Hershman applies his purposefully low-key style.

While Greenburg was considered a programmer with deep roots at HBO, Hershman spent the previous 19 years at Showtime working in the legal department before taking over the sports department in 2003.

Working with a budget far smaller than HBO's estimated $35 million per year, Hershman kept boxing alive at Showtime and showed his agility in the marketplace by bringing off the Super Six tournament for super middleweights, a two-year process that produced a new American star in Andre Ward.

The powers at HBO certainly are counting on Hershman's ability to do a lot with a little to strengthen the biggest franchise in boxing. Hershman made it clear in a recent one-hour interview with a group of veteran boxing writers that he's not looking to make a big initial splash. Several times, he referenced the culture change involved in moving to HBO as the outsider swimming in unfamiliar waters.

Ultimately, Hershman wants to tone down personal clashes and rely on his skill as a negotiator to reach consensus. One of the biggest problems in boxing is the tendency of promoters to match their own fighters rather than putting together the best matches between fighters from rival promotional entities. We're talking to you, Top Rank and Golden Boy.

"I've been working with both organizations for years, and we've had a positive and productive relationship," Hershman said. "It's gone through ups and downs, like everyone else with Top Rank, but I expect we're going to do a ton of business. Golden Boy has a tremendous stable of fighters, and I expect a positive relationship with them."

Addressing the problem of in-house fights, Hershman added: "I do hope there can be some cross-pollination between those promoters and lots of promoters that have top fighters. I hate to see unnecessary personal issues get in the way of fights being made. But I think we'll have a breakthrough eventually, and they'll realize it's in their business interests, as well."

Hershman plans to take the first four months of this year to assimilate at HBO and evaluate the operation, but he anticipates no immediate changes in the broadcast teams. He wants to build HBO Boxing's Internet presence and to see whether some of the things he did at Showtime in terms of a series for upcoming fighters and major tournaments will travel to his new home.

But most of all, Hershman hopes to create an air of transparency in negotiations with promoters to produce the best matches for boxing fans. "I try not to get steeped in the machinations on the chess board," Hershman said. "Just buy good fights."

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