A Look At HBO Boxing's Early 2018 TV Schedule

This excerpt first appeared in this week's issue of the Fightful Boxing Newsletter, which releases each Thursday morning at Fightful.com

HBO is ready to roll out several world title fights on television for the first couple of months of 2018, including a major super flyweight television event in about two months. The network’s successful September 9 card, billed as "Superfly," will have a sequel card in February, with the WBC super flyweight title being the headliner.

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The "Superfly 2" card, expected to be another card full of major fights in the super flyweight division, has WBC champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai defend his title against mandatory challenger Juan Francisco Estrada. The fight will take place on February 24 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, according to promoter Tom Loeffler, who made the announcement to ESPN's Dan Rafael.

"It's very exciting to announce the main event for the second installment of our 'Superfly' series," Loeffler said. "With the tremendous response from fans and media from our first event and overwhelming anticipation to our second, we join boxing fans in saying that we can't wait until Feb. 24 at The Fabulous Forum."

Both Sor Rungivsai and Estrada competed at the first "Superfly" card, with Estrada beating Carlos Cuadras in a WBC title eliminator and Sor Rungvisai beating Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez in the main event, retaining his title.

No other fights has been announced for the "Superfly 2" HBO card, but WBO champion Naoya Inoue could be a part of the card, provided he retains his title on December 30 against Yoan Boyeaux in Japan. Inoue also fought on the first "Superfly" card when he retained his title against Antonio Nieves with a sixth-round stoppage win.

Other names being explored as possible fighters to be added on the card are Cuadras and WBA champion Kal Yafai. Gonzalez is not expected to fight on the February 24 card, which is not surprising to hear. Yafai had been very interested in fighting Gonzalez and he told Fightful last summer he would fight Gonzalez had he beaten Sor Rungvisai for the title in their rematch. Regardless, a Yafai vs. Gonzalez fight was being explored, but negotiations never went deep as Yafai still has intentions to unify titles at 115.

Obviously, Yafai won’t get the chance to unify titles with Sor Rungvisai. Inoue still technically doesn’t have an opponent and will have his mandatory cleared with a win at the end of the year, but the current main event is Sor Rungvisai vs. Estrada and HBO seems content to keep it that way. Putting a unification fight on a TV card and not have it be the main event in this instance would be terrible booking sense. Plus a unification bout of that magnitude wouldn’t be booked with only less than two months of preparation and buildup. If the second “Superfly” card ends up being a success, then a third one could be in place for late summer with Yafai vs. Inoue being a likely main event option.

There is still the possibility of Yafai finding a way to unify titles with IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas, who retained his title with a TKO win over Jamie Conlan on November 11, but again, the issue of a unification fight not involving Sor Rungvisai being the main event just would not work.

Part of the plan of this second super flyweight-heavy card is for HBO to continue grooming stars for 2018 and 2019. Sor Rungvisai is now established as an HBO star with the two wins against Gonzalez and the next boxer at 115 pounds HBO wants to turn into a major star is Inoue.

Inoue is a big star in Japan stemming from his amateur days where he was a successful boxer, but never achieved any major global success such as winning an Olympic medal or an AIBA world championship. As a pro, Inoue has gotten a lot of success, in his short career, winning world titles in two different weight classes.

If the WBO grants Inoue an optional defense for the February fight, Cuadras is a potential name that could be an extremely solid co-main event. Cuadras lost a razor-thin fight to Estrada on the first “Superfly” card which will end up being among the top 10 fights of 2017 and Cuadras is ranked No. 10 in the WBO rankings, meaning an optional title defense between Inoue and Cuadras is completely possible.

Also on tap for HBO is an HBO Boxing After Dark card on January 27 that will feature both Lucas Matthysse and Jorge Linares fighting in separate title fights. The card will also take place at The Forum

Matthysse will fight Tewa Kiram for the vacant WBA “regular” welterweight title that was vacated by Lamont Peterson earlier this year as Peterson will challenge for Errol Spence Jr.’s IBF welterweight title on January 20. Linares will defend his WBA lightweight title against Mercito Gesta in the co-feature of the card, HBO’s first Boxing After Dark event of 2018.

The card has been getting large amounts of criticism for the fact that HBO is broadcasting two world title fights where an unknown fighter will take part in. Despite Kiram being undefeated and holding the No. 1 ranking in the WBA welterweight ratings for almost the entirety of the year, Kiram has never fought any noteworthy boxers, nor has he even fought outside of his native Thailand. Gesta on the other hand, is ranked all the way down at No. 14 in the WBA welterweight rankings. Despite Gesta being undefeated since losing an IBF welterweight title challenge in 2012, Gesta hasn’t fought anybody truly great boxers.

The other major point of criticism of this card is the fact that the WBA is still sanctioning a world title fight for a “regular” belt despite the organization’s internal ruling to no longer sanction secondary world title fights if it is not needed. When looking at this matter, those criticisms do have legs to stand on. The “regular” title was vacated and even though “super” champion Keith Thurman is still recovering from elbow surgery, he is expected to be back in early 2018. Matthysse vs. Kiram could just as easily be a WBA title eliminator and have the winner fight Thurman in 2018.

With the “regular” title still in contention, that leaves the welterweight division with five major world titles, with pundits of the sport calling for less world titles and for the WBA to still have two world titles at welterweight, the governing body’s reputation only stands to take a hit.

The January 27 card does not have any other fights scheduled at the moment, but it should be a decent way to kick off HBO’s 2018. The unfortunate part for HBO is that Showtime still has the edge in terms of having a better television card for the month of January as the January 20 card at the Barclays Center is headlined by the Spence vs. Peterson fight. Showtime also has a card on January 12 in Verona, New York, headlined by budding women’s boxing star Claressa Shields defending her WBC and IBF super middleweight titles against Tori Nelson.

The “Superfly 2” card is the true kickoff to HBO’s 2018, given the fact that the network doesn’t have any other cards announced for 2018. The only two other cards that is expected to take place on HBO for the first half of 2018 is the March card at Madison Square Garden, likely to be headlined by Sergey Kovalev’s first WBO light heavyweight title defense against either Sullivan Barrera or WBA champion Dmitry Bivol, and the Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin rematch that figures to still happen on May 5 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas or at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

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