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The stars of HBO’s new effort represent a sort of boxing podcast supergroup.  Kieran Mulvaney, long-time ESPN blogger, and recently added to the 24/7 lineup for Pacquiao-Bradley 2, was responsible for HBO’s previous attempt, Heavy Hitting.  His partner Eric Raskin, among the most talented and entertaining of active boxing writers, is also one half of the duo behind Ring Theory, which remains boxing’s best podcast by far.

The HBO Boxing Podcast is extremely professionally done.  Sound quality is excellent, even though the participants appear always to be in different cities.  Handovers are FM-radio-slick.  The content is well-prepared and focused: no lengthy discussions here of whether Skype is working, or whether one or another participant is going to be too hungover to dial in on time.  All this is worth mentioning because it is by no means a given, even from an organisation as professional as HBO: Mulvaney’s Beckettian Heavy Hitting sounded like a castaway talking to himself in a dustbin.

There is ample evidence of both intelligence and humour.  Raskin in particular has plenty to say that is useful and interesting, and usually finds entertaining ways to say it.  What is more, the product is tightly structured, albeit on occasion perhaps too much so: in a tic familiar to Ring Theory listeners, Raskin cannot help announcing when the podcast is about to move from one “segment” to the next, as if he cannot trust his listeners to figure it out for themselves (which is not to say he is wrong, only that there might be more elegant ways of achieving the same thing).

But the reason why the production values are so superior to those of other podcasts is that this isn’t really a podcast in the usual sense & spirit of the term, i.e., enthusiasts sharing their more-or-less independent views with their more-or-less peers.  Rather, it is a marketing vehicle for HBO’s upcoming big fights[1].  This often makes for unsatisfying listening even when the fights themselves are reasonable matches, as has been the case for most of those featured so far, including Chavez, Jr.-Vera 2 and Lomachenko-Salido as well as Pacquiao-Bradley 2 (sample dialogue: “are you as pumped for this fight as I am?”).  But when the fight clearly cannot live up to the excitement Raskin & Mulvaney are being paid to convey – as in the case of the recent Kovalev-Agnew mismatch – listening becomes painful. Mulvaney, a long-term boxing fan but a relative newcomer to the ranks of professional pundits, raving that Agnew might be able to do to Kovalev what Tony Thompson did to the cheese-chinned David Price, sounds like a man who has got the gig of a lifetime and can’t believe his luck.  Raskin, gently pointing out the differences between Price and the terrifying Kovalev, who is about as fragile as a Bond villain’s sidekick, sounds like he can’t believe Mulvaney’s luck either.

However, there is hope.  Following the Pacquiao-Bradley rematch Raskin and Mulvaney convene to discuss, for the first time on the podcast, a fight that has already happened.  Thus relieved of the pressure to sell something, their conversation assumes a more normal tone, and becomes far more entertaining and informative – making for an excellent listen, much more in the “spirit of podcasting”.  Perhaps this will be enough to make HBO realize that this forum, and Raskin in particular, could be used very effectively to extend and enhance its boxing coverage rather than simply shill for it.  We shall see.

 

[1] There is also a peculiar form of product placement in the form of the “Stat Chat Segment”, brought to the podcast by “our friends at Compubox”. It is hard to imagine Compubox’s products holding much interest for the average boxing fan (I picture a heavyset man of vaguely Mediterranean descent wearing a stained string vest and chewing the remains of a long-dead cigar).

 

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