Epix joins HBO, Showtime in boxing game

By DAVE SKRETTA AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK - Move over, HBO. Look out, Showtime.

A new premium cable channel, Epix, is getting into the boxing game.

The year-old network will air Vitali Klitschko’s heavyweight title fight against Odlanier Solis from Cologne, Germany, on Saturday, giving boxing fans in the United States an opportunity to see a fight that might otherwise have been unavailable on television.

“We’re really thrilled to be able to put this fight on this weekend,” Epix president Mark Greenberg said. “The heavyweights have always drawn the casual sports fans, and for Epix, that only launched 15 months ago, this became a great opportunity to explore the boxing world.”

HBO and Showtime helped build their subscriber bases years ago by offering boxing, giving the two premium cable channels sports content that wasn’t available elsewhere.

They’ve since developed into the most lucrative avenue outside pay-per-view for promoters doing big fights, mostly because they’re able to offer the biggest rights fees. But with dates drying up on those two networks, Epix believes it can offer a third option for major fights.

“We think they’re doing a great job of promoting the event,” said Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions, which represents Klitschko and his brother, fellow titleholder Wladimir Klitschko. “It’s going to be a real treat for all the fans in the U.S.”

The heavyweight division has been dominated by the Klitschko brothers recently. Combined with the fact that so few contenders are Americans, it has been quite a while since a title fight found its way to American cable television.

Most of the Klitschkos’ recent fights have been small pay-per-views or streamed online.

Vitali Klitschko’s fight against Solis will air live at 6 p.m. ET on Epix and its website, along with a network replay later Saturday night. Replays will be available on its website and via on-demand afterward, which could also include undercard fights from Germany.

There are even plans to simulcast the fight on video screens in Times Square, giving the network exposure to potentially thousands of additional viewers in New York City.

“We think we have an opportunity to help breath some life into sports, especially boxing and mixed martial arts,” Greenberg said. “We’ll see how this fight does for us. It’s been a great promotional device to get the Epix brand out.”

Epix is a joint venture of Viacom’s Paramount Pictures subdivision, MGM and Lionsgate, with carriage deals on Verizon FiOS, Dish Network and various cable providers, among others. Most of its content comes from a vast library of about 15,000 movies, but there are plans for concerts, documentary films, original series and other programming akin to HBO and Showtime.

A documentary about World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn airs Saturday prior to the fight.

If the blueprint for Epix sounds familiar, it should. Greenberg once worked for HBO as a marketing executive, then spent nearly two decades at Showtime, leading the boxing franchise through high-profile heavyweight fights involving Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and others.

He’s hoping the heavyweights can help build Epix, too.

“We announced this venture two years ago, we’ve been on the air a little over a year, and I would say I’ve had every boxing promoter with the exception of one in my office talking about the possibilities,” Greenberg said. “We’ll evaluate what happens this weekend, but I can foresee this being an important part of our mix.”

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Updated Thursday, Mar 17, 2011