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HBO Boxing Returns to Roots

The search has been on all year to find boxing's next superstar.

HBO has gone back to the basics of what made its three franchises - HBO Pay-Per-View, "World Championship Boxing" and "Boxing After Dark" - the industry's gold standard during the 1990s.

Victor Ortiz will fight Marcos Rene Maidana on Saturday in a junior welterweight bout on "Boxing After Dark", a series intended as a showcase for rising prospects when it made its debut in 1996.

"It takes an investment. You have to be committed to the sport to justify the investment," says Mark Taffet, an executive vice president at the cable channel. "We believe the sport has a bright future."

HBO formally kicked off its hunt earlier this year in Hollywood by hosting boxers - some current titleholders but largely unknown to a broader audience, some contenders, some merely prospects - whom they think have the potential to fit the bill.

Those fighters included heavyweight Chris Arreola, light heavyweight Chad Dawson, featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa and Ortiz. Also on the short list are heavyweight David Haye, junior featherweight Juan Manuel Lopez and junior middleweight Paul Williams.

"It's the first stage of an effort we expect to continue over the next few years," Taffet says. "We want to reach a new, young fan base. To do that you've got to present vibrant, creative video in the places and ways in which young people consume their media."

That translates into storytelling video and photo montages at HBO.com, the network's YouTube channel and saturation through other major websites and portals.

Now that HBO has largely done away with long-term contracts, "Boxing After Dark" can again serve as a platform for underexposed talents in competitive matchups.

The series launched Marco Antonio Barrera and Arturo Gatti. Despite being from the lower weight classes, they grew into superstars with loyal fan bases.

The network didn't air its first pay-per-view event of this year until May, when Manny Pacquiao knocked out Ricky Hatton.

"We want consumers to know when they watch "Boxing After Dark" they're going to see great fights and the next generation of boxing stars," Taffet says. "When they turn on "World Championship Boxing", they're going to see important fights. When they tune in to HBO Pay-Per-View, they're seeing the true megafights."

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