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Hershman begins HBO job in earnest

Ken Hershman now sits in the biggest chair (figuratively, at least) in the boxing business.
As the new president of HBO Sports, Hershman wields the biggest checkbook to buy fights -- about $35 million a year -- even though nobody at the network likes to talk about the specific figures.

On the job since only Jan. 9, Hershman is still learning the lay of the land at his new office after previously working for HBO's archrival, Showtime, since 1992.

"It took me over a week to get a stapler when I got here," Hershman joked during an interview with ESPN.com on Monday. "I literally walked into my office and there was furniture and a computer, and that was it. Not a piece of paper, not a pen, not a stapler. It wasn't like they didn't know I was coming. Luckily, I had a pen in my briefcase."

Now that he has his office supply situation straightened out, Hershman is starting to delve more into programming the network's fights for the second quarter and beyond.

"It's exciting, energizing and challenging," Hershman, 48, said of the new gig. "It's everything I thought it would be and more."

Since 2003, Hershman, an attorney by trade, had overseen Showtime Sports and wielded the second-biggest checkbook in the boxing business. That was until mid-October, when he was a surprise hire by HBO, a network he often took public shots at in his rhetoric while at Showtime.

Hershman, however, could not begin immediately. He had to sit out while waiting for his Showtime contract to expire. His hiring at HBO came three months after Ross Greenburg, who, after a decade in the job and more than 30 years at the network, was forced to resign following a series of blunders that left the department reeling. The biggest one was the loss of Manny Pacquiao for what turned out to be one fight last year to Showtime.

As HBO bosses Richard Plepler and Michael Lombardo sought a replacement for Greenburg, they talked to several candidates. Rumors swirled about who would get the job, which is generally regarded as the most powerful position in American boxing.

Eventually, they turned to the competition. Hershman had experience in the business, existing relationships with dealmakers, knowledge of the sport and had earned acclaim for the creativity he showed while at Showtime, where he was the driving force behind the groundbreaking Super Six World Boxing Classic and often got more bang for his limited buck than HBO did with millions more to spend.

"I was here before the security," Hershman said of his anxiousness to get started on his first day.

He did not want to discuss the process by which he came to be at HBO.

"I don't want to talk about that. What we're doing is looking forward," he said. "HBO showed confidence in me and has entrusted me with this job. The boxing business is the boxing business, so there won't be a lot that's different here. But HBO is different, and I have to adjust to that.

"In the boxing business, though, a lot of things are similar. I'm dealing with a lot of the same promoters. Many of the fighters are different here than were at Showtime, but a fight is a fight. I think the biggest difference is the way people interact with HBO. Their expectations are higher. This is the leader in the category. That part has been a little different, but the basic structuring of the fights and dealing with the budgets, that is pretty much the same."

Besides boxing -- on the network and HBO PPV -- Hershman also oversees a department that produces "24/7," the acclaimed reality series that follows the buildup to major HBO PPV fights, a critically acclaimed sports documentary department and the award-winning news magazine show "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."

But boxing is the foundation. When Hershman arrived, the first quarter of fights at the network had been scheduled. Now he and his team, namely Mark Taffet, Kery Davis and Peter Nelson, are working on the next batch of fights.

Hershman didn't want to get into too many specifics about deals that aren't done yet, but the promoters involved have said he is working to finalize an April 14 lightweight fight between exciting young stars Brandon Rios and Yuriorkis Gamboa and the light heavyweight rematch between Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson for April 28.

"They're all sensitive discussions," Hershman said. "Would I love to see Gamboa fight Rios? I'd love to buy that fight in a heartbeat."

As for Hopkins-Dawson II, Hershman said, "We're looking at a whole bunch of fights and we think that it will do very well. Bernard Hopkins is a legend in the sport and a ratings driver. It would make a lot of sense, and Dawson is an amazing young fighter, a real challenge for Bernard. I don't know why we wouldn't do that. It seems like the right fight for the schedule. There will be some announcements coming shortly."

He's keeping the rest of his plans close to the vest. But Hershman did say that he likes the idea of continuing to do tournaments.

"I think there is a place for them in the sport," said Hershman, who in addition to the Super Six also put on a four-man bantamweight tournament at Showtime last year. "They are a really fun and interesting element that adds to a fight. I would look to do it again. In what format, in what weight class, it remains to be seen. But the fans reacted well, the writers seemed to like them, the fighters liked it, so why not?"

He is also open to more heavyweight action, especially involving champion brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. But Hershman said he sees no big-time matchups on the horizon.

"I wish there was more activity in the heavyweight division and that we could participate in it, but I don't see it there," he said. "But I am always open to anything and would look to be an opportunist with the Klitschkos. They do tremendous numbers when they've fought on HBO. Would I love for them to come here? Yes. We'd love to get a U.S.-based fight, but we also understand their business model [of fighting in Germany]."

Hershman's hiring came just a month before Showtime's Super Six concluded. For almost two years, Hershman lived daily with the numerous ups and downs of the tournament.

He regrets not being able to be there to present the trophy to champion Andre Ward, who defeated Carl Froch, another fighter Hershman put on the air time and again.

"I watched every minute of [the final] and I did feel a bit of a loss of not being there personally," he said. "But it wasn't going to happen. I had to get over it. I was proud to see it come to a conclusion. I thought Andre Ward did an amazing job. I think it was great for boxing that [the Super Six] happened and that it concluded."

Greenburg's tenure at HBO was hampered by an inability to finalize a Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. match -- the biggest fight in the sport and, if it ever happens, likely the biggest-money fight in history.

Hershman, too, would like to help finalize the fight that fans have wanted for more than two years. But he said there is more to boxing than just that fight, which is why he's happy to move forward and hopes to work on Mayweather's May 5 fight against an opponent to be named and Pacquiao's June 9 fight, also against an unnamed opponent.

"I would love the fight to happen, obviously," he said of Pacquiao-Mayweather. "It would be a tremendous fight and event. That being said, I understand each side's position and view of the world, and they are not coming together just yet. We have a lot of great fights we could make with Floyd and Manny and we hope to be involved in every one. They are key assets to this network. We will be as supportive as we can to be as successful as possible with whichever fights they are in.

"My view is, Floyd Mayweather is a first-ballot Hall of Fame fighter whether he fights Manny Pacquiao or not. And then Manny Pacquiao, similarly, with titles in eight weight classes, is also a first-ballot Hall of Famer and a global superstar. He doesn't need to fight Floyd Mayweather to cement his legacy in the sport. I would love to have the fight happen as a fan, and for HBO to be an integral part of it."

Hershman added that he didn't think that boxing was suffering as the fight has gone unmade, but then admitted that there was "some validity" to that notion.

"My attitude is, until they say they're really going to do it, let's move on and program the best fights around it," he said. "They're not fighting in May or June, so we are moving on and hope to be involved in the fights they each have then. Maybe I've become immune because I've been in boxing so long that you have to maintain an even temperament. There are a lot of fights I would have loved to make that didn't get made for crazy reasons. I think ultimately these guys will fight each other and it will be the biggest boxing event of all time. But we have to look to May and June and make sure the fights they are in then are the biggest events of that time."

Although Hershman is clearly back in work mode -- he is headed to San Antonio to attend his first HBO fight on Saturday, when Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will defend his middleweight belt against Marco Antonio Rubio and Nonito Donaire will face Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. for a vacant junior featherweight belt in the network's first fights of the year -- he said he mostly relaxed during his time off between leaving Showtime and starting at HBO.

"It was an interesting time in my life," he said. "It was like a sabbatical. I did a lot of fun things. I spent time with my [three] daughters. I went to the Rose Bowl; one of my daughters goes to school at Wisconsin [which was in the game]. I was itching to get back to work, but I would recommend to people that if they can take a few months off to clear their head and spend some family time, to do it."

Hershman did spend a lot of that time off thinking about the kinds of things he wanted to do at HBO and things he wanted to change.

"I jotted it all down and promised myself that for the first 90 days I wouldn't pull it out of my briefcase," he said. "I want to absorb this place, meet the people and then go back to the paper and see if I agree with myself."

Dan Rafael is a boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.