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HBO a fight promoter

Network pushing Saturday's bout

HBO has high hopes for Saturday night's pay-per-view super lightweight title bout between Arturo Gatti and Floyd Mayweather.

So high the network has a special half-hour preview show that's available to Comcast ''On Demand" customers this week and will re-air on HBO2 seven times, including at 12:30 p.m. and midnight today.

''The last time we did a preview show was for Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson back in 2002," said HBO spokesman Ray Stallone, ''but with HBO2 now in nearly every home that receives the main [HBO] channel, we can deliver shows like this."

The Lewis-Tyson bout tied HBO's PPV record with 2 million buys. HBO officials aren't expecting Gatti-Mayweather to generate those numbers, but do expect the bout to be a solid performer at $44.99.

''Gatti-Mayweather is one of the most highly anticipated pay-per-view fights of the year, a matchup between tough-as-nails [Gatti] and smooth-as-silk [Mayweather]," said Mark Taffet, HBO senior vice president of Sports Operations & PPV. ''The clash of personalities is as great as there is in boxing today."

The story lines are solid. Mayweather, whom many expected to be the next Sugar Ray Leonard, instead went to the ''dark side," living a free-spending life and welcoming the villain's role. He recently pleaded no contest to charges stemming from a nightclub altercation. That will allow him to fight Gatti instead of fighting the charges.

Gatti is remembered by Boston-area fans for his three memorable bouts with Lowell's Micky Ward.

HBO2 is reairing Gatti-Ward II Friday at 10:45 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. along with the Mayweather-DeMarcus Corley match.

Auto wreck
Just when things were starting to look up for the open-wheel auto racing set, along comes a debacle such as Sunday's US Grand Prix in Indianapolis, where the 14 cars on Michelin tires decided it wasn't safe to race and parked, giving Ferrari a virtual walkover. ''The Indy 500 had its best ratings in years and people were following the Danica Patrick story," said Speed network's outgoing president Jim Liberatore. ''We were hoping to build on that momentum for open-wheel racing and use the race to say to the casual fan, 'Hey America, this is Formula One.' All that's gone now. To have this happen was very disappointing for us." There is no shortage of unhappy fans and naysayers who predict this fiasco will spell the end of F1 in America, but Liberatore, who has shepherded Speed from a startup network to being in 64 million homes (75 percent of cable households), sees bright spots. ''A lot of people can say they saw an historic moment in F1," he said. ''Like 'Dime Beer Night' in Cleveland." The F1 fans in this country are a lot like Red Sox fans in Boston. They see themselves forever as the underdogs against the Evil Empire of NASCAR. How disgusted were fans overseas? ''The French TV people shut off the feed," said Liberatore . . . ''Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" airs its 99th episode tonight (HBO, 10 p.m.) with four stories, none of which can be classified as uplifting, but each of which succeeds in revealing human and corporate motivations. Bernard Goldberg examines an Ohio State whistleblower who came forward not for altruistic reasons, but because she didn't get her promised money for ''babysitting" a basketball player. Armen Keteyian looks at the contrarian view of steroids, finding many users who extol the drugs' effectiveness. Keteyian also revisits the controversy over aluminum bats and the corporate pressures that lobby against using wooden bats in college, high school, and legion games. Frank Deford has a tale of conflict and retribution in ''Murderball," an indoor sport played in wheelchairs by athletes with spinal injuries.

Avert your eyes
New England continues to be the least interested area when it comes to the NBA Finals. Hartford (3.1 rating), Providence (3.3), and Boston (3.6) were the three lowest-rated areas for Sunday night's Game 5, won in overtime by San Antonio, 96-95. Nationally, the game averaged a 10.1 in the metered markets, topped by San Antonio (45.0 rating/62 share) and Detroit (41.8 rating/59 share). During the fourth quarter (11:30 p.m.-midnight), the basketball game averaged a 4.7 rating locally, trailing the combined audiences for Channel 7's ''Sports Xtra" (3.5) and Channel 4's ''Sports Final" (3.2) . . . NBC's Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks told us all we needed to know about the weekend test of golf known as the US Open. Miller put an upside-down salad bowl -- green, of course -- in front of him to show how small the level areas of the Pinehurst No. 2 greens were and the way balls that landed elsewhere just rolled away into oblivion. Sunday's final round did a 6.4 rating here, peaking at 11.1 between 6:30 and 6:45 p.m. . . . ESPN2 has the first two rounds of the US Women's Open golf Thursday and Friday from 5-9 p.m. . . . Red Sox talk dominates the Globe's ''Sports Plus" show today (NESN, 5:30 and 11:30 p.m.), as columnists Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy join host Bob Neumeier.Bill Griffith's e-mail address is

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