HBO is hoping, but Bowe foe Ferguson is hardly another Weaver


In touting tomorrow night's heavyweight title fight between Riddick Bowe and Jesse Ferguson on HBO (10 p.m.), executive producer Seth Abraham recalls the time he "took a chance" on heavy underdog Mike Weaver to provide suitable competition for champion Larry Holmes.

Weaver, it turns out, went the 12-round distance against Holmes, who didn't seem terribly interested that night, then Mike ended up as the WBA champ the next year when he crunched John Tate.

However, Weaver's credentials were better as he was coming off five straight knockouts, not a decision win over a blown-up Ray Mercer, Ferguson's immediate claim to fame.

HBO's contract with Bowe is forever and for zillions, so while the premium channel doesn't want to see him get beaten in a hurry, it also wants to put on competitive fights. Or it will hear about it from its big rival, Showtime.

On paper, at least, the semi-windup in Washington between Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins for the vacant IBF middleweight crown could be enough to carry the show if the main event comes up short.

* Despite the excitement of the Stanley Cup playoffs building nightly on ESPN, you would think the man hired to provide commentary in the studio, former coach Jim Schoenfeld, was experting the checkers tournament at the local firehouse. Dull have been his between-periods assessments of the Islanders vs. Canadiens and Maple Leafs vs. Kings series, which have been all fans could ask for.

The only time Schoenfeld has flashed any sign of life was the other night when enforcer Marty McSorley took a vicious shot at Doug Gilmour's head with his elbow and the analyst said, "OK, that's just payback." Bull. McSorley's team trailed 4-1 with four minutes remaining and this was the cheapest of cheap shots . . . and one of the reasons why so many people will always regard hockey as just one step up from wrassling.

Schoenfeld said: "McSorley could have run his stick up into Gilmour's face instead of his elbow. Like it or not, folks, that's playoff hockey."

Unfortunately, he's probably right.

* The "This Week in Baseball" show on Channel 2 Memorial Day Weekend, May 30 (11:30 p.m.), has a terrific story about a U.S. fighter pilot named Bart Shepard who got shot down over Germany in May 1944. A doctor named Ladislaus Loidl brought Shepard to safety and medical attention, but the American ended up losing the lower part of his right leg.

Despite the handicap, Shepard, a pitcher, signed with the Washington Senators and ended up appearing in one game in the big leagues in August 1945. His line reads one run and three hits allowed in 5 1/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox.

Loidl, on a hunting trip to Hungary, related the Shepard episode to an English friend, and the friend tracked Shepard to his home in California. With the help of TWIB and Lufthansa Airlines, Shepard will visit the man who rescued him and the site where he crashed nearly 50 years ago.

* The CBS show "48 Hours" Wednesday night should have been required viewing for all parents. It dealt with the pressure placed upon kids to excel athletically, socially and academically. One of the subjects was Marv Marinovich (father of "Robo-quarterback" Todd), who is remarried and performing a similar "service" for another youngster.

* The "Wide World of Sports" special tomorrow on ABC (4:30 p.m.) should be a doozy: It's a review of all the exciting events and shows that have made WWS the premier anthology show during the past three decades.

* Former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes looked much better (and lighter) while cavorting on USA's "Tuesday Night Fights" the other evening, but it's always easier when you're in the ring against a guy who poses absolutely no threat to you. In fact, Holmes' foe, Paul Poirier, said before the fight, "I'm not in there to beat Holmes; I'm in there to give him a good fight."

* Oui, ESPN begins daily shows from the French Open Monday at 9 a.m. . . . Sunday night, ESPN will send along the Toronto-Los Angeles hockey game on tape after the baseball. . . . NBA is looking at about a 25 percent raise in its deal with TNT. Take that, baseball and the NFL.

* Weekly, "The Champ," TNF analyst Sean O'Grady, comes up with a classic. The latest: "It hurts to get hit in the body; it doesn't hurt to get hit in the head. Oh, it makes you do some strange things and you have a headache later, but it doesn't hurt." Spoken like a true ex-fighter.

* Mark this one on your calendar: The "Outside the Lines" investigative report show on ESPN June 2 examines the impact athletic success has on the ego.

* Best bet: The wondrous Torvill & Dean ice-dancing team skated a marvelous show with the Russian All-Stars on PBS the other night, and there will be another next Monday at 8 p.m.

* The NFL is holding its breath today, hoping against hope that the final episode of "Cheers" last night doesn't come up with overnight ratings to mess up its 4-5-6-9-10 domination of the top 10 TV shows of all time with various Super Bowls. The all-timer all but out of reach is the final installment of "M*A*S*H," 60.2 on Feb. 28, 1983.

* The Nashville Network sends along the prestigious Winston stock car sprint race tomorrow (7:30 p.m.) and joining the announcing team is country singer Ricky Van Shelton,who says, "This is totally new for me." Which doesn't bode well, does it?

* TNT is singing the blues these days after the NBA's top draw, the Chicago Bulls, put the Cleveland Cavaliers out of their misery in four straight, costing them two mid-week games. Now if Michael Jordan had sat out with that bum wrist for one game . . . .

* The nets are all over the Yankees-Red Sox series in Beantown this weekend, CBS doing the game tomorrow (1 p.m.) and ESPN sending along the game Sunday night (8). Jon Miller is promising to recite Longfellow's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."

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