WHY IS IT THAT THE MORE YOU PAY TO watch boxing on TV, the worse the coverage is? The sport thrived on broadcast TV for decades but has now set up camp almost exclusively in the greener fields of cable and pay-per-view. ABC has a rare network bout this week (Sat., Feb. 6, 4:30 p.m. ET) when lightweight Oscar de la Hoya takes on Curtis Strong. ABC's underutilized announcing team of Alex Wallau and Dan Dierdorf is about as good as it gets: incisive yet unobtrusive. Moving up a tier to basic cable, the ringside commentators for the weekly events on ESPN (Barry Tompkins and Al Bernstein) and USA (Al Albert and Sean O'Grady) are both fairly solid. The trouble—in the form of hot air and clichés—begins when you get to pay cable. Showtime uses Steve Albert, Ferdie Pacheco and, lately, cruiserweight champ Bobby Czyz to call its fights. HBO, which on Saturday (10 p.m. ET) has a heavyweight championship bout between Riddick Bowe and Michael Dokes, uses Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and (when he's not fighting) George Foreman. There's no question that Pacheco and Merchant are knowledgeable about boxing, but both have grown increasingly cranky and imperious over the years. And they share an extremely annoying trait: Each will make a resolute prefight prediction and then flip-flop back and forth as soon as the punching starts. They change horses in midstream more often than a cowpoke in Venice and yet somehow always manage to end up on the side that's winning. (Howard Cosell may have been obnoxious, but al least he had the courage of his convictions.) On pay-per-view, which later this month offers an unprecedented four-championship card, it's a blessing that there always seems to be some sort of audio problem during their transmissions, because you really don I want to hear am thing their second-rate announcers have to say.