Arlington residents who subscribe to the cable television system servicing the county will be able to sit in front of the set tonight and, if so inclined, watch slugfests between Larry Holmes and Mike Weaver, and between Roberto Duran and Carlos Palomino, live from Madison Square Garden.

Everyone else in the metropolitan area hankering for the scheduled three hours of boxing is out of luck.

Arlington is the only local jurisdiction with a cable television system although Alexandria this week authorized one that should begin operating in the city in two years.

None of the other area jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, is even near the bidding stage for a cable television system franchise.

But the outlook for sports fans is not terribly bleak, if regularly programmed sportscasts have not already surfeited them.

Come September, such sports events should be available to thousands more in the area, despite the lack of a cable system.

(For Arlington sports fans with cable, the news is even better: a round-the-clock, all-sports station is in the works.)

Tonight's boxing matches are being broadcast by Home Box Office, an outfix that packages and supplies entertainment features ranging from uncut (sometimes first-run) movies and stage shows to live and taped sports events - without commercials - to 390 cable systems across the nation.

HBO is one of 32 stations on Arlington's Metrocable, the cable television franchise owned by Arlington Telecommunications Corp. (ARTEC).

But, beginning this fall, the Marquee Television Network plans to begin distributing HBO by microwave to its subscribers in Maryland, Virginia and the District.

Currently, Marquee shows two movies a night that alternate with each other. Its monthly movie selection is virtually the same as that on HBO, where the movies are interspersed with other entertainment and sports events.

The bulk of Marquee subscribers are hotels and large apartment or condominium complexes, although there is some limited service to single-family dwellings. Marquee also services Gaithersburg, La Plata, Md., and Quantico.

Reston has a single-station cable system that mixes local public affairs with movies.

Ed Yoe, Marquee's vice president for marketing, said the firm is gearing to service Montgomery County residences with the zip codes of 20014, 20015, 20016, 20034 and 20854 with HBO by Sept. 1.

"By next spring, we should have the capability of serving most of Montgomery County," said Steve Weschsler, Marquee vice president for programming, who also projects the service will be available in Fairfax County next June.

But first, Marquee has to buy an "earth station" - estimated to cost $35,000 - to receive the satellite signals transmitting HBO from 22,000 miles up to the various cable systems across the country.

Marquee would then transmit the signals to its subcribers via microwave - scrambled signals over the air to the subcriber's decoding receiver at home.

Metrocable also has an earth station, but when it transmits pictures to a subscriber they go through cables that parallel the jurisdiction's utility lines.

Because the cables follow the utility line routes, the costs of servicing parts of area jurisdictions is often called economically unfeasible by cable experts. Digging up streets in the District or laying lines to lightly populated areas has cooled the interest of some potential investors.

Metrocable, with its 32 stations - not all of which are used now - offers the subscriber 32 choices, including regular network programming.

The Metrocable subscriber in Arlington can watch sports events on HBO, or can turn to Ted Turner's 24-hour "Superstation 17" in Atanta to watch the Hawks, Braves or other features.

If that's not enough, there's Channel 19 with sports features from San Francisco for the late-night sports fan. Additionally, Metrocable has the capacity to bring in other cities.

The capacity of cable stations around the country to bring in signals of a station in a distant city has alarmed sports czars who fear attendance at home games will drop and that network television packages will be less lucrative.

(Cable television and the role sports play in it are currently under scrutiny by Congress, which is rewriting laws applying to the communications industry.)

An Arlington viewer disinclined to go to a playoff game between the Washington Bullets and Atlanta Hawks at Capital Centre could stay home and watch the game on Turner's Superstation, for example.

Marquee may decide to pick up the Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago or New York stations - or any other station - for viewing after the HBO programs for the night are over.

"We'll be able to pick up 30 stations," said Wechsler, "and we may want to call ourselves HBO-Plus, the plus being whatever we want to put on that night, what might be the most appealing."

The difference between Marquee's new one-station venture and Metrocable's operation is that the Arlington viewer can do the selecting on Metrocable by pushing one of the 32 buttons on the console.

John Schwenzer, marketing manager for the year-old Metrocable, said there are plans for additional sports programming.

Events from Madison Square Garden (which also supplies a sports package for cable stations) are carried when they're available, Schwenzer said. The MSG events are carried on the Channel 27 family station.

In September, an all-sports network is slated to be added to the Metrocable selections. Known as the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, it is being financed by Getty Oil, and will probably become Channel 23.

Major league baseball recently agreed to a Thursday night game package on the network, which Schwenzer said will probably run for only 12 hours in the beginning.

"It will probably run from noon to midnight," Schwenzer said, "and would be adjusted for live events. We'll gradually add to the schedule over the months."