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Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza takes a victory lap with Friday announcement

Fighters Network
Photo credit: Naoki Fukuda

Photo: Naoki Fukuda


Showtime boxing head Stephen Espinoza took a victory lap on Friday after his network released a strong 2016 spring-summer lineup in a well-coordinated rollout.

While fight announcements usually trickle out, bit by bit, like a slow moving breeze, Showtime blitzed the news cycle on a quiet Friday, announcing the bouts all at once.

Press releases were dispersed and interviews set up with Espinoza, who took a moment to puff out his chest and take a bow at the match-ups featuring: Deontay Wilder vs. Alexander Povetkin (late May); Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter (June 25); a deal nearly finalized between Leo Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton.

An embargo was set until 1 p.m. on Friday for when writers were allowed to write or Tweet about the announcement since a number of reporters were alerted to the news beforehand, something the network has only done in the past when Floyd Mayweather Jr. was about to announce his next fight.

Given some of the complaints about a shortage of dates and one-sided match-ups in boxing, Espinoza took the time to chide an impatient fan base. “There’s been some criticism among the hardcore fans lately,” he said in a phone interview. “But the thing I have to point out that the vast majority of these match-ups are Top 10 or Top 5 guys taking on other Top 10 or Top 5 guys. So at a time when there’s a lot of criticism over guys not taking the best available fights, we’re thrilled that we’ve been able to put together a slate that features high-level competitive match-ups.”

So here are the match-ups, with Espinoza filling in the blanks and also commenting on other topics, like the future of Danny Garcia and his good pal Bob Arum. There’s also a little discussion of what this all means to Al Haymon’s PBC.

Upcoming schedule:

Charles Martin (23-0-1, 21 knockouts) will defend his IBF heavyweight strap against Anthony Joshua (15-0, 15 KOs) on April 9 from The O2 Arena in London, with a co-feature between IBF featherweight titleholder Lee Selby and Eric Hunter. Since the card will be shown live, the telecast will air in the afternoon at a time still being finalized with a replay in the evening.

Meanwhile, Wilder (36-0, 35 KOs) will defend his WBC heavyweight title against Povetkin (30-1, 22 KOs), sometime in May, though the fight hasn’t been finalized yet. Andrey Ryabinsky, who promotes Povetkin, won a purse bid for the bout and has spoken of bringing the fight to Russia, which still has a working date of May 21. Showtime’s announcing team would travel to Russia for the fight, Espinoza said.

“In discussions with the promoter, Ryabinsky has definitely announced his intentions to take it to Russia,” Espinoza said. “We have not heard when the specific fight is. But based on developments over the last 48 hours, it does look like it will be in Russia, which adds another element and an interesting storyline to an already intriguing fight.”

Espinoza said he could envision the winner of Martin-Joshua facing whoever emerges from Wilder-Povetkin on Showtime later this year.

“The heavyweight division is so intriguing,” he said. “All of a sudden we went from a fairly quiet division to one that has incredible activity so Joshua-Wilder or Martin-Wilder, whoever wins this fight, would be a really attractive match-up. But there’s a variety of other attractive match-ups as well.”

Perhaps the most surprising news of the day was the presence of Russian slugger Ruslan Provodnkiov (25-4, 18 KOs), who will face John Molina Jr. (28-6, 23 KOs) on June 11 at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. Provodnkiov was a strong candidate to face WBO junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford on HBO with Bob Arum eager to make that fight on July 23 at The Forum in Inglewood, California. But Showtime swooped in and locked him up for multiple fights.

Demetrius Andrade and Charles Hatley in a junior middleweight title eliminator is a good possibility for the co-feature for June 11.

“We’ve been pursuing Ruslan for over a year,” Espinoza said. “We’ve remained in discussions in trying to get a deal done with Provodnikov and we’re thrilled that we finally have him and he’s going to make his Showtime debut. He’s one of the most exciting boxers in fighting.”

Ironically, Arum has had conversations with Showtime recently about possibly matching Crawford with junior welterweight titleholder Adrien Broner at some point.

“Those conversations are continuing,” Espinoza said of chats with Arum. “It’s often a challenge to start up a new conversation and immediately layer something in when you’re having ongoing conversations. But if we look at this slate, there’s a variety of different promoters, from Matchroom to DiBella to Banner Promotions, which demonstrates that we are open to all promoters, open to anyone who can bring us an exciting fight.”

The highly-anticipated welterweight clash between WBA champion Keith Thurman (26-0, 22 KOs) and Shawn Porter (26-1-1, 16 KOs) is set for June 25 on CBS as part of a Showtime Championship Boxing telecast presented by PBC at a venue to be determined. The bout was originally slated for Saturday but Thurman sustained whiplash in an auto accident last month and the bout was rescheduled. Espinoza said that Thurman could have fought in late May but for precautionary reasons a June date was selected. “We don’t anticipate any problem with his availability,” Espinoza said. The co-feature pits the former three-division titleholder Abner Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs) against Jesus Cuellar (28-1, 21 KOs) for a secondary featherweight title.

WBC welterweight champion Danny Garcia remains a somewhat mysterious figure with no scheduled fight looming. A match-up between Garcia and the winner of Thurman-Porter is certainly an attractive possibility.

“We’ve had some discussions about some possible match-ups for him,” Espinoza said of Garcia. “I think it’s looking like late summer, early fall and he’s really at the top of the division, so I know, having spoken to his team, I know he’ll be watching very closely the Thurman-Porter result with an eye on maybe taking on the winner of that.”

Featherweight titleholder Leo Santa Cruz (32-0-1, 18 KOs) is close to finalizing a deal to face unified junior featherweight champion Carl Frampton (22-0, 14 KOs) in a featherweight bout in late summer, Espinoza said. Both fighters have agreed to the fight, with the date and venue still being worked on.

Badou Jack (20-1-1, 12 KOs) defends his WBC super middleweight title against Lucian Bute (32-3, 25 KOs) on April 30 at a venue to be determined after Julio Cesar Chavez pulled out with a foot injury. In the co-feature, James DeGale (22-1, 14 KOs) will face Rogelio Medina (35-6, 29 KOs) for DeGale’s IBF super middleweight title with the winners consenting to fight each later in the year on Showtime, Espinoza said.

Among the other announcements, Nikolay Potapov (14-0, 6 KOs) is scheduled to take on Stephen Young (14-0-2, 6 KOs in a 10-round bantamweight match on ShoBox on April 15 at the Turning Stone Casino. And on April 16, Gary Russell Jr. (26-1, 15 KOs) defends his WBC featherweight title against Patrick Hyland (31-1, 15 KOs) at Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut. In the co-feature, IBF junior lightweight beltholder Jose Pedraza (21-0, 12 KOs) takes on Stephen Smith (23-1, 13 KOs).

One observation about the Showtime announcement is that fans took the occasion to make the argument that all the Showtime dates were further evidence the PBC is struggling financially since a lot of PBC fighters are on the schedule. Tim Smith, a spokesman for the PBC took issue with that premise.

“The Showtime schedule demonstrates just how robust the boxing schedule is for 2016,” he wrote in an email. “Many of the matches that are on the network include Haymon Sports managed boxers and the Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter match on June 25 includes two outstanding PBC boxers in one of the sports hottest divisions.”

Just as Showtime quieted a lot of fans’ complaints with the rollout on Friday, the PBC will do the same with upcoming announcements of their own, he said.

“The PBC schedule, which will be released next week, is just as robust,” he went on. “The PBC will have more than double the number of prime time shows as last year. We kicked off the year with our first prime time show on Fox with Danny Garcia and Robert Guerrero on Jan. 23. And upcoming we have Adrien Broner versus Ashley Theophane on Spike on April 1 and our first NBC prime time show of 2016 will feature Errol Spence against Chris Algieri on April 16. It promises to be a banner year for boxing.”