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Showtime forced to match aggressive HBO bid to buy rights to Joshua-Pulev

Fighters Network

Anthony Joshua, perhaps the biggest television free agent in boxing, is staying with Showtime, at least for his next fight.

The RING’s No. 1-rated heavyweight will defend his sanctioning-body titles against Kubrat Pulev on October 28 in Cardiff, Wales. And it was announced Thursday the fight will be televised live on Showtime in the United States.

The network held a right of first and last refusal with Joshua after their original three-fight deal expired. And a source told that Showtime was forced to match a $1.6 million bid from HBO for the rights to televise this fight. That amount from HBO more than doubled Showtime’s original offer.

But when you land a star like Joshua on your network, it’s simply not an option to let him walk across the street. Not if you have designs on being the No. 1 boxing network.

The following weekend, Showtime will air arguably the biggest American heavyweight title bout of this decade when Deontay Wilder meets Luis Ortiz in a battle of explosive punchers. Joshua, Wilder, Pulev and Ortiz are rated Nos. 1-4 by the RING. Tyson Fury is champion.

“There’s so much to be excited about in the sport of boxing, and it all comes to a fever pitch on consecutive Saturdays this fall on Showtime,” said Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports. “This has been a great year for boxing. More specifically, it has been a great year for Showtime boxing.

“There’s no better way to end it than with two major heavyweight world championship events. We are proud to be in business with the two biggest punchers in the sport, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder, and the rest of the talented and hungry heavyweight challengers of today.”

More than 70,000 fans will pack the soccer stadium to watch Joshua (19-0, 19 knockouts), a global star. The 27-year-old scored a career-best victory in a classic brawl against Wladimir Klitschko in April. Pulev (25-1, 13 KOs) lost to the Ukrainian in 2014, his only setback.

The Klitschko-Pulev and Joshua-Klitschko fights were on HBO, although the network aired the Joshua-Klitschko fight on tape delay. Showtime carried it live.

At least for the remainder of 2017, HBO is out of the Joshua business.


Mike Coppinger is the Senior Writer for Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger