How Showtime snared the coveted Canelo Alvarez-Caleb Plant super middleweight showdown
Stephen Espinoza, Showtime’s President of Sports & Event Programming, is one of boxing’s most influential and innovative power brokers. When Espinoza speaks, people tend to lean forward and listen. When he calls, everyone picks up.
So, when the Canelo Alvarez-Caleb Plant super middleweight showdown was hanging in the breeze, possibly not happening at all, and if it did happen, where would it be televised, Espinoza and Showtime came to the forefront to snare it for SHOWTIME PPV (9PM ET/6PM PT) on November 6 from the MGM Grand Garden Arena, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Alvarez (56-2-1, 38 knockouts) will be defending The Ring/WBC/WBO/WBA super middleweight titles and “Sweethands” Plant (21-0, 12 KOs) is the reigning IBF 168-pound world champion.
Many had doubts whether the fight would happen. It is, which is good for boxing, and good for Showtime.
This will be the first time Alvarez, the universally accepted No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, will be appearing on Showtime in seven years, since he won a split-decision over Erislandy Lara on July 12, 2014.
“Canelo has established himself as a superstar in the sport, is the consensus pound-for-pound and everyone in the sport wants to be in business with him,” Espinoza said. “There isn’t an outlet in the business of boxing that wouldn’t jump at the chance to work with him. There’s no shortage of suitors for his fights.
“There were a lot of people making competitive offers. To a large extent, it comes down to non-financial things. If everyone is in the same ballpark financially, then you start looking at things like production value, marketing expertise, credibility, and connection with the audience.
“These are all of the things that we’ve worked so hard to build up over 35 years. This is one of those situations that was part of the attraction. In the case of Canelo, this was a case of working with a network with a ton of credibility, which has the longest-running branch in the sport, that knows how to reach a wide range of boxing fans that will give this historic fight justice.
“I think that is part of the consideration. I think this is arguably Canelo’s most important fight. It’s certainly in the top two or three of his legacy and what he will be remembered for, and it’s a historic fight for Mexican fight fans and Mexican boxers, in particular. Part of this is his desire to get on the platform where he would reach the most people with the highest quality telecast.
“That’s what we pitched and ultimately we were able to land the fight.”
All the fat was cut away to make this fight—and it’s a template that can be used for the future.
According to Eddy Reynoso, Canelo’s manager and trainer, they dealt directly with Al Haymon, PBC president, who represents Plant. Espinoza further confirmed that.
“This was another situation where there was a minimal of negotiation in the press, and I think that was a key to success,” Espinoza said. “I’m not saying none of it was publicized, because there certainly were bursts of activity. But you didn’t see too much of any of the involved parties positioning, or sort of posturing in the press to negotiate.
“I know that’s not as much fun for you guys (in the boxing media) and it doesn’t create quite as many clicks, but a lot of times part of the secret is having those direct conversations behind the scenes, and not out in the public where things can get twisted and egos can get involved.
“In this particular case, having direct conversations was one of the keys to getting this done.”
Showtime and Espinoza felt well positioned, but he was not sure until 48 hours prior to the official announcement of the fight.
The template that can be taken from the negotiation can work moving forward.
This fight was dead eight million times and kept being resurrected. The huge forces behind the push were Alvarez and Plant.
“There are several lessons that can be taken away from this, one is keeping things from being negotiated in the press,” Espinoza said. “The more things get negotiated through the press, the less likely a deal gets done. Like I said, emotions get involved, egos get involved, and it makes it that much harder to make the deal.
“Secondly, there was a removal of emotions, generally. This wasn’t about ego, or respect, or not being respect, this was about a business deal and how to reach terms where both sides could agree.
“Probably the most important part of this thing is really the commitment and persistence of the fighters. We’ve always said that if a fighter really wants a fight done, that’s when it gets done. I’m not saying that just because a fight doesn’t get done, the fighter didn’t want it. There are sometimes obstacles that are insurmountable.
“But a deep part of this was the fighter’s desire to get this done. Yes, there were negotiations that fell apart. But Canelo took a break and re-engaged, and came back and said this was the right fight to make. Can we get this deal done?
“It would have been easy to get frustrated and have a bruised ego, but this was driven by Canelo and Caleb to make the deal. This was fighters coming together, and Canelo knowing what he wants at this stage of his career, and being surrounded by people who allow him to be his own man.
“This was about empowering the fighters to take their careers into their own hands. That’s what really got this done. Canelo knew this was the right fight to get done. It absolutely helps the sport. It’s important in itself and important in context. Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder III was a great fight for the sport, Alvarez-Plant is a great fight for the sport.
“It’s great when the sport gets things done and it gets done correctly. This isn’t a one-off, it’s a great way for boxing in the final stretch of the year. We’re getting another fight for an undisputed title, which is a rare occurrence. We’re now in a situation where a lot of fights that should be getting made are getting made.
“We’re a part of that.”
When Espinoza speaks, wheels begin turning.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.