2023 Could Be The Best Year In The history Of Showtime Boxing And PBC
Stephen Espinoza paused for a second. He is about to enter his 12th year this November as President of Showtime Sports. In that span of time, no year may equal 2023 for both Showtime and for Premier Boxing Champions with the fights that have been made and those that are scheduled to take place in the remainder of 2023.
Espinoza defers to Showtime Senior Vice President and Executive Producer David Dinkins Jr., Hall of Famer Al Bernstein, Jim Gray and Showtime Senior Vice President Gordon Hall and Showtime Vice President of Sports & Event Marketing Sheila Mills.
“We’ve had some big years, when we had Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez (in 2013) together, and separately, but getting a perspective on this year, I lean on people like David, Al, Jim, Gordon and Sheila, who have been here at Showtime far longer than I have, and when those people say to me 2023 is the best year in the 37-year history of Showtime Boxing that they can recall, those are the opinions that carry a lot of weight for me,” Espinoza said in an exclusive interview with The Ring.
Tank Davis fought Ryan Garcia in a crossover megafight on April 22 in a PBC event on Showtime pay-per-view, before a sellout crowd at the T-Mobile Arena, which drew over a reported 1.2 million buys. This Saturday, Jaron “Boots” Ennis, one of the rising superstars in the sport, will fight in Atlantic City on a PBC event on Showtime, followed by the July 15 showdown between future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire against Alexandro Santiago for the WBC vacant bantamweight title, featuring a 12-round lightweight fight between Frank Martin and Artem Harutyunyan.
The month of July closes with possibly one of the greatest weeks in boxing history when PBC fighter Stephen Fulton defends his WBC and WBO junior featherweight titles against Naoya “The Monster” Inoue on ESPN+ from Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday, July 25, and the week ends on Saturday, July 29 with the showdown fight fans have wanted to see for years when WBC/IBF/WBA titlist Errol Spence Jr. takes on WBO beltholder Terence Crawford in Las Vegas to become the first undisputed welterweight champ in the four-belt era on Showtime pay-per-view.
The year will end with undisputed super middleweight world champion Canelo Alvarez defending his titles against Jermell Charlo in early September.
This is the midway point of 2023 and it’s been a great year for boxing, when you include Teofimo Lopez Jr.’s upset over Josh Taylor in June, and especially for what’s ahead for PBC and Showtime.
It’s a constant fight with mainstream media outlets to get boxing any attention on the sports pages or major city sports-talk radio stations. But with this year, getting supplied with the fights that fans want to see, boxing looks like it is a taking a healthy turn in 2023. Despite the common trope of what ails boxing, a deeper look reveals just the opposite—at least in 2023, so far.
“I think what we’re most proud is the depth and the variety of what we’re delivering, with the high-quality fights we’re showing on ShoBox, to the big-time pay-per-view fights here and there, to the quality fights we’re having this weekend in Atlantic City featuring a peaking star like Boots Ennis,” Espinoza said. “This is the healthiest boxing has been since I’ve been president of Showtime Sports. I think the sport is in a fantastic place. Everyone in the sport realizes how competitive the content market is. More specifically, the sports content market is. There are a million things to watch. What we have seen overall, and it is one of the factors we’re seeing in 2023, we have to elevate our games to keep pace with the amount of competition in the industry.
“We have to make the best fights available, because it’s a dogfight for eyeballs for not just sports viewers for sports content, but content viewers overall. Open the financial sections and you’ll see what kind of struggles sports media companies are going through, figuring out today’s audience and how to maintain a stable business. Boxing itself, with the fights being made, is better than ever. Look at everything from ticket sales to social media.”
There are challenges, Espinoza noted, and that’s been shrinking sports media. It is not boxing specific. There are many secondary sports that receive hardly any coverage at all. ESPN most recently underwent huge budget cuts. The time of the boxing writer at a major city newspaper is gone. That contracting coverage is seeping down to digital outlets. It’s not boxing’s fault. International news coverage is even struggling. A few weekends ago, there was a potential government coup in Russia that received a spackling of attention in its initial stages.
“The other thing is this, without pointing fingers at anyone or anything, boxing has been the victim of some stagnancy, when it comes to some of the gatekeepers in sports media,” Espinoza said. “I think there is a lot of misperceptions about the sport. I think there is a lot of laziness, and acceptance when it comes to tired cliches that are no longer accurate about the health of the sport. I’m optimistic as we see new leadership and new blood come into some of these new sports organization and how they realize what a vibrant audience this sport has. It is doing the kind of numbers of the 1970s, and 1980s? No one is, except the NFL. As we see new blood, they’re attune to what is going on in boxing.
“What we’re seeing overall in the sport are vibrant numbers. Done properly, there is a lot of value in boxing and in paying attention to your audience. They’re the ones telling you if you’re doing a good job or not.”
So far, 2023 is looking pretty good and getting better.
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.