By Rick Reeno
Stephen Espinoza, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Showtime Sports, has long term plans for the light heavyweight division. His network has focused heavily on the main players who occupy 140, 147 and 154 - but now the 175-pound limit is going to be prioritized as well.
Showtime's run of fights at 175 will begin on April 19th, when Bernard Hopkins, holder of the IBF title, faces WBA champion Beibut Shumenov in a high-stakes unification.
The move will continue on May 24th in Montreal, when WBA champion Adonis Stevenson defends his title against highly ranked Andrzej Fonfara.
Showtime's plan is no secret - to have the winners of both fights collide in the fall for the WBC/IBF/WBA titles.
"The landscape..it's been no secret that we have prioritized the 140, 147 and 154-pound divisions. We recognized that light heavyweight was more fertile ground. Hopkins and Shumenov have been in play on Showtime for a couple of fights and then we made the move with Adonis to hopefully complete what will conclude in a unified champion," Espinoza tells BoxingScene.com.
For the last few days, the biggest story in the industry was Stevenson's defection from HBO to Showtime. HBO had spent the better part of 2013 building up a potential unification between Stevenson and WBO champion Sergey Kovalev. The unification was eyed for the fall. But Showtime came to the table and presented Stevenson with a license fee that was 40% more than what HBO had offered for the Fonfara fight. HBO had the ability to match the offer, but the network decided to pass.
"We are obviously thrilled to have Adonis on the network for a couple of reasons. First, he is one of the most exciting fighters in any division. Fans love knockouts. Knockouts equal excitement and Adonis is all about knockouts. It allows us to televise a series of fights, which could effectively unify all of the major titles [WBA/IBF/WBC] in the light heavyweight division," Espinoza said.
"Adding Stevenson to Shumenov and Hopkins, means that we have all three of the major titleholders fighting on our network in the next three months. If it plays out the way we expect it to, we might see a unified light heavyweight champion on Showtime in the near future."
There is still some controversy as it relates to Stevenson. Kovalev's promoter, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, believes she has an existing agreement, by way of emails with Stevenson's promoter Yvon Michel, for a Stevenson-Kovalev unification in the fall. Michel has openly denied that Stevenson ever agreed to the purse figures and license fee number for a Kovalev fight. Duva has hinted at pursuing a full blown lawsuit to protect what she firmly believes was an agreement of terms, between both sides, for Stevenson-Kovalev.
"I've read those comments and I've heard talk of legal letters back and forth, but as a policy we don't typically discuss any legal claims. What I can say is that we're very happy to have Adonis on the network and we look forward to doing many fights with him," Espinoza said.
While Espinoza was tight-lipped on the legal controversy, a third-party attorney with no affiliation to any of the involved fighters or promoters, gave his take on the situation to BoxingScene. The attorney, who requested to remain anonymous, cited Duva's interview with BoxingScene from March 3 as being contradictory to what's being claimed.
"In that March 3rd article, she said 'we're going to move on if he doesn't sign a deal.' You can't say I'm obligated or we might move on.' Either you are both obligated or you are not obligated. You don't have obligations on one side and not the other. She is going to be buried by her own statement. What she said on March 3rd, that if he doesn't sign then we're going to move on....I don't care what else she said, that means you don't have a deal. That's like trying to argue out of both sides of your mouth."
Two other players at the weight are certainly Kovalev and former champion Jean Pascal. Kovalev, according to Duva, has agreed to a multi-fight deal with HBO. Pascal, however, is a free agent and looking for the biggest and most lucrative opportunities.
"I've heard rumors that Kovalev has a multi-fight deal with HBO. If he does, we'll still be in business in the light heavyweight division for quite some time. If there is an opportunity and he's interested in coming to Showtime, we'd be interested in talking to him when his deal is up," Espinoza said.
"Jean is a definitely going to be in demand in the near future. He has the ability to draw a good crowd and he's a credible guy in the light heavyweight division."
"There are several fights that are certainly makeable. And not just with the three champions, but with some of the established guys and up and coming guys."