By Rick Reeno
Stephen Espinoza, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Showtime Sports, denies that his network has an unwritten rule of exclusively dealing with Golden Boy Promotions and Al Haymon.
Espinoza, who previously worked for years as a lawyer, for Golden Boy, was hired by Showtime in November of 2011. Espinoza replaced Ken Hershman, who left the network after accepting an offer to become the new President of HBO Sports.
Because of his long history with Golden Boy, Espinoza's hire generated immediate criticism from the industry.
In 2012, Golden Boy began to showcase many of their star fighters, like Saul Alvarez, on Showtime. At the same time, fighters like Adrien Broner, Bernard Hopkins, Keith Thurman, Seth Mitchell and several others were being featured on a regular basis on HBO.
Everything changed in early 2013. After Floyd Mayweather Jr., who works very closely with Golden Boy, signed an exclusive multi-year deal with Showtime - HBO made an industry changing business decision to cut their ties with Golden Boy - and as result Golden Boy's entire stable shifted over to Showtime.
There has been some criticism from some promoters, that unless your fighter is promoted by Golden Boy, or advised by Al Haymon, it is impossible to secure a date on Showtime Championship Boxing.
One of those critics, who went public with her comments on the social networks, was Main Events CEO Kathy Duva.
Espinoza told BoxingScene.com that Duva should be the last person to make those kind of statements, because she never once contacted him to secure a date on his network.
"Kathy Duva wouldn't know what it takes to get or not get a Showtime Championship date, given that she hasn't put in a call to me to ask for a date in my nearly two and a half years at the network," Espinoza told BoxingScene.com.
If Duva were to call, Espinoza would be more than happy to discuss a potential business relationship. He says Adonis Stevenson's promoter, Yvon Michel, called him up and they eventually reached a deal for Showtime to purchase Stevenson's upcoming fight against Fonfara on May 24th. It won't stop with Stevenson, says Espinoza, as he plans to feature other fighters promoted by Michel.
Espinoza also says his network is currently working with several promoters on the ShoBox series, and he hopes that some of those young prospects will one day cross over to Showtime Championship Boxing.
And Espinoza also reveals that there have been discussions, without success, to work with other key fighters.
"Absolutely [I would talk with Duva], that's exactly what Yvon Michel did. Yvon Michel picked up the phone and made a call, and he got a date and probably multiple dates," Espinoza said.
"What people respond to, unfortunately, are fights that make it to the air. Remember in 2012 we had a Cotto date, which was not a Golden Boy date and we also had our last Top Rank date, and we tried for a second one. After that we had negotiations to acquire a Sergio Martinez fight, [discussions to get] Ruslan [Provodnikov]. We met about [acquiring a fight with Gennady] Golovkin. There have been plenty of discussions which unfortunately didn't prove to be fruitful, but we tried."
Duva is not disputing Espinoza's position of being open to discussing her stable of fighters, but she believes Golden Boy fighters will always receive preferential treatment and she doesn't believe Showtime is capable, at least at the moment, of creating a superstar.
"I have no doubt that he would be happy to sit down and talk to me. It's just not something that makes sense to me to pursue, because I see the results of what happens. I have my own series on NBC. I don't need a ShoBox date. I don't want to spend my time having meetings that won't amount to anything," Duva told BoxingScene.com.
"I've made the choice to do everything in my power to make my deals with HBO. I believe that is where you build fighters and build champions. I've had many fighters on Showtime in the past. They are lovely people over there and they are great to work with, but the bottom-line is - in the end every single one of them had to jump to HBO to become a star. I'm working with people who I have worked with for 25 years with HBO and I have a great relationship with them, and I think that is where the better opportunities are."
Duva is not sold on Showtime's recent success of high ratings and lucrative pay-per-view events, because she feels all of the fighters who are generating big numbers, on TV and pay-per-view, were originally built up by HBO.
"When they build a pay-per-view fighter.....let me know. [Their high ratings] are with fighters who were built on HBO. You let me know when they do a high rating with a fighter who was not built on HBO. Look at Abner Mares. He is a fabulous fighter and he should be a star. But look at his ratings. He still gets ESPN ratings. I've been doing this a long time and there is a difference in the kind of build up that you can get on HBO and the kind of build up that you can get on Showtime," Duva said.
"I'm not saying that there is no chance that Stephen Espinoza will be able to change that, and God bless him if he does. I think it would be better for boxing if you could build stars equally well on either platform but at this time it can't be done. There is a difference between being a fighter who fights on TV and gets paid well and being a fighter who is a superstar. I'm into building superstars and I don't believe that you can do that on Showtime.
Duva says her goal is to create the next pay-per-view superstar, which she believes can only be possible with HBO.
"Do you want to be a guy who is in the middle class of fighters and paid well, maybe even overpaid for a couple of performances a year, then go there..God bless. What my fighters want, is to be that pay-per-view guy. There have been about ten pay-per-view fighters in the existence of pay-per-view, which has been around 30-years. There have been ten of them, a legitimate A-side who can carry a pay-per-view," Duva said.
"I want my guys to be numbers 11 and 12. To become that guy, you have be exposed on the biggest platform. And even if you're getting a few dollars less now, you can get more later if you become that pay-per-view fighter. This is not about getting a million or two million, this is about the guy who wants to fight for $30 million dollars one day. That's where we're heading."
Other promoters disagree with Duva's position regarding Showtime's ability to create stars. They credit Showtime with helping them create stars and they believe the network is fully capable of creating even more stars in the future. The same promoters believe Showtime is doing nothing different from what HBO had done in the past, when they grabbed fighters like Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe, Chad Dawson, Andre Ward and many others who Showtime spent years building up.
However, some of those promoters are having trouble with landing televised dates on the network.
Promoter Gary Shaw admits to having difficulties in securing televised dates on Showtime. Shaw says that he created stars on Showtime in the past and he's confident that he can easily create more stars in the future - if he's able to get more dates. Shaw has yet to secure any dates in 2014.
"I think you can build a star on any network. And if ESPN did bigger shows they can build stars. I built Donaire, I built Kirkland. They grew up on Showtime and then eventually went over to HBO. I built up Darchinyan [on Showtime] and how about Diego Corrales....a huge example [of someone built on Showtime]. I built a lot of stars with Ken Hershman and Showtime," Shaw told BoxingScene.om.
"You are able to build a star on any network if they are willing to give him enough exposure. I wish I had more opportunities at Showtime, that's the truth. I try but I haven't had a ShoBox date in 2014. I have guys who I believe can be stars on their network, but right now my only means is to go with HBO."
Promoter Dan Goossen tells BoxingScene that Showtime played a major role in making super middleweight king Andre Ward into a superstar. Ward was heavily featured on the network and ultimately won their Super Six Tournament, which spanned two years.
"People have to remember that he became the number one fighter in in the world through his participation in the Super Six tournament on Showtime," Goossen told BoxingScene.com.
"There is a process that every fighter and promoter has to go through to get to the point of making a star. And the years that we were on Showtime....at the end of the day he became a star from his appearances there. I've had fighters where I've had the same thing as it relates to HBO. When everything is said and done, it's not the networks that are promoting your fighters, they are promoting their broadcasts to their viewers...you, as the promoter, have to go out there and promote your fighter."
At the present, promoter Lou DiBella is not experiencing problems with either network. He has a good relationship with both sides of the fence and views Showtime as being just as big of a platform, in terms of exposure, as HBO.
"I can tell you that my calls are being accepted by Showtime and those calls are just as crucial as the calls with HBO," DiBella told BoxingScene.com.
"I worked at HBO for a long time. I have a good relationship with many people at HBO and I wish them nothing but success. But at the same time I have a good relationship with Stephen Espinoza and Gordon Hall. When I have a fighter who I believe is ready for network television, HBO and Showtime are both there. I have no problem talking with Bob Arum, Richard Schaefer, Al Haymon or anyone else. To develop my fighters, I have to leave every door open."
"I believe that getting one of my fighters on Showtime is just as important as getting one of my fighters on HBO. If I have a fighter come on Showtime and they want to continue working with that fighter, I have no problem with that."