Showtime will air live boxing before a pay-per-view event on the network’s main linear channel for the first time April 16.
Stephen Espinoza, Showtime’s president of sports and event programming, considers it an experiment. For at least one night, however, boxing fans that subscribe to that premium cable channel can watch two more bouts before the pay-per-view portion of the Errol Spence Jr.-Yordenis Ugas undercard begins at 9 p.m. ET from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The second of those two Showtime fights – Radzhab Butaev versus Eimantas Stanionis – on paper appears to be the most intriguing of the five fights that likely will air as part of the pay-per-view and linear portions of the Spence-Ugas undercard. Russia’s Butaev (14-0, 11 KOs, 1 NC) will make a mandated defense of his WBA world welterweight title against Lithuania’s Stanionis (13-0, 9 KOs).
In the 10-round opener of Showtime’s two-bout broadcast, hard-hitting junior welterweight contender Brandun Lee (24-0, 22 KOs), of La Quinta, California, will battle Brooklyn’s Zachary Ochoa (21-2, 7 KOs).
Espinoza explained the rationale for offering two Spence-Ugas undercard bouts on Showtime during a virtual press conference Tuesday, when moderator Brian Custer unveiled the network’s spring and early-summer schedule.
“It’s interesting,” Espinoza said. “I think normally what people are used to seeing in a situation like this is, you know, prelim fights are streamed or sometimes there’s a special. It doesn’t do this card, this undercard justice to call it a prelim stream or prelim fights. … We’re opening the show on the televised portion of that ‘[Showtime] Championship Boxing’ with Brandun Lee and Zach Ochoa. You know, Brandun’s been getting a lot of heat – 24-0, 22 knockouts, has looked phenomenal. And Zach Ochoa, you know, a good, young fighter as well.
“And Butaev-Stanionis, you know, in that fight to position themselves ultimately to hopefully [land] a title shot. So, that will be its own stand-alone show leading into the pay-per-view. And that will be on Showtime. It’s something that we haven’t done, but again, trying to deliver a huge night of boxing, top to bottom. And, you know, with these two fights, we just had an embarrassment of riches. So, the reality is let’s put ‘em on a platform, on the Showtime platform, where they belong, give them the spotlight that it deserves.”
Mexican lightweight contender Isaac Cruz (22-2-1, 15 KOs) will encounter Cuban veteran Yuriorkis Gamboa (30-4, 18 KOs) in the 12-round pay-per-view co-feature just before Spence (27-0, 21 KOs) and Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs) square off for Spence’s IBF and WBC welterweight titles and Ugas’ WBA “super” belt. The pay-per-view portion of the show will begin with a 10-round bout between Jose Valenzuela (11-0, 7 KOs), a lightweight prospect from Seattle, and Mexico’s Francisco Vargas (27-3-2, 19 KOs), a former WBC super featherweight champion.
Canadian welterweight contender Cody Crowley (20-0, 9 KOs) and Josesito Lopez (38-8, 21 KOs, 1 NC) are expected to meet in the second of three Spence-Ugas undercard bouts.
Altogether, Showtime will offer more than five hours of live boxing the night of April 16.
“Look, I think it’s experimenting,” Espinoza said. “We know not everybody out there is, you know, looking forward to, you know, maybe four, five hours of boxing. You know, certainly our hardcore fans I think will appreciate it. So, it’s an experiment. And, you know, in this case, you know, it’s really a function of an embarrassment of riches, and having so many good cards and so many good fights to do that even, you know, the pay-per-view undercard wasn’t enough to contain all the fights that we had to get done.
“So, I think as long as we deliver that level of quality, why not, you know, double down and make this one of the biggest boxing nights of the year? In this case, you know, two really intriguing, you know, TV Showtime fights, along with a pay-per-view card, that’s a fight card. You know, that’s a great fight card right there.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.