By Keith Idec
Stephen Espinoza is intrigued by the idea of having boxers tied to Showtime getting in the ring to face fighters affiliated with ESPN through Top Rank’s partnership with that network.
Of course, such synergy will be complicated and will require compromise from both sides. But Espinoza’s willingness to at least discuss matchups fans want to see – most notably Errol Spence Jr. (Showtime) against Terence Crawford (ESPN) – should be considered an encouraging sign for boxing fans.
Promoter Bob Arum, Top Rank’s founder and CEO, told BoxingScene.com last month that he expects to make mutually beneficial deals that’ll enable ESPN and Showtime to televise fights that otherwise wouldn’t be made (https://www.boxingscene.com/bob-arum-very-open-talent-trades-with-showtime--123187). Espinoza, the executive vice president and general manager for Showtime Sports, told BoxingScene.com that there aren’t any current plans to meet with Arum, but that he is open to doing so when the time is right.
“At a certain level, anything’s worth a conversation, particularly if there’s a way to get big fights done or interesting fights done,” Espinoza said. “At a certain point, though, if I look at Keith Thurman or Errol Spence or Shawn Porter or Danny Garcia, for that matter, they’ve got a lot of potential fights lined up. They’ve got a lot of unfinished business without thinking about having to go over to another network to fight.
“Look, if fights present themselves that make sense, we’ll have the discussion. But not only do we have guys with full dance cards, it’s not always as simple as trading fighters. It’s not like trading baseball cards or Pokemon cards. When you’ve put a lot of time and energy and financial investment into developing a group of fighters, or a particular fighter, only to see that fighter go somewhere else for a potentially career-defining fight, it’s tough to sort of identify something that is similarly valuable in return. It’s not just, ‘Here are two similarly known boxers. Let’s trade them.’ It’s not quite as simple as it may seem. But having said all of that, there are always challenges to making deals. If there’s a fight and there’s a demand for it, then we’ll do everything we can to make it happen, as long as it’s under reasonable business conditions and we’re getting value for what we’ve put into the development of the opportunity.”
The potential for dialogue is noteworthy because Arum and Espinoza have had a rocky relationship in the past. Before securing its deal with ESPN late last spring, Top Rank’s fighters appeared almost exclusively on HBO or HBO Pay-Per-View, Showtime’s rival.
Nevertheless, ESPN and Showtime would have to work together if Crawford (32-0, 23 KOs), who’s promoted by Top Rank, is to face either Spence (22-0, 19 KOs), the IBF welterweight champion, or WBA/WBC welterweight champ Keith Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs, 1 NC). Spence and Thurman work with adviser Al Haymon, whose Premier Boxing Champions organization mostly puts its top-tier talent on Showtime.
“We’ll keep an eye on Terence Crawford,” Espinoza said. “To me, there’s an open question there. He’s a really talented fighter, but he’s in a new weight class. So before anyone’s rushing to ask him to fight Keith Thurman or Errol Spence, I think we’re all curious to see how he does in the new weight class. There are conversations to be had probably over time. There haven’t been conversations in the recent past, but we’re open to them.”
Crawford (32-0, 23 KOs), the mandatory challenger for the WBO welterweight championship, is expected to challenge Australia’s Jeff Horn (18-0-1, 11 KOs) for that title sometime in April.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.