Gordon Hall has taken the same steadfast approach to this 250th edition of “ShoBox: The New Generation” that he took to the series’ premiere 18½ years ago.
It’s the only way, according to the “ShoBox” executive producer, to survive in a competitive television environment within which Hall is typically tasked with convincing promoters and managers of top prospects to face more formidable opposition than usual. It’s a challenging chore when you don’t have access to some fighters affiliated with Showtime’s network or streaming rivals and offer overall license fees that typically don’t exceed $100,000.
Hall acknowledges that when “ShoBox” launched in July 2001, he wasn’t sure they’d make it two months, let alone almost two decades.
“I’ve always felt ‘ShoBox’ is an underdog series in boxing,” Hall told BoxingScene.com. “Who would’ve thought that a series about unknown fighters, in the infancy of their careers, would take off? But we did know that it was unique, and that it had a purpose and definition that would be different from other boxing series.”
“ShoBox” has differentiated itself as a developmental platform in large part due to Hall’s unwavering insistence that prospects test themselves. There have been times, of course, when compromise on the level of opponent was necessary to showcase a particular prospect on the series.
Usually, though, Hall has succeeded in putting together the types of competitive contests that have helped maintain a level of viewership that warrants keeping “ShoBox” on the air. Altogether, 189 undefeated fighters have suffered their first professional defeats in “ShoBox” bouts.
The series also has showcased 81 eventual world champions. That impressive group includes heavyweight rivals Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, Andre Ward, Errol Spence Jr., Shawn Porter, Demetrius Andrade, Andre Berto, Dmitry Bivol, Timothy Bradley, Jermall Charlo, Jermell Charlo, Nonito Donaire, Carl Froch, Ricky Hatton, Jarrett Hurd, Erislandy Lara, Kelly Pavlik, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Gary Russell Jr., Claressa Shields and Paul Williams.
Hall has tried hard along the way to make boxers and their representatives realize that a single loss isn’t always a career-crushing catastrophe.
“We lived in a time in our lives,” Hall explained, “when everything was about blowing up your record, getting to 25-0, facing absolute nobodies and then fighting for title and making a payday. And hopefully you were good enough by the time you got there to compete. What we’re saying on ‘ShoBox’ is, ‘It’s OK to have a loss. It’s OK because that loss is gonna make you better, if you have to have it.’ And the example that comes to mind is Roberto Guerrero.
“Robert Guerrero lost on ‘ShoBox’ [to Gamaliel Diaz]. Then he avenged his loss on ‘ShoBox.’ And then he went on to win  fights in a row until he faced Floyd Mayweather, and won championships along the way. I can tell you that loss hurt him. It might’ve made him spar an extra round, run an extra mile, work a little harder to improve himself. The undefeated fighters who’ve lost on ‘ShoBox’ have helped define what we are. No one wants to have losses, but just because you lost doesn’t mean we’re not gonna bring you back.”
Continuity has been an important component to the success of “ShoBox” as well, both in and out of the ring.
Prospects often are brought back for multiple appearances. The series also has had the same executive producer (Hall), producer (Richard Gaughan), director (Rick Phillips) and analyst (Steve Farhood) throughout its existence.
In Friday night’s main event, Russian super middleweight prospect Vladimir Shishkin will headline his second “ShoBox” card. Shishkin (9-0, 6 KOs) is scheduled to square off against Ulises Sierra (15-0-2, 9 KOs) in a 10-rounder from WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa, one of the numerous outposts from which Showtime has aired the series.
The co-featured fight Friday night will feature junior welterweight prospect Shohjahon Ergashev (17-0, 15 KOs). He’ll battle Adrian Estrella (29-4, 24 KOs) in another 10-rounder as part of a tripleheader that’ll start at 10 p.m. ET.
Farhood considers this just the type of show that captures the spirit of the series.
“It’s unique,” Farhood said. “I think it’s kind of a compliment to us that no one has tried to imitate exactly this kind of show. In the old days, the long-running ESPN shows, the FS1 shows, there have been plenty of good, young prospects on the shows. But then the next week you might get two 35-year-olds fighting. For the most part, ‘ShoBox’ has stayed true to its mission statement. I do think it’s important because fans like to identify with fighters. And since we often have returnees on ‘ShoBox,’ they not only get to identify with fighters, but get to watch them either advance or fail.
“One thing I’ve learned, and maybe the viewers have, too, is you never judge a fighter by one fight. There have been fighters we’ve had on who’ve gone on to win world titles who didn’t look so good in their first ‘ShoBox fights.’ So, the idea of having guys on multiple times, against increasingly tough opposition, is sort of a simple, but unique mission statement. And we’ve, for the most part, stayed true to it.”
The “ShoBox” tripleheader Friday night will mark the first of four “ShoBox” offerings over a six-week period.
The January 31 telecast will feature featherweight prospect Ruben Villa (17-0, 5 KOs), who’ll take on Alexei Collado (26-2, 23 KOs) in a 10-round main event from Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport, Louisiana. Two weeks later, lightweight Thomas Mattice (15-1-1, 11 KOs), fresh off an upset stoppage of Michael Dutchover (13-1, 10 KOs), will headline a February 14 telecast against Isaac Gonzalez (18-1-1, 14 KOs) from 2300 Arena in Philadelphia.
On February 28, 130-pound prospect Xavier Martinez (15-0, 11 KOs), who’s promoted by Floyd Mayweather, will fight in the main event of tripleheader from Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall in Las Vegas.
There also will be one “ShoBox” broadcast in March and two in April.
“Over the years, we’ve always wanted to come out strong,” Hall said. “That hopefully means coming out strong with a number of shows, but also coming out with some top fighters. With what we’re presenting with our first four shows of the year, I think we have future champions. I think Shishkin could be a future champion. I think Ergashev could be a future champion. I think Martinez has the potential to be a future champion. Ruben Villa has the potential to be a future champion.
“So, if our attitude is that we wanna show tomorrow’s champions today, then I think we’re accomplishing that. We’ve had 249 shows and we’ve had 81 fighters who’ve fought on the show who’ve gone on to win world titles. That tells you every three shows you’re gonna see a future champion. That means in these next four shows, you’re gonna see at least one future champion come out of these shows. That is something that’s important to ‘ShoBox.’ ”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.