Showtime finishes 2014, hopes to rebound in 2015
“Showtime Championship Boxing” returns this weekend from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas with a card headlined by Amir Khan vs. Devon Alexander in what might be a de facto welterweight elimination bout to face Floyd Mayweather Jr. next year. It’s been an eventful year on Showtime but not necessarily a banner one.
In fact, it’s been a far cry from its banner 2013 campaign.
Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports and event programming, said in late October, “I would say when we started 2013, we asked people to be patient because it’s sort of a pendulum. You spend time lining up schedules and fighters to be able to deliver a series of big fights and you deliver a series of big fights and some guys win; some guys lose. You sort of have to reload and you try to make the quality and schedule as consistent as possible but not every fight can be a killer match-up.
“So there were some injury postponements; there’s some fights that didn’t get made but what I take away from this is that we’re poised to be able to deliver a series of big-name fights starting in early 2015 and going hopefully through most of the year.”
It’s been a rather barren boxing schedule for Showtime, which, other than a couple of “ShoBox special edition” broadcasts in November, hasn’t done an SCB telecast since Sept. 6 in Cincinnati that featured Adrien Broner and Lucas Matthysse. Part of the reason for this is the shake-up that has occurred at Golden Boy Promotions in which Richard Schaefer is no longer CEO. With Oscar De La Hoya back in charge, his company is back to doing business across the street at HBO, namely with the likes of Bernard Hopkins and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
With those two defections, a gaping hole was left in Showtime’s programming schedule for October and November. They were expecting to feature Hopkins versus Adonis Stevenson and a bout featuring Canelo, who ultimately signed a multi-fight pact to return to HBO’s airwaves.
Asked about how the shake-up at Golden Boy affected his network, Espinoza answered, “I don’t know whether under Richard if the two fights that went to HBO would’ve gone to HBO. Maybe they would’ve; maybe they wouldn’t have. But I know it’s clearly a decision that Oscar made that he wanted to increase the amount of his business at HBO and that’s certainly a decision he’s entitled to make as an owner of a business. But really what as a side effect of that, because of when it happened and how it happened, it sort of caused a bit of chaos with our end of the year schedule. It threw things in a little bit of disarray because there was so much up in the air.
“So where we’re hoping to really finish out on a really strong note and then some things changed and then you have to adjust and I think we’ve stabilized and we’re set to deliver a series of good fights starting in 2015.”
Things reached their nadir on Aug. 9 when Showtime televised a tripleheader from the Barclays Center that featured a trio of mismatches (Danny Garcia-Rod Salka, Lamont Peterson-Edgar Santana and Danny Jacobs-Jarrod Fletcher) in which the underdogs were summarily dispatched as expected. The reasoning for this card was it would be a prelude to a showdown between Garcia and Peterson – two premier junior welterweights – but as of now, there is no guarantee this bout will actually become a reality. Since that night neither has seen action and is awaiting his next assignment from their adviser Al Haymon.
And speaking of the Al-powerful, there are rampant rumors around the industry that Haymon will be taking his vast stable of clients (said to be well over 125 now) to NBC, where he and his investors have bought time and will be doing a series of boxing broadcasts. One theory is Haymon has been reluctant to make any real fights till he can exploit this platform.
Espinoza has certainly heard the talk around the boxing water cooler and states, “It’s an interesting rumor and I’m sure where there’s smoke there’s a little bit of fire but based on the conversations we’ve been having, we’re in for a really, really interesting first half of next year based on what we’ve sketched out. So I think there’s more than enough fights to support Showtime, NBC and a bunch of other networks.”
Word is Showtime will kick off its 2015 with a bout between WBC heavyweight champion Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder (although no official announcement has been made).
As for Haymon and his supposed oversized influence on the network, Espinoza says, “I think there are two parts on this. It’s no secret that when Golden Boy was blackballed by HBO, that was due in large part to Golden Boy having done a lot of business with Showtime. So I would not have been a good partner or a loyal partner if I didn’t support Golden Boy and all the fighters who were kicked out from HBO because, in some senses, a direct result of their supporting me. So the reality of that is that ate up a good chunk of our schedule – not all of it – but that loyalty and standing behind a partner in Golden Boy did mean that a lot of our inventory went to servicing Golden Boy and making sure that they got outlets for their fighters.”
In the past few years, while not every fighter that was featured on Showtime was under the GBP banner, an overwhelming majority of the boxers that appeared on Showtime Championship Boxing and other cards featured Haymon clients, including recently smaller broadcasts that were promoted by Leon Margules and Lou DiBella.
“A majority of Golden Boy fighters are also Al Haymon fighters, “Espinoza pointed out. “So if you wanted to see an Al Haymon conspiracy in that, you could but, in fact, it was really a result of Golden Boy not being able to do business with the other network.”
You get the strong sense that as De La Hoya ( whose card this past weekend was on HBO) continues to rebuild the bridge with Showtime’s rival, Golden Boy’s presence on Showtime will diminish. As for Haymon, well, unless he takes his entire inventory to NBC and its various channels, Showtime will continue to be a home to many of his boxers.
Espinoza continued, “Let’s fast-forward to the end of this year; it would be easy to say, ‘Well, we’re doing a series of sort of mid-level fights with Al Haymon fighters.’ The reality is I don’t want and we don’t want to leave this group of fighters in the lurch. There’s a series of fighters who were expecting to be on the undercard of an ‘Extreme’ of our October, November events, who, through not fault of their own and no fault of our own, those events didn’t come to fruition.
“’We still feel an obligation to take care of those fighters because they were expecting to fight and continue to progress in their career. So is that Al Haymon controlling the network? Or is it really a result of not having the benefit of an undercard and the ‘Extreme’ to be able to put these fights on where they belong back on October, November? It’s sort of two sides of the same coin.
“If you want to see a conspiracy, you can always see one. But the facts don’t actually support it.”
Speaking of HBO and Golden Boy, I enjoyed the trio of fights on “Boxing After Dark” from the Barclays Center on Saturday night. While the show lacked real star power, it was a throwback to when this series was really special and must-see TV.
In short, it was about fights, not fighters.
And those who came out victorious (Thomas Dulorme, Hugo Centeno Jr. and David Lemieux) will move on and progress. Regardless, it was an entertaining night of fisticuffs. I hope this template sticks around moving into 2015 with an emphasis on featuring some real blue-chip talent that resides below 118 pounds.
This weekend features competing cards on HBO and Showtime. HBO has Tim Bradley taking on Diego Chaves, Andy Lee-Matt Korobov and Mauricio Herrera-Jose Benavidez. Meanwhile, Showtime features Amir Khan-Devon Alexander, Keith Thurman-Leonard Bundu, Jermall Charlo-Lenny Bottai and Abner Mares-Jose Ramirez.
Question, if you had to watch or attend one card live, which would you choose?
Personally, I like the overall balance of the HBO card from the Cosmopolitan and that’s where I’ll be ringside on Saturday evening.
Even though he came up short, I came away wanting to see Hank Lundy more than Thomas Dulorme…It’ll be interesting to see if Hugo Centeno can develop more physical strength…Jose Felix and Saul Rodriguez scored KO victories in Glendale this past weekend. Rodriguez is a natural left-hooker…There is some talk of Nonito Donaire making his return on March 8 in Macau…I think TCU got the shaft in the college football playoff scenario…The Rams are really coming together, aren’t they?…Is JJ Watt the most dominant defensive lineman since a prime Reggie White?…Is Jim Harbaugh really going to depart San Francisco? Who will fill his pleated pants?…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at http://twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at http://instagram.com/steveucnlive.