Will it still be Showtime for Anthony Joshua?
LeBron James isn’t the only big name free agent that will be hitting the market in the summer. IBF/WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua – who faces WBO champion Joseph Parker in a title unification tilt from Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales (Showtime 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT) – will be a sought-after commodity by the major premium networks in the States:
Showtime, which entered a multi-fight deal with the talented and telegenic Joshua in 2016 and has televised his last five bouts (and will be broadcasting this upcoming bout this afternoon), sees its deal with Matchroom Boxing – and Joshua – coming to an end.
There’s no doubt that rival HBO has targeted the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, who has blossomed into one of the biggest stars in the sport and has recently cozied up to the head of Matchroom Group Managing Director Eddie Hearn.
But the head of Showtime Sports, Stephen Espinoza keeps things in perspective, telling UCNLive.com, “Look, the reality is Eddie Hearn has a business to run. He has an obligation to his business and Anthony Joshua and those include trying to get the best deal. So he wouldn’t be a good businessman if he didn’t consider all offers. So I wouldn’t expect anything else.
“Having said that, as he’s confirmed recently, we were there when nobody else was and that’s worth a lot to guys like ‘AJ’ and Eddie. So that gives us a little bit of a head start. It doesn’t ice things for us but that, combined with what we have demonstrated we are capable of, not just with ‘AJ’ but across the rest of our schedule and across our pay-per-view events in the recent past, I’m confident that, when we sit down and analyze that, they’ll come to the conclusion that Showtime remains the best opportunity for ‘AJ’s career.”
Figuratively and literally the biggest fight in boxing’s future is the match-up between Joshua (provided he defeats Parker, of course, and remains undefeated) and Deontay Wilder, the current WBC titlist. When asked if it were up to him if he’d like to see that bout come to fruition immediately, Espinoza answered, “I’m a little bit torn. Certainly the boxing fan in me says, ‘Lets do it sooner rather than later’ They’ve both had career-defining performances recently, obviously.
“‘AJ’ against (Wladimir) Klitschko and Deontay against (Luis) Ortiz and not only did those (fights and victories) elevate them in the eyes of the worldwide fans, it reminded all of us that, in the heavyweight division, nothing is a sure thing and one punch can change everything. So not only does it feel like it’s primed for that match-up to come next, the longer that this fight is delayed, the greater the chance that someone takes a big punch and it alters the trajectories of their careers.”
Last year Joshua had a classic back-and-forth against Klitschko, in a fight that seemed to energize the division:
While on March 3, Wilder engaged in dramatic slugfest against Ortiz at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn:
But Espinoza counters his own thoughts by mentioning, “There’s also a good argument to make that a fight or two to get Anthony situated and acclimated and introduce him to the U.S. fan would benefit both him and the event.” Word is Hearn will stage a card in New York in late August that will feature Joshua.
“But what I don’t know is whether the fight’s coming next or after a fight or two,” admitted Espinoza. “But I don’t think it’s going to be longer than that. Whatever Joshua’s team decides is best for him and what Wilder’s team decides is best for him, I don’t think we’re in a situation where we’re waiting much longer or very well into 2019 before we get that fight.”
And to satisfy both parties financially, this event would be on pay-per-view.
“I think so; it merits it,” said Espinoza, who points out that this is a high-priced menu item. “Again, we’ve been doing our best to deliver high-quality fights without relying on pay-per-view but, once in a while, when you’re having the filet mignon match-up, you pay filet mignon price. This mega-fight, what could arguably be the biggest heavyweight fight since (Lennox) Lewis-(Mike) Tyson, that’s a pay-per-view match-up.”
As for what’s next for Wilder, “We’ll see; there’s talk of a WBC mandatory,” said Espinoza. “It looks that is going to be (Dominic) Breazeale or (Dillian) Whyte. I’m not sure the WBC has spoken definitively on that. There are other options out there. What Deontay had demonstrated through this, if he’s not going to get the Joshua fight immediately, he’s going to carry on his career as if the fight’s not happening.
“Meaning he’s going to take the best and biggest fights. He’s not going to tread water and take tune-up fights waiting for the big opportunity. He’ll take risks and do big fights, as he proved with Ortiz. But he is very clear: he wants that fight and believes that’s absolutely the best opportunity for both of them.”
It’s clear that, for the foreseeable future, Wilder will be a Showtime staple. It’s not so certain, when it comes to Joshua.
So at this present moment, how does “Stanford” Espinoza look at the boxing landscape and the three universes (Showtime, HBO and ESPN) that currently exist?
“I think there a lot of opportunities and a lot of enthusiasm and momentum in the sport, generally,” he said. “If we go back in time a year or, say, two or three years ago, I didn’t think there was as much enthusiasm, generally, for the sport. And I don’t think there was as much recognition of the business opportunities.
“ESPN coming back in the sport and PBC (Premier Boxing Champions) continuing to spread some events across other networks, that says there are plenty of people that see a business opportunity in this sport and as long as that conitnues to happen, which really requires that quality of fights are still being delivered to the audience on a regular basis, then I think the upward trend will continue.”
Here’s this week’s edition of “The Next Round,” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly (a full two-hour show – and, yes, we get cut off again very rudely at the end).
“The 3 Knockdown Rule,” with Mario Lopez and me, is back and we talk about our respective trips to our Holy Land (for Lopez, it’s Israel, and, for me, it was the Orange Bowl).
The name of Jaime Munguia has now surfaced now as a possible opponent for Gennady Golovkin on May 5, if the rematch with Saul Alvarez is kiboshed. The Mandalay Bay is being discussed as the venue…Dan Rafael of ESPN reported that, because of a hand injury, IBF/WBA welterweight titlist Keith Thurman is now a scratch for May 19. So he’s basically “No Time” now…ESPN2 will air “Golden Boy Boxing on ESPN” tonight from Boston, beginning at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, that will feature the return of middleweight hopeful Jason Quigley…I’ll go on the record now: The Golden State Warriors will NOT win the Larry O’Brien Trophy this season…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.