Thursday, April 14, 2016

Q&A Stephen Espinoza

After a transitional year in 2015, where many of its core fighters appeared on other networks as part of the PBC, Showtime has returned with a strong second quarter in 2016. The network's upcoming slate features a number of appealing matchups, such as Wilder-Povetkin, Jack-Bute, Thurman-Porter (produced by Showtime for corporate parent CBS) and a host of battles for supremacy in the junior middleweight division. 

Earlier this week, Showtime added another intriguing fight card to its schedule. Ruslan Provodnikov, who just signed a multi-fight agreement with the network, headlines against John Molina on June 11th at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York. Other featured fights on the broadcast are former junior middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade against Willie Nelson and interim lightweight titleholder Dejan Zlaticanin defending his belt against Emiliano Marsili. 

In the center of all of this activity for the network is Stephen Espinoza, Executive Vice President, General Manager, Showtime Sports and Event Programming. Colloquially, he's the head of Showtime Boxing and a key figure in terms of the sport's presentation in the United States. On Monday, I had an opportunity to interview Espinoza at a media event for the Provodnikov-Molina fight card announcement. In the following Q&A, Espinoza talks about the current state of Showtime boxing, CBS's commitment to the sport, the impetus behind the Provodnikov signing and the growth of Showtime International as a vehicle for broadcasting overseas fights. He also reveals two fighters whom he expects to become featured attractions on the network during the next 12 to 18 months.

Interview conducted by Adam Abramowitz:
The interview has been edited and condensed.   

I wanted to ask about CBS’s corporate commitment, specifically, where CBS is regarding boxing. Obviously there have been significant changes over the last year with Floyd Mayweather’s retirement. How does that play out for Showtime/CBS’s commitment to the sport?

All of us at Showtime are very fortunate in that our leadership is very committed to the sport, from [Showtime Chairman] Matt Blank, his commitment to the network for 25 years – he’s been here since the Tyson years – all the way up to our CEO, Les Moonves [CEO of CBS], who's a big boxing fan. When you have leadership that understands the value of the sport and respects the sport, it’s a tremendous advantage. I never have to sell our leadership in what this sport does for the network. It’s not just something we do because it’s a tradition and we’ve always done it.  It’s a demographic thing and it’s a tradition that’s very worthwhile for us.

2015 was a year of impressive feats for the network and also a time of transition for Showtime with many of its fighters appearing in other places. It seems that in 2016 the floodgates have been open as far as the quantity of shows that you’ve been able to broadcast this year. What has been the significant change in terms of this year versus last year?

Last year we knew it would be a transition year. The plan was that these guys were going to go out to other networks on an experimental basis to see what happens and then they would come back.

You faced a lot of skepticism when you said that initially.

It seems like a lot of people had forgotten that I said that they would come back and they are coming back, from Quillin to Jacobs to Wilder to others. In terms of scheduling and the volume, there’s another thing that we’ve sort of come to over the last couple of years, and this is a relatively new development. We’re scheduling away from other major sports. So we are, by design, busier during this period of time because October and November, by design, are going to be light. 

If you go back three years, there wasn’t a prime time football game every Saturday night. Now there’s a prime time football game sometimes on two networks, plus ESPN. So boxing’s not at a point where we can afford to go head-to-head with two college football games that are generating 15 million viewers between them. So, it is a little bit of trying to schedule more intelligently.

Have you found the clustering of your events helpful in terms of ratings and brand building for Showtime Boxing?

It absolutely does help. That’s always the goal but there are a lot of other factors – availability of venues, injuries, fighter training schedules – those types of things. It’s sort of like how everyone looks and says why aren’t there more fights in January and February when there’s not a lot going on in the sport. You know, most fighters don’t like to train over Christmas, especially once they get to later in their careers. There are always these extraneous factors which complicate things from what the ideal situation would be.

Showtime’s been very active in the 140- and 147-lb. divisions for years and has featured a lot of the top fighters in those weight classes. Why [the commitment to] Ruslan Provodnikov and why now?

It’s been something we’ve been working on for at least 15, 16 months because Provodnikov, stylistically, matches up with anybody. He’s not afraid to take fights. He’s very entertaining. So we’ve been looking for a way since last year. We bid on Matthysse-Provodnikov but HBO wound up with it [they had first-and-last negotiating rights for the fight]. It’s been a long process He’s one of the few guys that we haven’t had in the rotation here and I think for him he was looking for an entry into the round robin that we have here. He’s a really interesting piece that can match up at either at 140 or 147. I think there’s a lot of value with him. Has he won every one of his fights? No. That’s not critical. What’s really important with Provodnikov is his effort and his style, and he’s always entertaining.

I've really enjoyed the introduction of the Showtime International fights into your network's programming. How did that process come about and what are you looking to do with the series?

One of the things with overseas fights is that they are more expensive to produce. There’s always a cost-benefit analysis, the realities of budgets. With the U.K. fights, there’s a certain amount of ego going on. The kneejerk reaction is, “We produce our fights better than anyone. Let’s send our guys over and do it.” When in reality, Sky Sports does a great job, great announcers. Their production is second-to-none and there’s no reason why we couldn’t expand the number of events by lowering our investment and partnering with Sky. The critical piece of that was accepting that we could put Sky production on our air and no one would have a negative reaction to it, and we could live with it. All of the sudden, it’s very cost-effective and you see a first-class production. We have fights that wouldn’t otherwise happen [on our network].

Also, the boxing world is a lot smaller now and I’m sure you’re thinking that a lot of these fighters could appear on your network down the line.

Obviously, some these fighters already have. Kell Brook is a good example. Carl Frampton is a good example, from CBS to Showtime International and now he could be on our network.

Listen, I won't lie. I was happy I didn’t have to sit in front of my computer for the Anthony Joshua fight. 

Right. And for a big fight like Wilder-Povetkin, I still think there are benefits to actually going out there. And when we get something like that we will do everything we can to go out on-site because there are benefits to being there but everywhere else, I don’t think anyone had any complaints about the Sky coverage.

I know that your schedule is robust over the next few months but I’m sure that you’re always looking ahead. Who are some young fighters that you're excited about? Give me one or two new fighters that might become a big part of Showtime's programming over the next 12 to 18 months?

Julian Williams will be someone really interesting. Between the May 21st show [a Showtime card that features three junior middleweight title fights] and the June 11th show, we got the consensus top-six fighters in the division at junior middleweight. And on top of that, with Julian Williams, you may have the guy who’s outside the top six who’s most interesting. And one thing that we’re proud of with the schedule is that they’re not stand-alone fights. They are fights which expressly lead to other fights, like Jack-DeGale, or they are fights where we know, de facto, like the three super welters, that there are mandatories coming up. We know that the winner of Andrade-Nelson is going to be the mandatory for Charlo.

When we later see Leo Santa Cruz and then Abner Mares, we know in the fall there may be a rematch between the two of them. One of the reasons that we switched the June 24th co-feature is because Abner Mares was looking expressly towards the rematch with Santa Cruz. He wanted to come in with a title too. So instead of fighting Fernando Montiel, he said, "I want a title belt." Even though it’s a much tougher fight [against titleholder Jesus Cuellar], he’ll come into the Santa Cruz fight as an equal.

That’s if he wins.

That’s right. It could be Cuellar.

Julian Williams is a guy who’s been itching to get his shot, and being a mandatory, I think he’ll get there pretty quickly.

It’s not a new name but it’s a name that’s coming back. I think that Mikey Garcia has a lot left. I think he’ll be coming back at junior welter so he’ll be poised to jump into the middle of this round robin.

Vadim Kornilov [Provodnikov's manager] has a number of Eastern European kids. I think Beterbiev, again, not a secret by any means, but there are a lot of these hidden gems…

The real question is now that we’re getting this high-level activity at 126, 140, 147 and the others, is how do we continue to build young talent? And this is largely a promoter’s job but the network has some role in it. I think we’ve done a fairly good job in the welterweight division. We’re now seeing Mayweather and Pacquiao step aside. And you’ve got everyone from Thurman-Porter to Danny Garcia. So you’ve got a number of guys poised there.

I think Gervonta Davis is also another guy. It’s funny. Floyd called me. When Floyd first signed the deal, one of the first times I met him I said here’s my cell phone number. I told him you should have a direct relationship with someone that influences your career and I assume you already have the cell phone number of the guy running HBO sports...I knew he didn’t.

He’s actually only used it three or four times. And one of the times was before the first Maidana fight and he called me Friday after the weigh in, which is a strange time to get a call. So, I had some concerns. He said, “Stephen, how many times have I called you about a fighter.” And I said, zero, none.  

He said, “Gervonta Davis. I’m calling you right now about Gervonta Davis.” I said great, do you want a ShoBox date? He said, "No. Just remember that I called you about Gervonta Davis." 

And I think within a very short time, within a year, Gervonta Davis will be the talk of that division.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at

No comments:

Post a Comment