Showtime forced to deftly maneuver around outside forces to build a quality fight schedule

FILE - Gervonta Davis poses for photographs after a WBA lightweight championship boxing bout against Rolando Romero early Sunday, May 29, 2022, in New York. Davis pleaded guilty Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, to charges stemming from a November 2020 hit and run that left four people injured, officials said. His case was scheduled for trial, but Davis entered a guilty plea instead. His sentencing is scheduled for May 5. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)
Gervonta Davis was adamant that he was going to fight Ryan Garcia next, despite others pushing him in a different direction. (Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press)

Perhaps it's just human nature, or maybe it's how boxing fans have been conditioned to act, but on a day when Showtime announced a fascinating schedule for the next quarter that is only going to get better when other bouts are finalized, the first reaction of so many is to default to those bouts that aren't done.

It's easy to complain that Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford are no closer to finalizing a deal to fight each other for not only the undisputed welterweight championship but also potentially for pound-for-pound supremacy. And it's difficult to listen to the principals discuss why a Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk bout has yet to be completed rather than debating who will win.

Stephen Espinoza, the president of Showtime Sports, said what Ryan Garcia and Gervonta "Tank" Davis did in getting their fight over the finish line last week could be a model for other fighters in the sport. It's nothing new, but there is no barrier to entry in boxing and there are so many nameless, voiceless people unknown to the public who whisper in a fighter's ear that make it difficult if not impossible to get a fight made.

Those people have no investment in the business of boxing or concern about the long-term health of the sport. They just want to hit the jackpot and score big right here, right now.

The Davis-Garcia fight was first announced on Nov. 17, but it wasn't official until Feb. 24. One of the things that was going on, Espinoza said, is that both guys had people trying to push them off a collision course with each other.

"There are plenty of people who gave these guys the opportunity to take an exit route to pursue another opportunity," Espinoza told Yahoo Sports. "That's obviously what happened with Spence-Crawford. There were prolonged negotiations and then one guy decided to go in a different direction.

"Ryan and Tank never let that happen. Even when various people in their respective camps may have suggested, 'Hey, let's go this different way,' neither one of them ever considered for a moment anything else. Even when things were looking somewhat discouraging, and when some of the people involved kept saying, 'Hey look, we've got some hang-ups,' these fighters never lost focus on what they wanted. I think it is a model and a way to push your promoter to make the fights that you, as a fighter, want."

There has been a great influx of young talent into boxing, but in order for the sport to grow, those talented young fighters are going to have to be willing to take risks and push themselves. Losses shouldn't matter much if the fighters take challenging fights, put on a show and are willing to engage.

The health of the sport will be better when 98% of the money doesn't go to 2% of the fighters. Davis and Garcia can affect positive change in the sport not only by fighting each other, but also by not pricing themselves out of the marketplace.

BROOKLYN, NY - NOVEMBER 29: ( MANDATORY CREDIT: Bill Tompkins / Getty Images ) Showtime Executive Stephen Espinoza  speaks to the press during the press conference announcing his upcoming Championship Welterweight fight with Errol Spence, Jr in January, at the Barclays Center November 29, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Bill Tompkins/Getty Images)
Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza danced around plenty of obstacles putting together the network's schedule for the next three months. (Bill Tompkins/Getty Images)

Showtimes' ambitious schedule released Tuesday includes David Benavidez versus Caleb Plant, Brandon Figueroa against Mark Magsayo, and Tim Tszyu against Tony Harrison. There are fights involving Spence, Keith Thurman, Jermell and Jermall Charlo, Jaron Ennis, Isaac Cruz, David Morrell and Danny Garcia that are nearing completion and will be soon added to the schedule.

Boxing, though, struggles because even in these uncertain times, when fewer fans than ever are watching the sport and have the ability to name prominent fighters, the cost for a network like Showtime to obtain the rights to big bouts continues to rise.

DAZN's entry into the market raised the acquisition cost significantly, Espinoza said. It's also been largely disastrous in the U.S. market. DAZN has raised its prices dramatically and quickly backed away from its marketing slogan touting the end of pay-per-view.

Two of the nine cards Showtime announced are on pay-per-view — Garcia versus Davis on April 22 and David Benavidez versus Caleb Plant on March 25 — but it's becoming increasingly difficult to avoid PPV.

"Part of the reason [there are so many pay-per-views] is a dynamic that is not really unique to boxing," Espinoza said. "You've seen it in the media industry in scripted entertainment as well: Over the last few years, there's been a massive increase in the cost of boxing. I'm talking about from our perspective and what it costs to get fights and to get the high-level fights. That's because we've had a lot of new entrants into the sport.

"Some of those entrants came into the sport spending money like drunken sailors and throwing money at some fights that, honestly, didn't deserve it, big money. Now, I'm a big proponent of every fighter getting as much as they can get. When there's someone out there spending indiscriminately, bidding up the prices for everyone else, it hurts everybody. I don't want to make it personal and attach it to somebody, but DAZN came in very aggressively touting the fact they were going to spend a ton of money and buy everybody out. They did affect the market and drive up prices for everyone else. There are others, as well, but that's probably the most obvious example."

Most of the fights Showtime announced Tuesday are compelling and have significant stakes, which is what every boxing fan should want out of one of these announcements. The Davis-Garcia match is as good, if not better, than any fight currently signed for any network.

It's a great start, but more needs to be done, by Showtime, by DAZN, by Top Rank, by ESPN, by Golden Boy and any other entity that hopes to spend considerable time in boxing.

At its best, there's nothing like a great fight between two evenly matched and hungry fighters competing for a title that means something.

Too often, though, boxing falls short. Here's hoping that Showtime's good day on Tuesday leads to similar announcements by all of the sport's other major players. Then we can honestly say that better days are ahead.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 16: Ryan Garcia celebrates with a glass of wine after he knocked out Javier Fortuna in the fifth round of a Super Lightweights bout at the Arena on July 16, 2022 in Los Angeles, United States. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)
Ryan Garcia never allowed outside forces to persuade him to abandon plans for a bout with Gervonta Davis. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)