Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza high on upcoming schedule, bullish on boxing

Stephen Espinoza, President, Sports and Event Programming at Showtime, has reason to be gratified.

Never-ending behind-the-scenes negotiations among handlers of the top boxers – sometimes smooth, often painstaking and occasionally heartbreaking – has produced a robust schedule of shows on the premium network.

For example, Showtime will have aired nine major boxing cards in a span of 11 weeks through late April this year.

Boxing Junkie asked Espinoza what the packed slate says amid speculation that boxing might not be in the long-term plans of parent company Paramount.

“It’s clear from the quality and quantity that we’re very committed to the sport,” he said. “And that’s going to continue for the foreseeable future. Nothing has changed from our perspective. In fact, we’ve got a number of events we’ve already have and we’ve got nine boxing events over the next 10 weeks going forward.

“This is as busy as any stretch that we’ve had since I’ve been at Showtime, which is over 10 years.”

The schedule (see list below) includes a number of big fights – David Benavidez vs. Caleb Plant and Tim Tszyu vs. Tony Harrison, for example – but the gem is a 136-pound pay-per-view matchup between Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia on April 22.

Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia is gem of Showtime’s boxing schedule.

Davis, No. 10 on Boxing Junkie’s pound-for-pound list, and Garcia are gifted all-around fighters and genuine knockout artists. Plus, their massive social media followings make them crossover stars.

Both young men are still building their resumes but they already stir the masses. Espinoza credits their marketing savvy, just as he does with YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul.

“What Tank and Ryan have done is fundamental,” he said. “It’s critical in today’s media market, essentially to connect directly to the fan base. You see that happening all across the industry, whether it’s a product brand endorser or Hollywood star.

“Hollywood stars used to keep a distance with the audience. They weren’t in commercials, weren’t outside movies. That’s flipped. Now people want access to you all the time. Social media is the solution to that.”

How big could Davis and Garcia get?

The era of 1 million pay-per-view buys in the United States appears to have retired with the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. For example, the third fight between the biggest star in the sport, Canelo Alvarez, and the popular Plant did an estimated 800,000 in November 2021.

Davis and Garcia can’t match Alvarez individually but together, Espinoza said, a big number shouldn’t be ruled out.

“We’ve seen lately that what used to be a million [pay-per-view buys] is now 800,000,” he said. “That seems to be somewhat of a ceiling. Look at what Canelo-Plant did. [Deontay] Wilder-[Tyson] Fury did a little lower but in the same neighborhood.

“That’s the biggest in the past few years. But if someone can break out, it might be a combination of Tank and Ryan because of their appeal outside of boxing fans.

“The magic of Mayweather and Pacquiao is they brought in people who didn’t pay attention to boxing on any day of the year except when they fought. I’ll put my money on any breakout on Davis and Garcia.”

Of course, one fight missing from the schedule underscores the reality that there will be disappointments.

A showdown between welterweight pound-for-pound stars Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. was supposed to be the crown jewel of 2022, a battle of unbeaten champions reminiscent of Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns and Felix Trinidad-Oscar De La Hoya.

However, talks ultimately fell apart and there’s no telling when – or if – the fight will happen.

Espinoza is among those who was disappointed.

“All boxing fans were disappointed with that,” he said. “We’re boxing fans ourselves. We were disappointed. I think more often than not boxing does get it right. We’re going to get Tank and Ryan, [which] is a good thing. We may get a big Wilder fight in the near future, as well. We continue to get big fights.

“So there will be occasional misses. Sometimes we are as boxing fans harder on our sport than any other fans are. And often fights that don’t happen get more attention than ones that do. It’s hard not to be cynical but, at it’s best, it’s a beautiful sport.

“It’s more exciting and different from any sport out there but, yeah, it does disappoint us sometimes. We have to continue to work as people … within the sport to make sure those are few and far between.

“Spence-Crawford in particular, I know no one is giving up on that. It didn’t happen last fall [but] there are efforts being made to continue to try to make it happen. I’m not saying it will, but no one is giving up hope or giving up trying.”

Of course, Espinoza feels good about the schedule as it is.

It isn’t perfect – when has that ever been the case? – but his network will be featuring many of the top fighters in the world in competitive matchups in the coming weeks and months.

“For those who are really the true fans, who are looking for true quality boxing, who are looking for the fun and excitement of discovering a new fighter, the fun of a hard fought, technical fight, it’s there,” Espinoza said. “There are enough people committed to doing high-quality fights within the sport. A lot of them are here under our roof at Showtime.

“There’s plenty available. If we look at it worldwide, there is as much boxing content available right now as there has been at any point in the recent past. I think that’s a positive thing. We have to accentuate the positive while we acknowledge our failings and some of our shortcomings. …

“Among things we’ve seen are more undisputed champions crowned the last two or three years than probably at any point in the sport’s history. The reality is there are big fights happening. You can’t have undisputed champions without champions fighting other champions.

“So there are signs that things are looking up and moving in the right direction.”


Here are the upcoming Showtime cards that have been announced:

Showtime Championship Boxing
Toyota Arena, Ontario, Calif.

  • Brandon Figueroa vs. Mark Magsayo, featherweights

  • Jarrett Hurd vs. Armando Reséndiz, Middleweight Bout

  • Amilcar Vidal vs. Elijah Garcia, Middleweight Bout


Showtime Boxing International

  • Tim Tszyu vs. Tony Harrison, junior middleweights


Showtime Pay-Per-View
MGM Grand, Las Vegas

  • David Benavidez vs. Caleb Plant, super middleweights

  • Jesus Ramos vs. Joey Spencer, junior middleweights

  • Chris Colbert vs. Jose Valenzuela, lightweights

  • Cody Crowley vs. Abel Ramos, welterweights


ShoBox: The New Generation
Cache Creek Casino, Brooks, Calif.

  • Shinard Bunch vs. Bryan Flores, junior welterweights

  • Neri Ariel Cruz Romero vs. Jose Nunez, junior lightweights

  • Raul Garcia vs. Robert Terry, junior middleweights


Showtime Championship Boxing
Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, Calif.

  • Sebastian Fundora vs. Brian Mendoza, junior middleweights

  • Brandun Lee vs. Pedro Campa, junior welterweights

  • Luis Nunez vs. Christian Olivo, featherweights


Showtime Pay-Per-View

  • Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia, junior welterweights (136-pound catch weight)


MAY 13
Showtime Championship Boxing

  • Alberto Puello vs. Rolando Romero, junior welterweights (for Puello’s WBA title)

  • Gary Antuanne Russell vs. Kent Cruz, junior welterweights

  • Rances Barthelemy vs. Omar Juarez, junior welterweights


ShoBox: The New Generation
Turning Stone Casino, Verona, N.Y.


Showtime Championship Boxing
The Armory, Minneapolis

  • Carlos Adames vs. Julian Williams, middleweights

  • Erickson Lubin vs. Luis Arias, junior middleweights

  • Fernando Martinez vs. Jade Bornea, junior bantamweights (for Martinez’s IBF title)

Story originally appeared on Boxing Junkie