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As The Boxing World Watches On, Stephen Espinoza Discusses The First Dance Between PBC and Amazon Prime, Canelo, Online Speculation, And The Future

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LAS VEGAS – Stephen Espinoza takes a seat in a comparatively quiet area in the fight week media center in Las Vegas, leans in, and starts talking about some of the biggest issues and talking points in the sport, and what life is like in the eye of a social-media storm.

The former VP of Showtime now has a consultancy role with Premier Boxing Champions and is specifically working on helping set up the TV production of this weekend’s bill at the T-Mobile in Vegas, headlined by Tim Tszyu and Sebastian Fundora.

In recent weeks the doom-mongers have been out in force, although perhaps operating in a social-media silo, and when Espinoza is asked about that critique, which can feel intense, he acknowledges it with a nod of the head.

Things are different for Espinoza. The tried and tested Showtime fight weeks are a thing of the past and here in Las Vegas, there is a new dawn. It is different, and the first dance between PBC and Prime Video has begun.

“Look, it’s like the first day of school, which is strange, because I’ve been doing this a while and everybody involved has been doing this a while, but we haven’t been doing it in this configuration,” Espinoza said.

“New platform, new structure, new production team, all of that. It’s exciting. It’s a whole system rethink [about] a lot of the assumptions we have about the way a show should go and the elements of a show. Hopefully it’s received well. Probably a lot of it, unless you’re paying really close attention to the production, it’s probably not going to register. But in terms of everything together, everything’s on schedule, everything’s looking tight and we’re excited to show a new look and a new approach.”

Some will be paying very close attention. Some are actively rooting for the partnership to fail. 

Asked whether there have been teething problems, Espinoza steers the conversation towards positives, which is understandable, but there are plenty who do not want change, don’t welcome it and don’t think it’s needed. The passing of boxing coverage on HBO and Showtime indicates change is required, and times have moved on, in terms of production, coverage, equipment and, in some circumstances, personnel. 

“I wouldn’t say problems,” Espinoza said, contemplating the question. “But this is, I think I would say an all-star team of some Showtime people, some Fox people, some people from neither of both networks, and so like we did [Floyd] Mayweather-[Manny] Pacquiao, there’s more than one way to do things correctly. 

“HBO did it one way, Showtime did it another way, and it’s good to have those conversations. So I wouldn’t say teething problems or growing pains. I would say just some good, productive conversations on what’s the best way to do things, with people from very different backgrounds.”

Espinoza will sometimes take to social media to vent, or to respond to a criticism or a rumor. Mostly, he will sigh and leave the disenfranchised to it, but he has witnessed the anti-PBC sentiment online, and he is not sure where the negativity comes from.  

“You know, I probably spent more time than I should have thinking about that,” he sighed. Then, trying to figure out where it comes from, he replies: “Probably just because I respect and have affection for Al Haymon and everybody involved in the PBC and TGB side, I’m not quite sure. 

“I think part of it seems to stem from some resentment over the fact that Al Haymon doesn’t speak to the media, and I think certain media have been taking that personally as if Al thinks he’s too good to talk to them – and that’s not it at all. He comes from old school music concert promotion, where anything written about the concert promoter or the artist’s manager is something that should have been written about the artist. So it’s not that he thinks he’s better than anybody or that it’s beneath him to talk to boxing press. It’s sort of like, ‘Don’t write about me, write about the fighters.’ But beyond that, it’s an interesting question. I’ll leave it at that… but it’s a mystery for me.” 

Does he think people are looking to him, and the PBC-Amazon revolution to fail?

“Without question.” 

Wouldn’t boxing fans want success?

“It’s strange, because UFC fans don’t necessarily want PFL [Premier Fighters League] to fold, certainly UFC fans, if we look at Strikeforce, plenty of them liked Strikeforce, a lot of UFC fans liked Pride [Fighting Championships] – you don’t see this type of rivalry – you don’t see La Liga hoping that the Premier League goes out of business,” he said. “It’s not the perfect analogy. But boxing is, maybe it’s a little strong to say that it’s in a precarious position but it’s in a position where no one who is a fan of the sport should be rooting for a major supporter and a major supplier of talent to leave the business. 

“I don’t get that. I don’t get how that’s good for the sport or how anyone benefits from it. I don’t even think there are other promoters that are hoping PBC goes out of business. Yet, there’s a subset of ‘brands’ who seem to be hoping for it.”

The whispers have been loud, and Espinoza has reluctantly listened to them. But also those looking for ammunition have stockpiled. The PBC roster has thinned and there have been some notable changes, with Deontay Wilder boxing in Saudi Arabia, and Subriel Matias joined Matchroom. Then there was the story about Saul “Canelo” Alvarez leaving a three-fight deal on the table, going away, and coming back for one fight – against Jaime Munguia on May 4 – because PBC couldn’t or wouldn’t make Canelo’s $35m guarantee. 

PBC has remained largely quiet, and from the outside looking in it could be considered tumultuous – that is certainly one of the stances some have rushed to adopt. One boxing insider told me recently, “Who knows what’s going on? Nobody does. Everyone can speculate, but no one really knows. They’ll tell you business as usual, but that remains to be seen. I don’t wish ill will on them, but it doesn’t look good to me, in the long run.”

Another industry expert said they thought PBC may have been pruning their roster, partly to make their stars more active, another criticism they are regularly levelled with.

So, to start with the speculation, has there been trouble within PBC?

“No,” Espinoza said. “I would say it’s sort of a consistent approach over the years. 

“I know the departures that you’ve talked about, I think it’s too early to call that a trend, it certainly wasn’t a calculated measure. I think the best way to describe it is that PBC is relatively flexible. They’ve always been a fighter-first organization. So if a fighter comes in and says, ‘I’m not happy’ or ‘I think there are greener pastures,’ a lot of times there’s been a conversation like ‘OK, we’re not here to hold anybody up’. Why insist on someone being with you who doesn’t want to be with you? And so if there are fighters who want to find other opportunities, no problem. Now some of them, they were at break points in their deals anyway, so they decided to look elsewhere, but I think overall… you know the Canelo example is flexibility. Everyone jumped to the conclusion that, ‘Canelo’s gone, he left, it’s over’ when it was really just an evaluation of the market as Eddy Reynoso has said. We understand he had a look at a lot of other opportunities and evaluated them. There’s no certainty in today’s reporting. So someone sort of explores an alternative immediately means that they’ve ‘burned a bridge’ and the relationship is over.”

“It was said that PBC couldn’t stump up the $35m, is that right?” 

“No, financials had nothing to do with it,” Espinoza replied. “It was [that] there were various opponents, various opportunities, PBC is always relatively flexible with some of these and it was sort of like ‘OK, if you think that there are other opportunities, go look at them’.”

For a while, it seemed like Canelo was headed into a fight against Jermall Charlo, having defeated Jermell Charlo last September in a fight that failed to catch fire. That is an understatement, to the extent that regardless of the obvious differences between the brothers, another Canelo-Charlo fight was a hard sell.

“I think it would’ve been,” Espinoza agreed. “Because obviously the Jermell Charlo fight was not a thrilling fight, and Jermall’s a different fighter and a different human being, but it’s still, fairly or not, it’s another Canelo versus Charlo event, and there was a bad taste left after the first one. But it wasn’t like anybody was demanding [Jermall] Charlo, or insisting it couldn’t be. I think the approach has always been, ‘Let’s find the best fight that makes sense for both sides’, so it’s not quite as simple as, ‘You wanted this guy, you wanted that guy and ‘I want ‘x’ amount, you want ‘y’ amount’. It’s more of a holistic viewpoint. I think it’s too early to start drawing conclusions about saying there has been a ‘pruning’ of the entire talent base, or that even Canelo won’t be for three fights. Who knows?” 

While some have been placated by the choice of Jaime Munguia, there is no denying what fight fans clamor for most when it comes to Canelo, and that is David Benavidez.  

Benavidez is 28-0 (24 KOs) and the boxing world wants little more than for him to fight Canelo.

So why are we not getting that?

“As a fight fan I think it’s a really attractive fight as well, but I wouldn’t say that it’s not going to happen, yet,” Espinoza said. “I know that it didn’t happen now and people are impatient and would love to see it now, but I think the time to complain about it would be down the line. I’m not convinced that Canelo won’t consider Benavidez. Right now he’s not thinking about anything other than [Jaime] Munguia, and who knows? I think the future’s open.”

Canelo-Munguia sees PBC and Golden Boy come together again, as they did last April for arguably the biggest fight of 2023 when Gervonta “Tank” Davis, PBC, stopped Golden Boy’s Ryan Garcia with a seventh-round body shot. 

Could the two companies working together become a regular thing?

“It was easier this time because it’s a very similar template; very similar structure,” Espinoza said, of the Canelo-Munguia deal being structured and organized in a similar fashion to Tank-Garcia.

“It was the template for this fight,” Espinoza said. “Very similar structure fundamentally, it’s not a joint pay-per-view, DAZN has the right to sell on their platform and feed it to their audience, and then PBC and TGB control the rest. So it’s very similar to the way that ‘Tank’-Ryan Garcia was done. Is it something annual? No, I think it’s opportunistic. It still requires a lot of coordinating, a lot of complexities, so I wouldn’t say that it’s going to be done every year but opportunities like a Canelo fight or Tank versus Ryan, it’s worth going through that effort. 

“I mean, there’s a reason why when we’ve done these kinds of things a handful of times. They’ve all been massive fights.” 

The potential of the Amazon Prime deal is not to be overlooked, but everything is in its infancy. Espinoza has not asked for patience or understanding but he knows that not only were the biggest platforms not built overnight, but that the way things work in modern times have changed, and the fact that streaming is replacing cable and linear outputs only serves to complicate the picture. Then, of course, while Prime Video is available globally, there are further issues with territorial broadcast rights and existing fighter deals. 

It means this Amazon Prime event is not being carried internationally, including not in the U.K. Tim Tszyu has his own broadcast deal with Fox Sports in Australia.

“I think this is a situation where you have to walk before you run, and I think people underestimate what it takes to put a live apparatus into place,” Espinoza added. “Clearly Amazon has done live sports before, but each one is a different endeavor. You can’t just take the NFL apparatus and apply it to boxing. Plus, you have the pay-per-view element on top of it, so I think with Amazon there will be an expansion of international territories going forward, there will always be those complications with [Tim] Tszyu in Australia, and Canelo in Mexico, and things like that. But I think that is one of the potential benefits, is a more uniform delivery mechanism, a more reliable and consistent delivery mechanism, where its international fans are no longer beholden to their local TV buyer, saying, [if] he feels like buying a particular fight, so if we get a platform that is consistently making fights available on a worldwide or near worldwide basis, I think that’s a fabulous thing for the sport.”

There might have been an unsaid thought process that Showtime simply slipped a baton to Amazon Prime and it had two jobs, not to drop it, then to run with it.

But it has not been a simple transition. The landscape is different and things have changed. Some people have been left behind, but there is still room for plenty to move forward. 

The ball only really starts to roll on Saturday night; then there are potential blockbusters in May and June with Canelo and “Tank” Davis respectively, and by that point the non-PPV boxing content will be underway on Amazon Prime and things will start to tick over. The hope from Espinoza is that people watch and see what the PBC-Amazon alliance does, and that their actions will, certainly in time, speak louder than any words at the start of the journey. 

“I think it’s the nature of the media industry nowadays; everyone wants to jump to a conclusion and stamp a judgment on it immediately, sometimes even before the story’s really been written,” he continued.I think the same thing is true, yes, this is the first event of many, and there’s going to be changes for the second event and third event – both in terms of production and how it’s distributed and then there’s going to be the implementation of non-pay-per-view fights, so yes. This is a big step for the sport. It’s a big step for PBC, but it’s the first step of many. So I ask people to withhold judgment until they see. 

“Showtime wasn’t what Showtime was in its 37th year, in its first year, and it wasn’t even there in its 20th year what it was in year 37, so I think expecting something like what we’ve been used to seeing in the network’s first year in the sport is probably a little much.”

Of course, running before walking in a time when everyone wants something done yesterday, and done better than it was before, is challenging to avoid, but a disciplined and structured approach could feasibly set the foundations for a more sustainable future. It might not be a prudent move to start hurling new money into a pot, signing fighters on inflated purses and bonuses to fill and an already busy roster.

“Personally and professionally, I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver than over-promise and under-deliver, and so even if you’ve got plans to take over the sport and eliminate everybody, it’s probably best not to announce those immediately,” Espinoza smiled. There are no such plans, but you get the gist. A process is about to begin at The T-Mobile, and more building blocks have been laid out. 

“It’s much more impactful if you’re coming in quietly and surprise people later on down the line,” Espinoza added.

There’s also boxing’s wildcard and the influence of the deepest pockets in world sport Saudi Arabia. Several leading fighters have said they’re open to traveling to fight in the Middle East, and the heavyweight decision has all-but moved there. When Canelo mentioned that he might be open to fighting Benavidez if he was paid, say, $150m-$200m, some believed it was a smoke signal being sent to Turki Alalshikh.

“I haven’t spoken to Canelo about it, I don’t know whether it was [the case],” Espinoza said when asked directly about that. “But personally, I don’t think so. If Canelo wanted to send a message to the Saudis, he could’ve done it through 100 different means. But I’ll tell you I don’t think Saudi is a concern for PBC. I think Saudi is no different than a lot of different opportunities. If we were saying, ‘All the big fights are coming to Vegas’, that would be a bad thing for the sport, and certainly not all the big fights are going to Saudi. But if that then becomes a trend and then the sport cannot put on the big fights without being supported by Saudi money without it happening in Saudi, I think that’s a bad thing for the sport overall. 

“But that’s not their strategy at this point. I would say the more the merrier, in terms of people supporting and funding the sport, as long as there are opportunities for fans to touch and experience the sport, worldwide at all levels big, medium and small.” 

For Espinoza, PBC and Amazon Prime, the first small step will be taken later on Saturday, and their hope is that it will lead to big strides being taken in the future.

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