Lem Satterfield

Stephen Espinoza: ‘We jumped at opportunity’ to get Adonis Stevenson

Showtime Sports’ boss Stephen Espinoza called it "a game-changer" when his network acquired Floyd Mayweather Jr. in February 2013, leading to Mayweather's first-ever appearance on HBO’s television rival — a unanimous decision over Robert Guerrero last May — and a major shift in bargaining power.

On Wednesday, Espinoza shared his thoughts with RingTV.com on the acquisition of RING and WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, whose promoter, Yvon Michel, stated that his fighter got "a better offer" from Showtime after HBO opted not to renegotiate its deal with Stevenson on Tuesday.

"Showtime is always looking to get the most exciting fighters and the most exciting fights for our network. We became aware that Adonis Stevenson was available, so we jumped at the opportunity…My conversations regarding Adonis Stevenson have been primarily with Yvon Michel," said Espinoza.

"So he informed me that there had been discussions, but that there had been no deal reached and that they were open to receiving an offer, but that any offer that we made would be subject to an HBO matching right. So we weren't going to let a matching right disuade us, so we submitted what we thought was an appropriate offer, and HBO declined to match it.

As a result, the 36-year-old Stevenson's scheduled May 24 defense against Andrzej Fonfara will be on Showtime at Bell Centre in Montreal, setting up a potential showdown between Stevenson and the winner of a 175-pound unification bout between IBF counterpart Bernard Hopkins and the WBA's Beibut Shumenov on April 19 on Showtime.

HBO has severed ties with Golden Boy, which promotes the 49-year-old Hopkins and Shumenov, and Stevenson's move has disrupted the potential  for a clash with Sergey Kovalev, who will defend his WBO title against Cedric Agnew on Saturday on HBO.

All of this comes in the wake of Stevenson's having signed with powerful advisor Al Haymon, with whom HBO rarely if ever does business.

"We certainly want to make the best fights possible for him, whether that's Hopkins, Kovalev or anyone else, so we're not here to create obstacles," said Espinoza. "We want Adonis Stevenson on Showtime, and we want him to fight the best fighters available, and that's exactly what he's going to do."

But the situation has angered Kovalev's promoter, Kathy Duva, of Main Events, whose boxer has a mulit-fight deal with HBO, and led to a nasty Twitter exchange between Duva and Espinoza.

"Kathy was very disappointed that her plans for Stevenson-Kovalev apparently are not coming to fruition," said Espinoza. "She chose to take it out on myself and [Golden Boy CEO] Richard Schaefer and Al Haymon. I don't think that's where the blame lies."

RingTV.com spoke to Espinoza about all of the above in this Q&A:

RingTV.com: What do people need to understand about how this went down?

Stephen Espinoza: Showtime's always looking to get the most exciting fighters and the most exciting fights for our network. We became aware that Adonis Stevenson was available, so we jumped at the opportunity.

We certainly want to make the best fights possible for him, whether that's Hopkins, Kovalev or anyone else, so we're not here to create obstacles. We want Adonis Stevenson on Showtime, and we want him to fight the best fighters available, and that's exactly what he's going to do.

RingTV.com: What was your understanding of Steveson's relationship with HBO?

SE: Actually, my conversations regarding Adonis Stevenson have been primarily with Yvon Michel. So he informed me that there had been discussions, but that there had been no deal reached and that they were open to receiving an offer, but that any offer that we made would be subject to an HBO matching right.

So we weren't going to let a matching right disuade us, so we submitted what we thought was an appropriate offer, and HBO declined to match it.

RingTV.com: Can you discuss the notion of a 175-pound tournament?

SE: What we're really trying to do is amass all of the titleholders and to get a unified champion in the division. We have Shumenov at Showtime, and we have Hopkins at Showtime, and we now have Adonis Stevenson, and those are the three major titleholders.

Kovalev has a fourth title, which is the WBO's, and it would be great if he were participating in this, as well. But, since he's not available, we'll go ahead and proceed with what will hopefully result in a unfied world titlist in the light heavyweight division, which is something that everybody wants.

RingTV.com: What if Shumenov beats Hopkins?

SE: That's great as well. We'd still get to our goal of a unified titlist. A lot of the fans complain about multiple titleholders within a division, and this is our effort to try and unify the lightheavyweight division.

RingTV.com: Is there a mechanism in place such as a multi-fight contract that would prevent Stevenson from returning to negotations with HBO should he beat Fonfara, as he did with HBO in coming to you?

SE: We have a structure in place that gives us the ability to do big fights with Adonis, whoever those big fights may be with.

RingTV.com: Why do you think that Stevenson is getting criticized for pursuing a bout with Hopkins, whom Kovalev eschewed in order to take a fight Nathan Cleverly that he eventually won for the WBO belt?

SE: I think that's a good question, because I don't understand why he is gettig flak. He's moving to a network that is paying him more money, and that already has two of the titleholders participating in a fight.

So most fighters would jump at the opportunity to make more money and to unify the titles within their division. But when Adonis makes that choice, somehow, he's criticized.

There's a limited shelf-life for fighters. It's a dangerous sport. I would never begrudge a fighter who is trying to maximize his revenue opportunities and unify the titles.

He is certainly going to be participating in some high-level, exciting fights, and giving fans their money's worth, and at the same time, he's unifying the titles and making a good living for himself.

In fact, he's going to making a better living than he would be making at other networks, so I don't see what there is to criticize about that.

RingTV.com: What are your thoughts on how good Kovalev is in relation to Tavoris Cloud or Chad Dawson, whom Stevenson beat after they were perhaps softened up by Hopkins and Andre Ward, respectively?

SE: The only way that we will know how good Kovalev is is for him to fight a guy like a Hopkins or a Shumenov or a Stevenson. That's the true test of how good a boxer is, i.e., how he does against other champions and high level opponents.

RingTV.com: Who do you believe is the best 175-pounder?

SE: I'm happy to answer that question. There is a lot of talent in the light heavyweight division, and it's an exciting division. I would certainly think that each of the titleholders has a case for being considered the best within the division.

But when I look at the big picture, it's hard to say that, given his resume, Bernard Hopkins isn't the at the top of the list when you look at his experience, his longevity and his conditioning and his ring savvy.

I think that you have to give him the nod by just a little bit by virtue of his resume, which is one of the best resumes in boxing and has more big names on it than any of the other titleholders, including Kovalev.

RingTV.com: Can you characterize your intense discussions with Kathy Duva on Twitter?

SE: Well, my take on it is that Kathy was very disappointed that her plans for Stevenson-Kovalev apparently are not coming to fruition, and she chose to take it out on myself and [Golden Boy CEO] Richard Schaefer and Al Haymon. I don't think that's where the blame lies.

RingTV.com: Can you envision a scenario where Kovalev could be on Showtime?

SE: I am absolutely open to Kovalev fighting on Showtime if he wants to participate in this title unification tournament. I have been told that he's under contract with HBO, and if that's the case, then, we can talk to him when his contract is up.

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