Will the End of Boxing's Cold War Bring Trouble for Showtime?

Kevin McRaeFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 19:  Bernard Hopkins enters the ring to fight Beibut Shumenov during their IBA Light Heavyweight Title fight on April 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. Hopkins won a split decision in 12 rounds.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The winds of change are blowing, and—to steal the title from a Peter Allen song—everything old is new again.

Boxing’s landscape has undergone a few shifts in the wake of Richard Schaefer’s abrupt departure from Golden Boy Promotions in June, the biggest of which being the thaw in part of the sport’s longstanding cold war.

Under the direction of company founder and namesake Oscar De La Hoya, Golden Boy has re-established ties with longtime rival promoter Top Rank and its former network carrier HBO.

Neither of these rapprochements are good news for Showtime, who under the leadership of Executive Vice President Stephen Espinoza has built itself into a formidable challenger to HBO’s cable-boxing preponderance.

A crucial cog in the machine that Espinoza helped build was the exclusive relationship his network enjoyed with Golden Boy, a company that once employed him as lead attorney.

But those days are over.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 11:  Boxer Bernard Hopkins (L) and President of Golden Boy Promotions Oscar De La Hoya pose as they are introduced at the official weigh-in for Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 11, 2014 in Las Ve
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Unified light heavyweight champion and ageless wonder, Bernard Hopkins—also a managing partner in Golden Boy—is the first to cross the street back to HBO from Showtime, signing on to face Sergey Kovalev in a unification contest on Nov. 8.

It will be Hopkins', and Golden Boy’s, first fight on HBO since he took a decision and the IBF Light Heavyweight Championship from Tavoris Cloud at the Barclays Center in early 2013.

HBO officially cut ties with Golden Boy just days after Hopkins' championship-winning fight, shuffling the talent-laden stable of fighters off to its rival and putting on hiatus a relationship that started with the company’s founding.

With that hiatus now officially on hiatus and De La Hoya’s avowed interest in making the best fights regardless of networks, one must wonder about the future of Golden Boy’s biggest ticket item—Canelo Alvarez.

Golden Boy faces some uncertainty with many of its other big-name fighters—Danny Garcia, Adrien Broner and Marcos Maidana, to name a few—who are also under contract with Al Haymon.

Some have wondered whether Haymon’s guys could just play out the string of their current contracts before taking their show to either Mayweather Promotions or some new company under the guidance of Schaefer.

Alvarez has emerged as the second-biggest jewel in Showtime’s crown—behind just pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather—and losing him back to HBO, a possibility first floated by Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times, would be a much more troubling sign for a network that has so many eggs in his basket as the future torch-carrier of the sport.

A Puerto Rico vs. Mexico clash between Canelo and newly minted middleweight champion Miguel Cotto has developed some serious legs, and you can bet that HBO would be willing to shell out some big bucks in order to throw it on its pay-per-view arm.

Making this scenario even more likely, Canelo has repeatedly said that he wants the biggest fights and biggest challenges available—HBO has Cotto and Gennady Golovkin among others—and has no ties to Haymon.

John Locher/Associated Press

Neither does Hopkins, a keen businessman if ever there was one, and losing his next fight to HBO must be particularly hard for Showtime to swallow, especially given the recent ugliness that surrounded its investment in the light heavyweight division.

When Adonis Stevenson, the WBC and lineal champion, jumped ship to Showtime for his fight in May, most observers of the sweet science believed that a unification showdown with Hopkins was the primary driving force.

Stevenson had signed a managerial agreement with Haymon in February, and HBO, who refuses to do business with the elusive power broker, allowed him to walk.

But that was only the beginning of the dramatics.

Kathy Duva, who heads Main Events (Kovalev’s promoters), and HBO accused Stevenson of reneging on a deal to face the Russian in a unification match this fall.

Stevenson and his camp, led by promoter Yvon Michel, quickly denied the allegation, but the war of words only escalated. Angry recriminations, usually reserved for hushed back rooms, were tossed about by both sides in public forums.

Kovalev referred to Stevenson as a “piece of s***” in post-fight comments after Stevenson knocked out Cedric Agnew, and Duva engaged in a hostile Twitter war with Espinoza.

Duva ultimately filed a lawsuit against Stevenson, Golden Boy Promotions, Haymon, Michel, Schaefer and Showtime, alleging that Stevenson pulled out of a deal to face Kovalev at the behest of Haymon.

It accused Haymon, in collusion with Schaefer, of unlawfully interfering with the deal in order to torpedo it so a Hopkins-Stevenson fight could be brought to Showtime.

TIM LARSEN/Associated Press

What a difference a few months makes.

Now it’s Stevenson and Showtime who are left out in the cold and Kovalev and Main Events who are laughing their way to the bank with a big fight secured.

They've since dropped their suit as a result.

Where that leaves Stevenson for the fall is anyone’s guess.

Espinoza expressed surprise at this development, telling Bill Emes of Boxing Scene that Hopkins had left a more lucrative offer on the table while also reiterating his willingness to work with him again should opportunity arise in the future.

Hopkins, per Rick Reeno, places the blame squarely on Stevenson and his team. Hopkins said:

Whoever is on Stevenson's side or Yvon Michel's, should be kicking a can right now with cement in the can and that will really hurt your toe. That deal should have been set in stone as soon as he walked across the street [to Showtime]. As soon as he walked across the street they should have worked on that.

The 49-year-old Executioner turned Alien isn’t getting any younger—though you may not know that—and isn’t in a position to wait around for fights. He says that both HBO and Main Events stepped up to seal the deal when Stevenson’s team wasn’t returning his phone calls.

That means that Showtime doesn’t just lose out on a big fight but has to sit back and watch its rival reap the benefits.

More troubling, the network has to wonder if the Hopkins move, not insignificant itself, is the precursor to something bigger.

Remember, De La Hoya has no love lost with Mayweather.

Canelo is looking to bring himself out of that shadow and establish himself as the next king of PPV.

Could Cotto vs. Canelo find itself competing directly with Mayweather on PPV next May?

It’s obviously too early to tell and everything is just speculation, but wouldn’t that make things particularly interesting?