Showtime Sports, including boxing franchise, ending in December
Parent company Paramount Global shuttering department, bringing curtain down on historic 37-year run of big fights
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The long-expected demise of Showtime’s boxing franchise, a cornerstone of the sport for 37 years and broadcaster of many of the biggest and best fights of its time, became reality on Tuesday.
Paramount Global, the network’s parent company, which has been making radical changes in a difficult media climate, announced that it will shutter the Showtime Sports department at the of the year.
“As we evolve our strategy to more efficiently allocate resources and align our content offering across the business, we’ve made the difficult decision not to move forward with boxing and other content produced by the Showtime Sports team,” Paramount Global said in a statement. “Showtime will continue to air and support the remaining 2023 boxing slate and honor obligations through the end of the year. We want to express our deepest gratitude to our employees who have contributed to this award-winning sports programming over multiple decades.”
The exit of Showtime from boxing, which puts on “Showtime Championship Boxing,” “ShoBox: The New Generation,” pay-per-view events, and the “All Access” series that focuses on following the pre- and post-fight stories of the pay-per-view main events, will mean the elimination of 38 full-time jobs, including that of division president Stephen Espinoza, who has been with the network for 12 years, and dozens more handled by independent contractors and freelancers.
Through its rich boxing history, Showtime has televised a who’s who of star fighters, including numerous bouts involving Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio Cesar Chavez and Felix Trinidad.
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Showtime PPV (once known as SET) has produced and distributed four of the top five best-selling boxing pay-per-view events of all time:
1. Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao (jointly with HBO): 4.6 million buys (2015).
2. Mayweather-Conor McGregor: 4.3 million buys (2017).
3. Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya, an HBO PPV (2.485 million buys (2007).
4. Mayweather-Alvarez: 2.2 million buys (2013).
5. Holyfield-Tyson II: 1.99 million buys (1997).
Since airing its first card on March 15, 1986 from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas — a replay a few days after a Top Rank-promoted closed circuit card headlined by Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s action-packed 11th-round knockout John “The Beast” Mugabi to retain the undisputed middleweight title — the network has televised nearly 750 boxing events and nearly 2,000 bouts, around 650 of which have been world title fights.
‘The company’s decision is not a reflection of the work we have done in recent years, nor of our long and proud history,’ — Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza
Showtime still has a Nov. 25 PPV on tap headlined by WBC interim super middleweight titlist David Benavidez against Demetrius Andrade at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. It is also possible there will be two more events after that, sources told Fight Freaks Unite. One is a likely Dec. 9 pay-per-view event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas that could include fights such as WBA middleweight titlist Erislandy Lara against Danny Garcia and WBA “regular” welterweight titlist Eimantas Stanionis against Keith Thurman. There is also the possibility of a final “Showtime Championship Boxing” card, potentially Dec. 16.
There will be no sendoff card for the “ShoBox” prospect series, which debuted in July 2001. The last event of that series, overseen from Day 1 by Gordon Hall, aired on Sept. 15 from San Antonio with hometown fighter Ramon Cardenas knocking out Rafael Pedroza in the second round of an upset. Through its history, “ShoBox” helped launch the careers of fighters such as Deontay Wilder, Andre Ward, Ricky Hatton, Errol Spence Jr., Tyson Fury and Devin Haney. In fact, 90 fighters featured on “ShoBox,” many of whom were getting their first television exposure, went on to win a world title.
MMA promotion Bellator, which is also owned by Paramount and televised by Showtime, is in the process of being sold and has its final Showtime event scheduled for Nov 17.
Showtime’s exit means that Premier Boxing Champions, which is its exclusive partner on “Showtime Championship Boxing” and pay-per-view events, will need a new broadcaster. According to numerous sources, PBC founder Al Haymon has been shopping for a new outlet and has been in talks for a possible deal with Amazon Prime. PBC works with many of boxing’s top stars, including Alvarez, Gervonta Davis, Wilder, Spence, Terence Crawford and Benavidez.
Espinoza delivered the news to his staff in person on Tuesday morning and then issued a memo addressed to “colleagues and friends,” a copy of which was obtained by Fight Freaks Unite.
“It is with profound disappointment that I shared this morning’s news that the company has decided to shut down Showtime Sports at the end of this year,” Espinoza wrote in the memo. “For over 37 years, Showtime Sports and Event Programming has occupied an important position in the sports media ecosystem, delivering premium storytelling, bold and provocative documentaries, thoughtful analysis and discussion, and, of course, outstanding live production of the biggest combat sports events in history. We have helped illuminate the intersection of sports, culture and society, and we have boldly and unapologetically explored stories and themes that others couldn’t or wouldn’t. And we have done it all with the highest standards of care and quality.
“The company’s decision is not a reflection of the work we have done in recent years, nor of our long and proud history. It is not an indictment on the value we have delivered to this network for 37 years, nor, in particular, in 2023. Unfortunately, in a rapidly evolving media marketplace, the company has had to make difficult choices allocating resources, resetting priorities and reshaping its content offering.
“While today’s news is certainly difficult and disappointing, it is entirely out of our control. So, as we have done when faced with similar challenges in the past, we will control the things that we can control. We will continue to deliver on our promise to subscribers and our content partners for the remainder of the year; namely, to continue to deliver the highest quality, industry-leading boxing programming that has established us as the unequivocal No. 1 destination for the sport worldwide and to finish what we started in 2023, perhaps the best year in our department’s history.”
The network has televised nearly 750 boxing events and nearly 2,000 bouts, around 650 of which have been world title fights.
Some of the most memorable events in Showtime boxing history include:
The legendary first light between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo in 2005, which many view as the greatest fight of all time, when Corrales rallied for a 10th-round knockout to unify lightweight titles in one of the most violent and dramatic bouts ever.
Both Tyson-Holyfield heavyweight title fights, the 1996 first mega fight ending with Holyfield’s huge upset 11th-round knockout to win the WBA title and the 1997 rematch ending infamously with Tyson being disqualified in the third round for biting off a chunk of Holyfield’s ear.
The signing of Mayweather away from HBO in 2013, which led to a series of mega events, including the fight with Pacquiao in 2015. Showtime put it on in conjunction with Pacquiao broadcaster HBO for a fight that shattered all revenue-related records that still stand.
The long-awaited Lennox Lewis-Tyson heavyweight title fight, which Showtime did in conjunction with HBO as it had a deal with Tyson and HBO had one with Lewis. It is the sixth-biggest selling PPV of all time (1.95 million buys).
All four bouts of the all-time great series between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, whose second and third bouts for the WBC junior featherweight title were picked as the fight of the year for 2007 and 2008 (and the first fight probably would have also been a fight of the year but also took place in 2007).
Julio Cesar Chavez’s fifth-round knockout of Greg Haugen to retain the WBC junior welterweight title before an all-time boxing record crowd of 132,247 at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
Unified heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua’s 11th-round knockout of former unified champion Wladimir Klitschko in the 2017 fight of the year before 90,000 at Wembley Stadium in London, done in conjunction with Klitschko broadcaster HBO.
The 2009 to 2011 Super Six World Boxing Classic, a six-man round-robin tournament that crowned Ward as the winner and unified super middleweight champion.
A trio of huge fights in 2023: Davis-Ryan Garcia in April; Spence-Crawford for the undisputed welterweight title fight in July; and Alvarez’s super middleweight title defense against undisputed junior middleweight champion Jermell Charlo on Sept.30.
Bringing two major welterweight title fights to sister company CBS in prime time, Thurman- Shawn Porter in 2016, which averaged 3.1 million viewers, and the Thurman-Garcia unification bout in 2017, which averaged 3.74 million viewers.
For decades, rival premium cable networks HBO and Showtime, who clashed over talent and bouts, dominated boxing and were the home for the biggest fights. HBO ended its involvement at the end of 2018 after 45 years. Many predicted at the time that Showtime would soon follow. It lasted another five years and will go out with an unforgettable place in boxing history.
“From Emmy Award-winning documentaries to the three highest-grossing pay-per-view events in television history, I am extremely proud of our content and our events — but I am far more proud of our people,” Espinoza wrote as he closed his memo to the Showtime Sports staff. “Your diligence, dedication and passion have inspired me every day, and it is those qualities that will be the enduring legacy of Showtime Sports.”
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