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Is It No-Time for Top Rank?

H1_Mathebula_Donaire_German.jpg
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During the media day at Fortune Gym for this weekend’s bouts at the Home Depot Center featuring Nonito Donaire’s 122-pound unification bout versus South African Jeffrey Mathebula, promoter Bob Arum was asked about the possibility of the “Filipino Flash” facing another beltholding star in the division, Abner Mares, promoted by archrival Golden Boy. Top Rank and Golden Boy haven’t broken bread in years and this “Cold War” has only become more frigid in recent months.
 
But according to Arum, it’s not this fractured relationship that would keep this fight from becoming a reality.

“Yeah, it can be made,” said Mr. Top Rank, matter-of-factly, “but it’s gotta be on HBO because we’re banned on Showtime by [Stephen] Espinoza. So I’m certainly not looking to make him a big fight.” Espinoza, who took over for Ken Hershman (who left for HBO) back in December, is the head of Showtime’s sports department.”We’ve been banned,” he reiterated. “Sampson Lewkowicz been banned; [Lou] DiBella’s been banned because Espinoza, I mean...he’s doing things that no television executive in the 47 years I’ve been in boxing would even contemplate doing- including Ross Greenburg, who would never have thought to do anything like this.”
 
“Like this” being what?
 
“Banning suppliers because they’re doing a marquee fight like [Julio Cesar] Chavez Jr.-[Sergio] Martinez on another network,” said Arum, on the September 15th date which happens to be the same day Showtime and Golden Boy are staging a show featuring Saul “Canelo” Alvarez just a few blocks down the street in Las Vegas. “Same day as what?” asked an incredulous Arum, well aware that Golden Boy still hasn’t announced a foe for Alvarez (more on that later). “They still don’t have a fight yet.”
 
When reached by Maxboxing, Espinoza responded to these comments by stating. “I don’t know where [Arum] gets this stuff. I’ve never told anyone that Top Rank is banned or, for that matter, Sampson or DiBella are banned from Showtime. Now having said that, we tend to do business with people who are good partners for the network and given the choices that Top Rank has made lately and the public statements that Top Rank has recently been making, they’re not a good partner.”
 
(Lewkowicz and DiBella represent Martinez, which makes them guilty by association with Top Rank.)
 
This is basically about September 15th.
 
“Yes, most of our conflict has primarily come over this. So has the negative things he has said about the network since then,” said Espinoza, who makes it clear; there is no edict against Top Rank or any other promoter. “Absolutely, no one’s phone number is blocked. Top Rank is free to call me and pitch whatever they’d like to pitch, as is Sampson and Lou. So I haven’t changed my phone number; they know where to reach me if they have something they’d like to sell.”
 
But what clear proof does Arum have that his company is now effectively persona non grata at Showtime? According to him, “[Showtime] had agreed to buy a fight between [Mikey] Garcia and [Orlando] Salido because when Salido fought Lopez- and it’s their highest rated show of the year- it was on Showtime and we’ve now gotten an email saying that they’re not interested. They don’t want to do business with us. I mean, you talk about nuts; I mean, promoters do crazy things but these are television executives who are supposed to get the best programming for their network.”
 
So it looks like the Salido-Garcia match (which will end up on HBO or on Manny Pacquiao’s undercard in November) was a casualty over the battle for September 15th.
 
“I spent months trying to get Top Rank to make Salido-Garcia. Ironically, they only started offering it to me after they screwed me over on September 15th,” stated Espinoza of Top Rank, who announced on the night of June 16th in El Paso, Texas, after Chavez Jr. impressively stopped Andy Lee, the WBC middleweight titlist’s next bout would be against the recognized middleweight king, Martinez, on that date. This also lands on the weekend of Mexican Independence Day and is a coveted pay-per-view slot. But Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank, who dealt with Espinoza, takes issue with his claim. “That’s not true; that’s not true at all. We were talking about it May 30th and I have emails going back to June 4th and 5th confirming what the date is and then on June 18th, I sent [duBoef] an email about which date he was locking in on in October to discuss the budget.”
 
According to duBoef, there was clear intent to take the Salido-Garcia fight to Showtime. “That’s what happens,” he said of the process. “Do you like the fight? Yes. What weekends can you go? Let’s talk about the weekends you can go.” They were wanting to see the Strikeforce calendar- and in the meantime, I was waiting for him to come to me with a budget and we were going forward. Then on June 18th, (the Monday after Chavez-Lee), I sent him a note about, ‘Let’s talk about the budget and what date were you confirming for October?’ And that was the end.”
 
Arum believes that Showtime is now all-Golden.
 
“Yeah, pretty much; I think what’s happened is they made somebody who was the general counsel for Golden Boy the head of sports at Showtime and he’s still acting as the general counsel for Golden Boy,” he said bluntly. “I mean, the statement he made after the [Victor] Ortiz-[Josesito] Lopez fight that when Ortiz recovered, they would do an immediate rematch and ‘We’ll sell out the Staples Center.’ What is that?! ‘We’ll sell out Staples’?!”
 
Espinoza says he can’t let such perceptions bother him. The bottom line is that he has a job to do- one where it’s almost impossible to please everyone. “There are a myriad of factors which go into which fights get bought and not bought at our network. There are pre-existing obligations; there are financial concerns. There are outside factors such as venues and dates that fights can be made. So if I’m worried about how things are perceived, I’d drive myself crazy because the reality is that unless I’m going to open up the entire process so that people can see every one of the 17 different factors that goes into buying a particular fight, I’m not really going to be able to really address that perception. I think the perception that I am concerned about is the perception of whether we have good fights on the air. 
 
“And I think that’s the only perception that anyone should be concerned with- the quality of our fights.”
 
SEPT 15TH
 
Speaking of Alvarez, who holds the WBC 154-pound title, has Golden Boy lined up a dance partner yet?
 
According to its CEO, Richard Schaefer, “I’ve had it since Friday. I’m not going to tell you.”
 
Why not? (I can keep a secret, Richard; I promise.)
 
“No, it’s not a big secret but I want to properly announce it because it’s going to be part of a bigger announcement and I want to do it right,” he said on Tuesday afternoon from his offices in Los Angeles. “I’m not going to announce it before the Fourth of July when everybody is gone. So the press release will probably go out next Monday or Tuesday and the press tour will be the following week.”
 
And their event will stay at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, just a short cab ride from the Thomas and Mack Center where Top Rank is staging their fights.
 
From Paul Williams to James Kirkland to Victor Ortiz, it’s been quite the rollercoaster in securing an opponent for Alvarez. “But if you are a star like ‘Canelo,’ the number one Mexican star, the list of possible opponents is certainly long and anybody and everybody wants to fight him. So there was no shortage, like Oscar De la Hoya never had a shortage of opponents. The question is, we obviously have to select the right platform and the right opponent and that is what I, quite frankly, spent more time on then finding the right opponent, to get the television deal in place, the right platform,” said Schaefer.
 
Showtime’s perspective was that it was going to hold firm on this date, even if it’s down to at least its fourth option for Alvarez.
 
“The reality here is that ‘Canelo’ is genuinely a guy who likes to fight fairly often, so waiting for other guys to become available in October, November or December, I’m sure, for example, if we waited till November or December, there would be a lot of guys who’d become available. But aside from sponsors, the hotel and everything else, it’s hard to get it lined up. And he wants to fight a couple of times before the end of the year.”
 
Espinoza says that the television platform for their show on September 15th is still yet to be determined.
 
As for Arum, well, you know what he thinks, “Well, if they’re interested in making money instead of massaging their own egos, they would do what I would do, is say, ‘Look, we tried to go September 15th; it didn’t work because of Paul Williams’- which would’ve been a good fight- ‘but we’re going to move it to October. James Kirkland will be ready and now we have a pretty good pay-per-view fight in October.’ I mean, what’s wrong with that?”
 
POINT/COUNTERPOINT
 
Espinoza was amused by Arum’s latest reasoning for why a potential Donaire-Mares fight had to end up on HBO, which differed quite a bit from what he said last week in this article: http://www.boxingscene.com/bob-arum-discusses-donaire-mares-clash-showtime-hbo--54387. He stated, “HBO is the premiere network and, to its credit, has embraced this division,” insists Arum of the network which will showcase Donaire in his fourth straight fight. “Mares is a very good fighter but he has to be willing to perform on the premiere network which is HBO and not on the secondary network that is Showtime. It’s not a question of Top Rank or Golden Boy but it’s the fact that HBO has embraced Nonito and this entire division and that’s where the future is.”
 
And Espinoza says that it was Lopez-Ortiz, followed by the Antonio Tarver-Lateef Kayode fights, that garnered Showtime’s highest ratings of the year, not Salido-Lopez. But I’m told that it depends on if you go by the peak ratings or the number of households in the Nielsens.
 
Geez, these guys can’t see eye-to-eye on anything.
 
FOURTH OF JULY FLURRIES
 
According to Schaefer, the hard-hitting Omar Figueroa has been added to the July 21st “Boxing After Dark” telecast in Cincy...Keith Thurman, who was scheduled to face Marcos Maidana on that card, is staying on the broadcast...A bout between Shawn Porter and Alfonso Gomez has been finalized and will open up Showtime’s card on July 28th in San Jose before Robert Guerrero faces Selcuk Aydin...Golden Boy has made an official offer to IBF featherweight beltholder Billy Dib to face the gifted Gary Russell Jr....According to Yvon Michel, negotiations have begun for a fight between Adonis Stevenson and Andre Dirrell for August 11th...I’ll say it again; if I’m the Lakers, no way, no how do I trade for Dwight Howard and give up Andre Bynum. Nyet!...Hope everyone has a safe Fourth of July out there...I can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.



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