This weekend will offer a literal menagerie of boxing young gun options on the sport's preferred premium cable networks. It is a mighty feat to hold great boxing matches in an era where preservation of one’s record means everything. However, both networks have managed to put together great cards for the fans replete with championships.
HBO Sports, which has been very reluctant of late to put a lot of fights on the network, has a great matchup of WBC and WBO super lightweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford (30-0) facing Felix Diaz (19-1). Also, 2016 Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson (1-0) faces Carlos Gaston Suarez in a six-round featherweight bout. The fights take place in the Madison Square Garden, elevating the stature of the engagement.
Conversely, Showtime Sports is airing three championship fights from two continents. America’s youngest boxing champion, Gervonta “Tank” Davis (17-0) heads to London to face Liam Walsh with his IBF super featherweight belt on the line.
WBC featherweight champion “Mr.” Gary Russell, Jr. (27-1) fights in his hometown of Washington, DC against Oscar Escandon (25-2). Also, Andre “The Resurrected” Dirrell (25-2) seeks to finally capture the elusive IBF super middleweight title.
With overmatched and overhyped fights like Canelo Alvarez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez being forced on the boxing fans via pay-per-view, HBO has been criticized recently. Since last year, HBO has forced primary promoter partner, Top Rank, to take certain fights to PPV for lack of interest by the premium network. Fights like Oscar Valdez and Shakur Stevenson’s debut not being aired for HBO's subscriber base skews the public’s trust in boxing with matchups they feel should be free.
Premier Boxing Champions is the co-promoter of the Gary Russell, Jr. fight and has turned the boxing model upside down by placing high-level championship fights between free network TV and premium cable networks. HBO’s willingness to invest in certain new-generation fighters like Terence Crawford, Gennady Golovkin and Vasyl Lomachenko is strategic and going head to head with Showtime is smart.
For years HBO had been known as boxing's gold standard programming provider. The eighties and nineties are defined by HBO’s coverage of Mike Tyson among others. However, since 2013 when Floyd Mayweather Jr. made the jump to Showtime, the game has changed drastically.
Showtime Sports and its Executive VP and General Manager, Stephen Espinoza have taken the reins in setting up boxing’s future stars while providing non-stop access to its current ones. With the signing of British heavyweight sensation Anthony Joshua, Showtime has solidified its current dominance.
This weekend will be full of great fights but moreover, it will be the first of many face-offs between an HBO network with one foot in and one foot out of the future of boxing, and an aggressive Showtime looking to push boxing’s new stars to PPV heights.