Much to Stephen Espinoza’s delight, the boxing world still turns

By Michael Woods

The boxing world continues to turn after regaining regular momentum, following the intra-sport mashup between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor, and that means that “regular”-sized cards and bouts are being planned and soon to unfold.

One of those happens on Saturday night, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, with three of the tangoes to screen on Showtime. The 154 pound division is in the spotlight and, on Thursday, a press conference was held at the Highline Ballroom in NYC to bang the drums for the face-offs.

All told, it went according to plan, as it started on time and the participants, headed up by promoter Lou DiBella, got through the proceedings with a minimum of excess. There was some extra verve in the interaction between the Jermell Charlo and the Erickson Lubin people, a bit of a Texas two-step scrum pitting the Charlo gang against the Floridians. But tempers died down and the real rumbling will erupt where it should, in a ring, on Saturday.

Showtime boxing boss Stephen Espinoza worked the room, chatting with media and various others. RingTV.com cornered him for a solid spell, after the joint pretty much emptied out, and picked his brain on several topics.

First, this card. No, it’s not a high concept deal like that #MayGregor festival of sound and fury. It’s back to the basics, that being the desire to have some continuity emerge, help shape the content so rivalries can emerge and compelling chapters can be written in sweat and maybe some blood.

“We saw six guys standing up there and the first thing you notice is that Jarrett Hurd is huge,” Espinoza said, when I asked him for top takeaways from the presser. He’s “really strong and punches like hell,” so no one should underestimate him, just because he’s only been on more radars for two years. “And Jermell looks noticeably bigger than Erickson Lubin,” he continued, making clear that he, like most folks I’ve polled, is quite fired up to see how the Texas vs. Florida beef plays out.

Espinoza touched on the main event, which sees Erislandy Lara looking to widen his popularity and have more fans embrace him as a pound-for-pound Top 10’er. He’ll be a heavy favorite against steady Terrell Gausha, who I have not heard one person pick to win in an upset…and Espinoza espoused some on the other Showtime offering, that being the Jarrett Hurd-Austin Trout scrap, with the IBF junior middleweight beltholder’s size really standing out to him, when seeing the six scrappers on the Highline stage.

The executive discussed how he likes to help set up storylines by gathering a bunch of athletes in the same weight class, and almost having little mini-tournament face-offs.

I tried to see if he’d bite when I told him that maybe – just maybe – it would be best for the sport if Erickson Lubin, whose personality has shined this week, beat Charlo, the WBC junior middleweight titleholder. “There’s a range of personalities; you don’t get more sort of friendly and polite than Erickson and Austin Trout…I’m not going to root against Jermell! He has really stepped up; both the Charlos have stepped up in the last year or 18 months,” he said, noting that the brothers have been drawing big buzz, by way of their emphatic finishes.

“As Lou touched on, this may not have the superstar Floyd Mayweather/Anthony Joshua at the top of the card but this card is high quality, top to bottom, in competitiveness,” he continued. We discussed the contention by writer John Gatling that the Charlo vs. Lubin bout is kind of a low-key, underground super-fight. “It sort of jumps off the card because it’s two guys in their prime, in a 50/50 fight,” Espinoza stated.

We shifted lanes: Does WBC lightweight beltholder Mikey Garcia have his next fight cemented? Not yet, said Espinoza. Mikey can move around weight classes, and promoters, so his options are varied. “We are definitely looking at December or January for Mikey. We’re doing our best to get him in before the end of the year,” he said. (IBF lightweight titlist) Robert Easter, (WBO lightweight titleholder) Terry Flanagan and (THE RING Magazine/WBA lightweight champion) Jorge Linares have all been rumored as dance partners. “It’s still open…unless something has happened that I’m unaware of,” since Wednesday, they are still in sifting mode.

IBF/WBA heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua will be on Showtime, fighting Kubrat Pulev, on October 28, and Espinoza admitted that the Brit is a special talent and that’s why we see bidding wars and such surrounding him. “He’s a real, unique talent,” he said. You can compare and contrast Joshua October 28 and WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder on November 4, as the ‘Bama-based striker faces Bermane Stiverne, in a rematch, at Barclays.

Does it not make it harder, I wondered, to build momentum and interest if AJ fights on Showtime and then maybe HBO snags his next bout? It’s complex, Espinoza allowed. Pulev, the executive said, “is closer to Anthony’s size than most of the recent fights.” Size, OK…What about psyche? “He’s been in with the best of the best; he’s been in with Klitschko,” said Espinoza, who termed him “credible. He’s at a tier that is very close to the top.”

More tidbits…We will be getting some news on next for IBF welterweight titleholder Errol Spence Jr., Espinoza said, maybe on the Paul Malignaggi podcast, it was teased, or maybe on the Saturday night program, WBA/WBC welterweight beltholder Keith Thurman will be telling us when he will fight next on Saturday, Espinoza shared.

He finished with a bullish call on the sport. In a year, or what have you, former IBF junior lightweight beltholder Gervonta Davis and WBC super middleweight titlist David Benavidez were not on so many radar screens. “When people say, ‘How’s the sport?’ If we can find a David Benavidez and Gervonta Davis each year, then the sport’s gonna be great for a long, long time.”

You can follow Michael Woods on Twitter @Woodsy1069.

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