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Mayweather vs Pacquiao: Stephen Espinoza talks SHO-HBO relationship, PBC, and more

"If those of us who work in boxing aren't able to retain this audience going forward from May 3rd on, then we've wasted the opportunity. But if there's some people through the buildup and through the fight itself who all of a sudden have their interest piqued, it's incumbent on us to sort of maintain that and sort of bring them into the fold. That's how the sport will grow."

There's a lot to get to about this fight, but it's just unavoidable, I have to ask you. On Twitter it has been, I don't know -- how would you describe it? A campaign? A concerted effort? Just sort of trying to lay out the law of the land about what you saw as the facts as this fight was being built up and just trying to be arranged. Why Twitter of all mediums to get your message out?

"For the same reason, really, that it appeals to everybody else. It's sort unfiltered, it's direct, it's instantaneous. Sure, I could call up some writers and get a story written, but it's not my voice, and it's not the way I would cast things. So for better or worse, it gets told in my voice. Whether I'm running around chasing my windmills or not, I'll leave that for other people to judge."

Do you enjoy it, the act of correcting the record?

"I do when it feels like it has an impact. Sometimes there's just so much misinformation, it's just, like, a drop in an ocean. But if I can sort of turn someone's opinion and have someone appreciate what is truly going on, I think it's important for the boxing fans to understand the true dynamics of the situation."

What's the view now you for you? Are you surprised, relieved, excited, bewildered? How would you characterize how you feel given what's happened up to this point?

"I think all four of those things. I think we've constantly been surprised throughout this promotion at how big it has become. We knew the announcement would be big, we didn't know it would have that many media requests for the initial press conference. We didn't know that after the delay, the closed circuit would go as quickly as it did. So at each stage, it has really surpassed our expectations. When we look at the pay-per-view numbers with the operators that do report early, there's no precedent. We're sort of off the charts. I look at where we are on Tuesday, Wednesday, we're well ahead of where we were on Friday on Mayweather-Canelo or even De La Hoya-Mayweather. Part of that you have to take with a grain of salt, because we've been pushing early ordering to avoid technical problems. So I can't say all of that is additional demand. Some of that may be the same people who were buying on Saturday are now just buying early to be safe.

"But what we are saying consistently across the board, whether it's web site traffic or closed circuit sales, the interest in this thing just continues to snowball. At this point, really, the sky's the limit. We're in uncharted territory."

How's it been working with HBO and Top Rank? I understand it's sort of like a walled world in between, you do what you do, they do what they do. Has it been such that you can say, 'Well, there'll be another occasion we can work with HBO,' or is this really only because of this mega-fight?

"I'm glad you point that out. For once, I did not respond. I did not take the bait. I'm very proud of myself."

Did you want to?

"Absolutely. It was a pretty long rant, but you know, after a while I just tuned it off and took a short nap. At this point, we're in a pretty good rhythm. But it did take an adjustment, a big adjustment. Not only because we have different philosophies, different strategies, different ways of doing business in some cases, it's just another layer of decision making. Things we're used to doing quickly and unilaterally, now have to go sort of a committee with Top Rank and HBO, and vice versa, I imagine, for their side. It's a much more complex process. There are many more voices in the room. And with a complex promotion, marketing campaign, production plan, a multitude of voices isn't always the best thing to get things done productively and efficiently.

"We hit our stride I think a week or two ago, and things are working pretty well. But there are areas where we just believe we have different strategies, and believe our way of doing things is better, sometimes they believe their way is. There are some areas where we're not going to reach agreement, and that's fine. But overall I think we've been able to incorporate the best elements from both networks, and hopefully come out with a better production at the end of it."

Have you had a chance to review maybe the HBO product 'At Last,' or some of the things they have done?

"Yeah, we have, and there have been a lot of conversations internally, with HBO and on our side. Again, it's a different approach. Theirs is sort of a historic approach. It's not really a current, documentary access type series. It's a look back at what the last five years have been. It doesn't really revisit what's going on now in these last few weeks. Our show will have some action from today, from the press conference.

"I'm not saying one is better than the other, it's just a different approach. Ours is sort of a current view of what's happening in the promotion and an eye toward more Floyd, and theirs is a look back at the last five years. I think in this case the two complement each other, and there's no reason fans can't enjoy them both."

Floyd has one more fight in his contract which Floyd says he intends to uphold in September. But you have to be thinking about a post-Floyd Showtime. Do you have a specific plan for that? What is the strategy after Floyd decides he's gonna hang them up?

"It's a continuation of the strategy that we sort of set in place a couple years ago when we first started with Floyd. One was, we're obviously going to make him the centerpiece of our boxing programming. But it would be short-sighted not to continue to plan for life after Floyd, whether that's six fights or eight fights, or whatever it is. So fast forward two years, and I think we've set that plan in motion pretty well. We still have, obviously, Floyd, and he's still the pound-for-pound best.

"But we have a core group, a really deep pool of young talent. Most of the guys in their early to mid 20s, who are either world champions, about to become world champions, or within the next year or two. That goes to everyone from Deontay Wilder and Danny Garcia, to a Keith Thurman, to the younger guys like Errol Spence, the Charlos, Julian Williams. I think when I look at how we're positioned for the future, I think we've got the deepest class of young talent in the divisions that are most popular. And they're all young and articulate and very personable. That's really the key, is sort of the depth of a class. I don't know which one is really gonna break out. A little bit of that is luck along the way, but I know at least one or two of them will.

"Deontay may be the guy. He's the heavyweight champion of the world, he might be the first one to break out, especially if he's pursuing a Klitschko fight in the next year or so. So I think really it's identifying that pool, and then letting the chips fall where they may."

You've got HBO always doing what they do, you guys doing what you do, and now you have PBC -- I'm not sure what they're doing, I'm not sure they know what they're doing other than throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. To what extent do you believe that it's good for the larger boxing world but maybe bad for Showtime and HBO that they have pulled a fair amount of talent away from what could ordinarily be used by the other networks?

"I think it's actually a positive thing for everybody, assuming they're doing good matchups and promoting and marketing well, which so far they have been. What it allows the pay networks to do is get back to what we were really good at doing, and that's premium programming. Without the other outlets, when we were essentially the only game in town, if a fighter got to a certain point and wanted to continue their career, there was almost an obligation with the network to continue to ride with him. Because if you didn't give him a fight, there's really no other opportunity to make good money anywhere else.

"So if you were invested with a guy, you rolled with him. Big fight, small fight, medium fight. That's not really the model of premium television. So now with all these other outlets and the opportunity to get a big audience and make decent money, then we can get back to sort of cherry-picking the biggest and the best fights. That's the strategy we started off with with Deontay for the long run. Now if Deontay or anyone else wants to take maybe a mid-level fight -- Amir Khan, for example. That's not necessarily a premium television fight. There are great outlets, Amir's going to expand his fan base, and when he's ready for a premier matchup, he'll be back on pay TV."

You have been in the boxing game a very long time. This is not a heavyweight fight, so in some sense I wonder culturally what it means. But how does the context here differ from some of the bigger Tyson or Lennox Lewis fights?

"I think one of the keys to the popularity and the attraction to this event, and it's not something that any of us could have planned, it's the fact that we had a five-year incubation period. Basically, we came close several times to getting the fight, and it just served to build the anticipation.

"We have two unique personalities. We saw it in De La Hoya-Mayweather, where you had the contrast, and how well it worked. I think we've got that here again, which is not always the case in every good fight, where you have two compelling, contrasting personalities. In terms of how we look at this for the rest of the week, it seems pretty clear to us that we've captured a mainstream audience, a non-boxing audience, better than virtually any other event that I can remember. Whether that's a little bit of luck, or some of the five-year period, or just the snowball effect, or maybe it's the combined forces of both networks working together.

"Whatever it is, we've achieved some sort of connectivity to the audience that quite frankly very few boxing or combat sports have ever achieved. Nothing is really in the ballpark, not De La Hoya-Mayweather, not Lewis-Tyson, not anything else."

When De La Hoya fought Mayweather, there was a lot of talk about, is this the fight to save boxing? I'm not saying I haven't seen some headlines, the usual 'boxing is dead,' but it's been a lot less this time. Why is that? This sort of serves proportionally as the same sort of thing, and yet there's much more attractiveness around boxing and maybe some hope for the future. What's your review of what's happening here?

"When I see those headlines I remember, there's an interview Dana White gave back in 2006, saying once De La Hoya retires, it's over for boxing. That was a different era, and he had a goal building his franchise, but you still hear that occasionally. Now, it becomes more and more a ridiculous statement when you look at the number of networks that are in boxing right now. There are obviously a lot of smart people who are working at networks and finance companies who are putting money into the sport.

"This fight by itself can't save boxing, to the extent that it needs to be saved. But what it can do is maybe capture fans. And more important than what happens May 2nd is what happens May 3rd and beyond. If those of us who work in boxing aren't able to maintain that audience, to retain them going forward from May 3rd on, then we've wasted the opportunity. But if there's some people through the buildup and through the fight itself who all of a sudden have their interest piqued, it's incumbent on us to sort of maintain that and sort of bring them into the fold. That's how the sport will grow, and that begins May 3rd and beyond."

(Interview transcribed by Scott Christ.)

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