Showtime Sports executive Stephen Espinoza took some time to chat with Marcos Villegas about the announcement of Floyd Mayweather coming out of retirement to face young kickboxing star Tenshin Nasukawa on New Year’s Eve. Here’s what he had to say about the event...
Espinoza on how he found out about Mayweather-Nasukawa and if he knew it was going to happen before the press conference:
“I did know. And this goes back to that Manny Pacquiao interview, the rave. The EDM show. And maybe a little bit after that Floyd came out with a statement and he said ‘I’ll be back in Tokyo for a big boxing event before the end of the year.’ So Floyd chooses his words carefully. So when I heard that I said, well maybe he’s making an appearance, maybe he’s promoting — he didn’t say I’m fighting in a big boxing match. I knew it was something a little bit outside the norm, and then I’ve had some recent conversations with him.
“Look, this comes out of the blue for a lot of people, it is a strange event. The kid’s a superstar — the kickboxer. I mean he does stuff in the ring that you only see in martial arts movies. The only guy I’ve seen do stuff like that on a competitive level is, you know, Cung Le in his prime, used to do some stuff that blew people’s minds. This kid is a whole different level. But you’re right, he’s smaller, he’s a kickboxer.
“There’s a lot that’s still undetermined: the rules of the fight, how long a fight, all the arrangements — that’s why all the distribution isn’t set. I mean, from my perspective, it’s a little premature. I probably wouldn’t have scheduled a press conference if I was in their shoes. Clearly I’m not. But there still remains a lot of negotiation to do internally, and from our perspective we’re sort of wait and see what kind of event it is, when exactly it’s happening — we know it’s New Year’s Eve, we don’t know the timing exactly — and then we’ll see.
“Look, it’s a unique event. Any time Floyd fights, no matter what the circumstances, it’s a worldwide event and he’s constantly breaking new grounds so you give it to him. This is breaking new ground without question.“
On if Floyd is still under contract with Showtime and if they have to be involved in the event:
“It’s something that they have brought to us, and we’ve had conversations. The reality at this point is that there’s still so much unknown that we can’t really get a good handle on it. So we’ve had preliminary discussions. Um, obviously we’re invested in the Floyd Mayweather business. We have been invested, we’re going to be invested, and, you know, if it’s something that’s in demand and makes sense for us to do then we’ll do our best to lock it down for Showtime subscribers.”
On what rules this fight will be fought under:
“I think that’s the big question. Obviously there’s been a number of different entities after him for MMA fights. You know, he’s gone back and forth with UFC about maybe fighting in UFC rules...At this point, honestly, I think it’s still in negotiations. Clearly they’re close enough that they feel the event is gonna happen and it’s worth announcing, but I think, it’s my sense that they’re still actually negotiating what exactly can happen in ring, or in the cage, or however they’re gonna structure it.”
On Floyd always saying he won’t fight for less than $100M and how Rizin could possibly afford to pay him when they struggle to get stars in their own country:
“There are a lot of question marks so I’ll just tell you sort of what I speculate. Pure opinion, I’m not saying this is for sure. But I’ve gotta assume the TV network has a role in this. I think for Fuji TV to secure a Mayweather event in Japan, live on Fuji TV, is something that is a lot of value. So whether or not Rizin has the financial wherewithal to give him the money he needs, I assume that Fuji TV is backing a big chunk of it because, again, that’s a very special New Year’s Eve programming.
“You know, you’ve got 11pm, or whatever time they’re gonna do it in Tokyo, as part of their New Year’s Eve traditional combat sports show, they’re having a Mayweather event — there’s never been one like that before. So I think there are a lot of networks that would pony up big money for that.”
On if he thinks the fight will actually happen considering there’s so much up in the air just a couple months before the event:
“Well I think that it is murky — and I think it’s intentionally so. It’s not a publicity stunt in the sense that it’s not gonna happen, but one thing — Floyd is a genius marketer. Like it’s just something he knows intuitively. So what better way is there to get people talking and speculating about an event than to sort of announce it halfway. I don’t think there’s as much discussion about this event if all the details are ironed out. But now you have people in this period of ‘What is it? I’m curious. Is it this or is it that?’ People debate. It is, if you look at his other events, you know, that’s how McGregor started...
“If I look at it, it doesn’t look all that different from what his playbook has been before where [he’s] sort of teasing things without full details in order to get people intrigued.”
On it being hard to believe Floyd would allow this fight to take place in anything other that boxing rules:
“I think people get a sense that he’s more calculated than he is. I mean people look back at, for example, the Canelo fight, and say ‘Oh yeah, Floyd took that because he knew Canelo was young and inexperienced and it was too early.’ No, he didn’t! If you talk to everyone before the fight, everyone was perceiving ‘There’s risk here. This kid is young and strong, and bigger than Floyd.’ It’s easy to say after the fact, ‘Oh, Floyd knew there wouldn’t be any risk.’ Well, no. Obviously after the fact we can all say there wasn’t risk, but there actually was going into it.
“So I think this whole thing about Floyd never doing things that he knows he’s not guaranteed a victory in — I think that’s more of a result of the way he looks during a fight. Of course after the fight it looks like a forgone conclusion, that’s an easy fight, we all should’ve known Canelo — no we shouldn’t have. It wasn’t a a forgone conclusion, Canelo is strong and skilled and bigger and younger, and just because it played out the way it did doesn’t mean there wasn’t risk.”
On if this fight would end up being a Showtime PPV event:
“The challenge is the time. So if they’re truly making it part of their New Year’s Eve show before midnight Toyko, there’s a time challenge. It’s not insurmountable...It’s not ideal for PPV. I can’t think of another situation where there’s been a live PPV at that time, but look, I can’t think of another situation where so many people have been interested in an event like this...Floyd hasn’t said anything in particular about it and it’s still generating massive attention. So, look, just because it hasn’t been done before I don’t think that means it can’t be done.”