Thurman-Garcia, Brook-Spence help build Showtime's 'de facto' welterweight tourney
These pair of championship bouts just part of larger plan to create an undisputed 147-pound champion
It’s no secret that the structure in power at welterweight -- boxing’s glamour division over the past two decades -- has shifted considerably in recent memory to the side of manager/adviser Al Haymon and Premier Boxing Champions.
Outside of aging 147-pound stars Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley Jr., and junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford (who has yet to move up in weight), nearly every relevant welterweight currently competes on the Showtime/PBC side of boxing’s political divide.
The only problem with that, at least in terms of the past few years, is the best haven’t consistently fought the best, leaving a logjam of sorts atop the division’s rankings. That has started to change.
Beginning with Keith Thurman’s victory over Shawn Porter last June on CBS, Showtime has teamed up with the PBC to construct something that Showtime Sports executive vice president and general manager Stephen Espinoza has deemed “a de facto welterweight tournament.”
“We didn’t announce it that way. It was drawn up that way but we didn’t want to make assumptions,” Espinoza said. “You announce a tournament and then everyone sort of complains if it doesn’t happen exactly according to plan. But in this particular event, it is happening according to plan.”
The plan included last Saturday’s unification bout on CBS when Keith Thurman defeated Danny Garcia. Showtime also announced plans to broadcast further welterweight fights between on April 22 and Kell Brook’s title defense against Errol Spence Jr. from England at a date to be determined later this spring.
Taking stock at the current depth and number of makeable fights within the division, this couldn’t have come at a better time for the sport.
“In terms of promotion, in terms of attention to our sport, it doesn’t get better than this,” promoter Lou DiBella said. “Ray Leonard said to me, ‘It feels like the old days, huh?’ And it does feel like the old days because there is heat on boxing right now. There is heat on the welterweight division.”
Showtime has experience with tournaments in the past, having broadcast The Super Six World Boxing Classic from 2009-2011. But that super middleweight tournament had its detractors as the meandering format led to multiple fighters pulling out, and others taking stay-busy fights in between.
Espinoza, who was hired by Showtime in November 2011, one month before Andre Ward defeated Carl Froch in the Super Six finals, wanted to avoid the pitfalls that come with such a formal event.
“If you announce it as a tournament and it’s very structured, there is a set of expectations and if you deviate, people get distracted and sometimes disappointed,” Espinoza said. “But all these guys, we all sat down over a year ago and said, ‘Let’s map something out where maybe at the end of 2017 or maybe 2018, we could be talking about something pretty close to an undisputed champion.”
Of the four recognized welterweight world titles, Thurman holds the WBA and WBC belts while Spence is set to defend the IBF version. The fourth, the WBO title, belongs to Pacquiao.
Thurman, following his victory over Garcia, admitted he had no idea what was next for him outside of the fact that he plans to fight again in 2017. But asked specifically whether he has designs on facing the winner of Brook-Spence, Thurman showed interest. Eventually.
“Of course, that’s a great fight and fighting the winner is important,” Thurman said. “But when will it manifest? I don’t know. How eager will the manifestation be? I don’t know.”
Thurman, who teased at the idea of a stay-busy fight this fall, said timing will play a part, in terms of a unification fight. But make no mistake about it, further unifying remains his goal.
“Do I want to see three world titles strapped around me? Of course I do,” Thurman said. “Do I want to see three world titles strapped around any of the welterweights? Yes I do. Why? Because Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman is not just a boxer but a boxing fan and the world of boxing deserves history. We live a life to make history.
“It has been a long time since we have seen an undisputed champion in the welterweight division. It will manifest, I just can’t promise you guys when right now at this podium today.”
Espinoza pointed out that Showtime is currently undergoing similar “unofficial tournaments” at both featherweight and junior middleweight. In the end, Espinoza says, it takes commitment and shared vision of multiple parties in order to make things work.
“Candidly, I’m not the person making this happen,” Espinoza said .”It certainly takes the cooperation of networks and promoters but really fights like this don’t happen without fighters. It’s the best fighting the best. When fighters are willing to forget about losing and just make the best fights possible, we get this kind of momentum.
“It takes the cooperating because there is certainly no contract in place. But we said, ‘Let’s clarify things. We have one of the deepest divisions in the sport. Let’s get to work and find out who is the best.’”
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