Why Anthony Joshua left Showtime and took his heavyweight titles to a streaming service

NEW YORK -- One day after the official announcement that unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua's next title defense would come on Sept. 22 in London against mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin -- and not Deontay Wilder -- the fight's broadcasting home was revealed. 

Joshua (21-0, 20 KOs) and promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport appeared alongside Povetkin (34-1, 24 KOs) at Tuesday's news conference to announce that the fight will headline the first card in Hearn's eight-year, $1 billion deal with DAZN, an all-sports OTT streaming service based in the United Kingdom that goes live in the United States on Sept. 10. 

"The biggest star in world boxing will be launching the DAZN platform," Hearn said of Joshua.

The 28-year-old Joshua, an Olympic gold medalist from England who has risen to become the sport's biggest star globally, became a U.S. television free agent in March after his exclusive deal with Showtime expired following his unification victory over Joseph Parker. Joshua's fights still air exclusively on Sky Sports in the U.K.. 

The move to DAZN pulls Joshua off of Showtime, where all six of his title bouts have aired in America beginning with his 2016 knockout of then-champion Charles Martin in just his 16th pro fight. As Joshua explained it, business comes before loyalty. 

"Business isn't about loyalty; it's about making the right decisions for your career," Joshua told CBS Sports. "We are all working together. There is HBO, DAZN, there's Sky; there is all these other broadcasters, so it's not about 'I'm going to stay put because we are loyal.' It's like being in an abusive relationship -- you have to make moves for the better of your life. 

"That's what I'm doing right now, making moves for the better of my career. [DAZN] is a good channel to be apart of, and I honestly believe that. But so is Showtime and so is HBO, Sky Sports. They are all unbelievable broadcasters, and one day I may have a chance to box on HBO because I haven't had that chance. There is no love lost. It's not about being loyal; it's about making the right choices in my career because it doesn't last forever."

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While Joshua's U.S. free agency was expected to create a bidding war for each of his fights, DAZN became a surprise victor mostly because Hearn mentioned Joshua fights wouldn't necessarily be part of the lucrative deal when it was announced in March. 

"I certainly have no objection to any fighter seeking the biggest platform and the best business opportunities that he or she possibly can," Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza told CBS Sports. "I don't think there's any question that Showtime is the best boxing platform in the U.S. with the biggest and best fights and the most marketing and promotional support and the best revenue opportunities for fighters, especially in terms of pay-per-views. Showtime has delivered the biggest events that boxing has ever seen with record-breaking PPV after record-breaking PPV.

"I don't begrudge Joshua's decision, and we look forward to working with AJ again down the line for many years to come."

The Povektin announcement comes hot off the heels of a failed and very public negotiation for a fall superfight between Joshua and Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs), the WBC champion, which would've created an increasingly rare undisputed champion considering Joshua owns the WBA, WBO and IBF titles. Hearn called the bout "probably the biggest in world boxing" and said the blame for the frustrating soap opera which led to it being pushed off until 2019 should be shared by both sides. 

In the end, DAZN proved to be the biggest bidder for Joshua-Povetkin, which is expected to take place in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. Hearn revealed HBO took part in the negotiations but sent an offer that "wasn't close." Showtime did as well with Espinoza characterizing the bid as "certainly an aggressive offer," one that ultimately came up short. 

Despite the fact that Joshua will headline the first DAZN card in the U.S., Hearn wouldn't go as far as saying the deal officially closes the door to his fighter ever appearing on Showtime.

"No, not really. I spoke to Stephen Espinoza, and he emailed me yesterday," Hearn said. "This is not about closing doors, really. This is about a platform that have offered considerably more money than anyone else. This is about a platform that Anthony and I see a future in. It was a good opportunity. How long will Joshua fight on DAZN? We'll see. 

"This is a major coup for DAZN and certainly the plan is to stay on there and have a longterm relationship. DAZN also understands that there are opportunities for Joshua with other broadcasters. There may be an opportunity for DAZN to link up with another broadcaster on this fight and show the delayed rights to increase Joshua's profile and reach, as well."

DAZN, which is overseen by former ESPN president John Skipper, who serves as the executive chairman for parent company Perform Group, also unveiled details about its service. The monthly cost will be $9.99 (there's also a 30-day free trial), which includes 32 Matchroom Sport boxing cards (16 based in the U.S.) and 15 Bellator mixed martial arts events (seven exclusive and eight simulcasts). 

Although Hearn unveiled a solid group of champions, contenders and respected names recently signed as part of his DAZN deal -- including Jessie Vargas, Demetrius Andrade, Danny Roman, Maurice Hooker and Artur Beterbiev -- the list is missing most of the big-name fighters whom Hearn publicly courted. Among those promotional free agents were Mikey Garcia, Adrien Broner, Keith Thurman and Jermell and Jermall Charlo. 

"We only had seven or eight weeks," Hearn said. "It's about penetrating the weight divisions. We have three world champions already signed up to DAZN and have a lot of good talent. It's now about going back to people like Mikey Garcia and saying, 'I've got a better plan for you. Fight Maurice Hooker for the WBO light welterweight title, fight Jessie Vargas, and then we can look at a [Errol] Spence and those kind of guys. 

"It's early days and there is going to be people, as always, trying to block us, trying to stop us. And that's all part of the fun. I love it, and I live for that stuff. 'Don't sign with Hearn! Don't sign with Hearn! Whatever you do, don't sign with Hearn!'"

Both Hearn and DAZN CEO James Rushton confirmed to CBS Sports that rumors about the streaming company having an out after two years -- should Hearn not deliver the kind of fights being promised -- is simply untrue. 

"No, no. Isn't it interesting how when you come to market, people love to pick holes in things?" Rushton said. "We are absolutely committed to Eddie for the eight years. We have worked with him since before Perform Group was started, and we've known Eddie for 13 or 14 years, as well as his father [Barry Hearn]. We are friends as much as business partners, and we are in it for the long haul."

For all of the pomp and circumstance of Tuesday's announcement, it certainly remains to be seen whether DAZN can compile a big enough subscription base for Hearn to attract big-name fighters with his self-proclaimed "war chest" of money. Boxing is already splintered enough from a U.S. broadcasting standpoint, which includes subscription-based fights on HBO, Showtime, ESPN+ and traditional PPVs. 

Espinoza wouldn't go as far as saying he believes Hearn's impending DAZN launch and the want to include Joshua on the debut card was the reason why talks for a fight against Wilder, who fights on Showtime, fell apart. But he still considers Joshua a priority for the network and hopes to see the heavyweight superfight he has worked so hard to build finally take shape.

"We have put in the leg work and invested more money in seeing the Joshua-Wilder fight come to fruition than any other network, having broadcasted the last 10 Wilder fights and six Joshua fights," Espinoza said. "I believe we will see that fight in the near future and that we should have an opportunity to take part in that."

DAZN's first boxing card in the U.S. will take place Oct. 6 in Chicago featuring Vargas, heavyweight Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller, Beterbiev's mandatory light heavyweight title defense against Callum Johnson and lightweight women's champion Katie Taylor of Ireland against Cindy Serrano. The second U.S. card will take place Oct. 20 in Los Angeles, and DAZN plans to stream all bouts from each card live, as well have them available on demand. 

In addition to Hearn's Matchroom Boxing deal, DAZN also acquired American rights to the three tournaments planned for the second season of the World Boxing Super Series this fall.

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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