Stephen Espinoza Gives His Take on The Atlanta Market, Al Haymon Advice, His Top 5 MCs and More
By: Hans Themistode
Superstar boxers are a rare commodity these days. There are currently only a handful in the sport today. Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Alvarez are the first two who come to mind. You can easily make the case for both Heavyweight champions Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, but they haven’t quite crossed over to the mainstream just yet.
We do have a few boxers who are right on the cusp of stardom, in Welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr and his chief rival Terence Crawford. However, they still have more work to do.
With the emergence of the undefeated Gervonta Davis, many in the boxing industry believe that he isn’t just on his way, but instead, that he is already there.
Before the 2019 boxing calendar rolled around, naming Davis as a star in boxing would have been a laughable statement. Yet, now with three appearances this year and every single one of them ending with a highlight level knockout and not to mention a sold out crowd, no one is laughing anymore.
Just take a look at what Davis was able to accomplish in his last ring appearance on December 28th, 2019.
Davis did what he was supposed to do on the night. Somewhat.
Long faded former champion Yuriorkis Gamboa was chosen as the first opponent for Davis as he moved up to the Lightweight division. The contest was supposed to be nothing more than a beatdown at the hands of Davis. Instead, it turned into one of the most difficult fight of his life.
The performance of Davis wasn’t one of his best, but that is beyond the point.
If you happened to be glued to the television screen on the night, then you would have noticed a star studded crowd in attendance. It wasn’t just your typical famous boxers who are often on site at these big shows. No, the stars truly came out to support Davis for his fight which took place at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta Georgia.
NBA hall of famer Shaquille O’Neal, rapper TI, reality television show actress and Instagram model Alexis Sky was amongst the crowd.
Seeing a star or two at attendance for a big fight isn’t a big deal. It’s actually pretty normal. But this contest hardly qualified as a big fight. In fact, not only was this contest viewed as noncompetitive but it was also in an Atlanta market that although it used to be a hotbed for big time fights, it had been a long time since championship boxing came back to the city.
It was a big risk to say the least for promoter Stephen Espinoza, but luckily for him, he had someone he could depend on to help him promote the fight the right way.
“I relied on someone with more experience than me,” said Espinoza. “Me and Al Haymon. He explained to me that whenever in Atlanta, in particular whenever the calendar fell so that there was a weekend between Christmas and New Years, he always did big concert business in Atlanta. Because people might have some days off and are looking for something to do, they’ve been at home with family and might be looking to get out. So when there is a weekend between Christmas and New Years it’s generally been a good weekend in the market. Now it hasn’t been a boxing weekend so it’s a bit of a risk but so far that knowledge has transferred over. A good concert weekend is also a good boxing weekend as it turns out.”
Attention all promoters. Please take note and follow suit. Al Haymon just gave the blueprint on how to be successful in a market such as Atlanta. If this game plan can work there, then there should be no doubt that it can work just about anywhere else.
Espinoza and Haymon might be good friends but make no mistake about it, there are several promoters and rivals who are the exact opposite. With three sold out shows for Davis in 2019, Espinoza would be kidding himself if he believed that his competition aren’t going to attempt to steal Davis from his roster of fighters.
“There’s always competition. Whether it’s HBO or FOX or who knows what it’s going to be in the future. The reality is that Showtime Boxing has been around for almost 35 years. We would love to work with fighters for their entire career. Badou Jack has basically been nowhere other than Showtime, Tank has been nowhere other than Showtime so we hope to keep it that way.”
Keeping Tank on Showtime shouldn’t be a huge problem but keeping him on regular cable television is another story entirely. CEO of Mayweather promotions Leonard Ellerbe doesn’t think that Davis will be a huge pay-per-view star, he knows it. According to Ellerbe, Davis is set to make his debut on the paid platform in the first quarter of 2020.
Even if you are loaded with money, no one is jumping at the idea of shelling out roughly $75-$100 for a fight. With that being said, if the quality comes along with the price tag, then most people will be willing to stomach the cost.
“I think the right number is probably a couple of pay-per-views. Sometimes there are grumblings from pay-per-views but I think in general people don’t mind paying it when it’s deserved. You have a bunch of friends over and they bring the beer and you buy the fight and just everybody chips in. Yes, it’s $75 and that’s not an easy expense all the time but if you are getting a big fight and a quality card then I think it’s the right tool. The problem is when you start using that as a financial clutch. Towards the end, for example, HBO started putting a bunch of cards on pay-per-view because they did not have the budget to put them on regular HBO. No. If its not a quality card then it shouldn’t be on pay-per-view. It’s to make fights happen that otherwise couldn’t.”
If boxing fans can get the exact matchup that they are looking for then the complaints of pay-per-view would seemingly dissipate. Yet, like always in boxing, there are other issues that could come in the way as well.
In the early 80s and 90s boxers entered the ring sometimes four or five times per year. Fast forward to today and that seems like an arduous schedule for a fighter. To sum it up, fighters get paid more for less work.
Kudos to the fighters who are able to pull this off. More money for less work? Where do I sign up? But for promoters such as Espinoza it can become a pain.
“I don’t think there is a problem with fighters not fighting enough, especially at the championship level. We seen Errol Spence Jr and Shawn Porter in an absolute war for 12 rounds. So put the car crash aside, if you ask me for their health, they shouldn’t be in the ring for another 6 months. Look, if you’re fighting 2 wars like that then twice a year is plenty. I would rather air on the side of being more cautious than not. So on the championship level I don’t have a problem with a guy fighting twice a year or Tank fighting three times a year.”
That explains one part of the problem which deals with the inactivity of fighters today, but an even bigger issue could be the ridiculous amount of money that is constantly being thrown at them. You can opt to take the money if you want, but it might not lead to the best results in terms of their long term career.
“We now have other outlets that are getting into the sport and they are making offers simply because they need fighters and they need content. You get an offer that says hey here’s 7 million dollars, you can fight whoever. Literally whoever you want. The problem with that is that it makes my job harder. My offer is you can fight for a million dollars but you have to take a real meaningful fight. So if there is only one guy in the business doing that then it becomes harder. When fights are not competitive and are not meaningful, they are like a tree falling in a forest. If you are fighting mismatch after mismatch then no one is going to pay attention. In terms of career development and exposure that certainly is not the way to go in my opinion.”
Figuring out a happy medium between paying fighters what they believe they are worth, along with managing a fighters schedule is a difficult ask. What’s not so difficult, however, is figuring out who Espinoza loves to listen to when he needs to relax and make these fantasy matchups happen. If you are one of our more younger readers then his list of top 5 favorite MCs might be before your time.
“This is gonna date me,” said Espinoza chuckling. “You’re gonna know exactly what generation I came from. I gotta go with KRS, Nas. Neither Biggie or Pac is in my top 5. It’s hard to put Jay-z in the same category as those two. I’ll go with Rakim. This one will be a surprising one. I think LL Cool J is under appreciated. And I gotta go with Chuck D.”
No Biggie, Pac or Jay?
Espinoza is one of the very best promoters in the world, but his taste in music is a bit questionable.