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Showtime's Stephen Espinoza says NBC boxing deal a positive

Showtime exec Stephen Espinoza says NBC's prime-time boxing series good for the sport and his network

The reshuffling of powerful boxing manager Al Haymon’s talent into fights that will be part of a new NBC prime-time television series removes some key bouts from the Showtime schedule.

Stephen Espinoza, the premium cable network’s executive vice president for sports, said he consulted with Haymon and thinks the increased attention to  fighters who will return to Showtime is good for the sport and his network.

“We had the opportunity to retain those fights for Showtime, but we decided that the better long-term play -- for the boxers, for the sport and for Showtime -- was to allow the boxers to benefit from the mainstream exposure,” Espinoza told The Times in email sent by a network publicist.

“That exposure will only serve to elevate them further when they return to Showtime in the very near future.”

The NBC series, with Al Michaels calling the blow-by-blow and Sugar Ray Leonard serving as analyst, will begin March 7 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas with a solid welterweight bout between Haymon’s Keith Thurman (24-0, 21 knockouts) and former lightweight and super-featherweight world champion Robert Guerrero.

The card also includes three-division champion Adrien Broner against energetic John Molina of Covina.

On April 11 in New York, unbeaten, three-belt junior-welterweight champion Danny Garcia will defend his title against former champion Lamont Peterson.

Though there has been some outcry that Haymon stiffed Showtime with the temporary defections, it wasn’t as if he did the CBS-owned network any favors previously by assigning Garcia and super-bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz to recent mismatches.

If the NBC deal leads to better fights on Showtime, that’s a deal worth taking. And it’s also a big if.

But Espinoza says he believes Haymon, maintaining that his relationship with Floyd Mayweather's manager has “never been better.”

Espinoza said placing Garcia-Peterson on NBC is something “we agreed to … that those fights should go to network television in order to further facilitate the star-making process.

“We are not in this business to hoard one good fight at a time,” Espinoza said. “We have an opportunity here to raise the stakes and to help elevate the sport to the mainstream sports fan. It would be awfully shortsighted of us to stand in the way of that, especially since we stand to directly benefit from it.”

Showtime is staging a pivotal heavyweight title fight Saturday night in Las Vegas between unbeaten Deontay Wilder of Alabama and champion Bermane Stiverne.

The network is also trying to make a Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao super-fight May 2 at MGM Grand.

Though Showtime loses fights to NBC, Espinoza said he can live with it, knowing  the arrangement has an upside.

He said NBC viewership will elevate the fighters “to heights we have not seen for many, many years. If we can refresh and expand their fan base, then Showtime and every other network stands to reap the benefits.”

Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire

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