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Showtime's winter fight schedule shows Al Haymon's PBC is still kicking

Showtime's winter fight schedule shows Al Haymon's PBC is still kicking
The unbeaten Danny Garcia will go up against the also unbeaten Keith Thurman in a welterweight title unification bout. (David Becker / AFP/Getty Images)

Stephen Espinoza spent six years as a negotiator in the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao saga, so imagine the Showtime executive vice president's delight Tuesday in announcing seven bouts for his network's winter schedule.

Included in the selection are the anticipated welterweight title unification bout between unbeatens Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman on March 4 and a Jan. 28 featherweight-title rematch of Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz. Their earlier bout is a fight-of-the-year contender. 

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"Sometimes the biggest fights are the easiest to make and [those are] two of the easier to make over the last year," Espinoza said.

"When two guys truly want to fight each other and there's no real politics or gamesmanship, all the other details fall away, and the sport is pretty simple," Espinoza said.

Successors to Floyd Mayweather's belts after his retirement, Philadelphia's World Boxing Council champion Garcia (32-0, 18 knockouts) and Florida's World Boxing Assn. champion Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) stand atop the deep division. 

Garcia has beaten Amir Khan, Lucas Matthysse and Robert Guerrero along the way. Thurman has beaten Guerrero and, most recently, Shawn Porter.

Garcia has a tuneup fight Nov. 12 in Philadelphia against Samuel Vargas. if Garcia emerges victorious and healthy, the Thurman fight will become official, and it will be placed either on Showtime or on CBS in prime-time. Barclays Center in New York is best positioned to host the bout. 

Thurman's unanimous-decision victory over Porter in June drew 3.1 million viewers to CBS.

"Probably the biggest fight that can be made in the division today," Espinoza said of the Thurman-Garcia match. "And we're keeping the fight off pay-per-view.

"Danny Garcia has been criticized, but he has one of the strongest resumes in the sport, and he's won those fights in a variety of ways, as has Keith. Whether it's boxing, brawling or punching, these guys find a way to win. That's what makes March 4 so intriguing."

The Showtime bouts are loaded with fighters in manager Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions stable. And after an all-but-nonexistent schedule September through November — avoiding the ratings hit of competing against Saturday college football while saving money — Premier Boxing Champions is back in the business of placing fights on Showtime.

"This is a concerted effort by [Premier Boxing Champions], Showtime and many people to put on the biggest and best fights that the sport has to offer," Espinoza said. "When that happens, the results can be spectacular. … [Premier Boxing Champions] seems as busy as ever, and I haven't detected any change of course in their strategy."

The boxers' thirst for a good fight helps ease the schedule making. In July, moments after Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) lost a majority decision and his WBA featherweight belt to Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs) at Barclays Center, the L.A. fighter said he wanted a rematch.

And he got it, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, away from the pro-Frampton throng in New York.

"To have a featherweight fight headlining in Las Vegas harkens back to [Marco Antonio] Barrera-[Erik] Morales, and I'd put the action of Frampton-Santa Cruz on a similar level without the same animosity," Espinoza said. "To get them back in the ring so quickly is a huge plus for fans. … Both such classy guys in and out of the ring."

On the Frampton-Santa Cruz card will be Riverside's Mikey Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs) bidding to capture a lightweight belt against new champion Dejan Zlaticanin (18-0, 11 KOs) of Montenegro.

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"Mikey taking that fight is a surprise. Zlaticanin is a guy nobody wants to fight," Espinoza said. "For Mikey to say he's going after him in just his second fight back [from a lengthy contract dispute with a former promoter] shows how serious Mikey is about getting back on the pound-for-pound list."

Espinoza also announced a Jan. 14 super-middleweight unification bout between Las Vegas' WBC champion Badou Jack (20-1-2, 12 KOs) and England's International Boxing Federation champion James DeGale (23-1, 14 KOs). That bout also seems destined for the more neutral venue of Barclays Center.

The first title card, which leaked out last week, is the Dec. 10 two-title card at USC's Galen Center that features WBA featherweight champion Jesus Cuellar versus Hawaiian Gardens' former three-division champion Abner Mares and a super-welterweight title bout between unbeaten Jermall Charlo and Julian Williams.

With Cuellar-Mares, Espinoza said, "there's not going to be any time to go to the concession stands," and Charlo-Williams "could determine the future of the division … two big punchers and skilled boxers."

Showtime will also televise a Feb. 11 fight between former world champion Adrien Broner (32-2, 24 KOs) and Adrian Granados (18-4-2, 12 KOs).

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