ON THE eve of one of the biggest events in a stellar year for Showtime, there was deep uncertainty about the future of the sport on the network.

Amid reports that they are about to announce a decision to drop boxing from their scheduling altogether, Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza refused to rule out an exit.

Rumours on the ground here in Las Vegas, where Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez will face Jermell Charlo on Showtime pay-per-view this Saturday, have suggested that an announcement confirming their curtain call could be made as early as next week.

And during an exclusive interview with Boxing News, Espinoza was unable to guarantee Showtime’s continuation in the sport.

“I’ve seen some of the sources – and some of them are comical to be completely honest,” Espinoza said in response to the reports which started to circulate this week. “It sounds great from the outside but it’s simply not the reality.

“These kind of rumours are something we’ve dealt with consistently since at least 2018. I understand why they are happening now; Paramount is going through a lot of changes, in fact there have been a lot of changes throughout the media industry.

“The reality right here right now is that nobody knows what the future holds. All we can do is keep making the best fights and that’s our response. Everyone can say that we’re going out of business, and that we have been since 2018, but all we do is continue to put on the biggest and best fights.”

Showtime has emerged as the home of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions who have led the way in 2023 with their involvement in a series of lucrative fights, including the long-awaited welterweight showdown between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence.

And, given HBO’s decision to drop boxing in 2019, it has been suggested that Showtime following suit would be a hammer blow for the sport.

“There hasn’t been a decision made yet but anything could happen,” Espinoza added. “What I am confident of is that this sport always survives and that it will continue to thrive whether it’s on Showtime for another 37 years or a transition to somewhere else. The sport is as healthy as it has been for a long, long time.

“There are a lot of changes going on, there have been lay-offs at every major media company. It’s not so much about a referendum on boxing but a referendum on how a company spends its money.

“There have been a lot of projects cut at a lot of networks that were very valuable. In trying to navigate this new business model, there are going to be some changes along the way. Whether boxing is one of those changes remains to be seen.”

One suggestion is that Showtime may decide to stay in boxing solely as a pay-per-view vehicle but Espinoza says that is not a viable solution.

“It doesn’t make any sense and that is one of the things I have laughed at,” Espinoza added. “It wouldn’t make sense for either side. You could get one of 100 places to distribute a pay-per-view but having a pay-per-view without the stuff that actually builds it doesn’t really have any value.

“It just would not work long term. It’s like a network saying they want to do the Super Bowl but don’t want the rest of the season, or they want the Champions League but only the final and not the early rounds. It makes no sense.”

But, for now, Espinoza and Showtime are concentrating on what could turn out to be one of their last big events in boxing if the rumours turn out to be true. As it happens, this is also Canelo’s first outing of a three-fight deal with PBC following a long run with Matchroom, who have promoted six of his last seven fights.

“It’s fantastic to have him back on Showtime,” Espinoza says.

“This week has been phenomenal so far. It’s one of my favourite things about boxing: every event has a different personality, a different fanbase, vibe and energy. There’s an undeniable star appeal of Canelo, there’s just a buzz when he walks into the room and the crowd he gets.

“I have to give a lot of credit to PBC, they lead the deal and I think part of it was the depth of talent and therefore the type of match-ups he’d have access to and the other part is Showtime’s expertise in pay-per-view. And having the demonstrated experience of making pay-per-view events bigger than anyone else, those two things were enough to bring him here.

“It has been a phenomenal year and part of that is having some key pieces of talent, obviously getting Crawford over allowed that fight with Errol Spence Jr to happen, then getting Canelo over for this was major for us too.”

Now the sport must wait to see if Showtime are planning to build on their success next year or if 2023 was merely a death rattle for boxing on the network.