New Showtime Sports chief Stephen Espinoza, a boxing fan since childhood, is now in a position to program the network's boxing events. And he's serving up a rare -- and interesting -- four-fight card June 2 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. It looks like there's a little bit for everyone:
• Former light heavyweight champ (and current Showtime analyst) Antonio Tarver (29-6, 20 KOs) will face Nigerian slugger Lateef Kayode (18-0, 14 KOs) in a cruiserweight bout.
• Former undisputed junior middleweight champ Winky Wright (51-5-1, 25 KOs), coming off a three-year layoff, will meet "Kid Chocolate" Peter Quillin (26-0, 20 KOs) at middleweight.
• Junior middleweight titlist Austin Trout (24-0,14 KOs) will defend against Delvin Rodriguez (26-5-3, 14 KOs).
• Bantamweights Leo Santa Cruz (19-0-1, 11 KOs) and Vusi Malinga (20-3, 12 KOs), of South Africa, will meet for a vacant title.
Amazingly, Showtime was able to get six promoters to collaborate on the card: Golden Boy, Gary Shaw, A.T. Entertainment (Tarver's company), Greg Cohen, Joe DeGuardia and Branco Milenkovic. And not only are these four solid matchups, an hour of preliminary bouts will be aired on Showtime Extreme.
It's only the third time that Showtime, which has been doing fights since 1986, has put on a card with at least four TV bouts, but the June 2 card is superior to the others, in my view.
In 1997, Don King promoted a five-fight telecast in Nashville that featured four world title fights (mostly mismatches) -- Terry Norris-Nick Rupa, Felix Trinidad-Kevin Lueshing, Henry Akinwande-Scott Welch and Khalid Rahilou-Frankie Randall -- plus Dierdre Gogarty-Debra Stroman in a women's bout.
In 2001, Main Events did a four-fight show at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., featuring Zab Judah-Reggie Green in a junior welterweight title bout, plus three prospects in four- or six-rounders: Juan Diaz, Rocky Juarez and Francisco Bojado.
"We are very proud to bring this unique night of boxing to Showtime -- eight world-class fighters, four fights, two world title fights," Espinoza said. "We have legends, rising stars, youth versus experience and world title fights. There are no easy fights on this card."
Everybody assembled Monday at the JW Marriott L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles to formally announce the card. Here's what some involved (Rodriguez and Malinga were not present) had to say:
"When you try to constructively critique someone [Tarver has served as color commentator for Kayode fights], you hope they go back to the gym and get better. I wasn't on his bandwagon. I saw loopholes in his game, and it was my job to tell him that. He didn't want to take heed to that, and now I need to show him. I'm telling Lateef that his dream is going to come crumbling down.
"I'm standing here today to tell Lateef Kayode and everybody he's got coming to support him on June 2 that his dreams are going to come tumbling down. It's a big difference when you are in that ring by yourself and facing the heat and fire I'm going to bring, and all [trainer] Freddie Roach can do is give you water. It's a whole new ballgame. Welcome to the big time, brother."
"I will knock you out. I will beat the crap out of you. I want to be a world champion and I want to fight world champions. I want to prove to all of you that I am better than him, that I am stronger than him. When Tarver commented on me on Showtime, he never said anything good. I never disrespected him, and I said, 'Champ, what have I done to you?' I'm going to prove myself and prove that I am ready for this man, that I am ready for the best. He has the name, but he doesn't have the heart. He doesn't have the power. The way he fights, I can get this guy.
"He doesn't have crap. Tarver is done. I never disrespected anyone in my life, but on June 2, this guy is done."
"I'm not coming back for the money. I've got money and I've got friends who have money, so it's good there. The reason I'm coming back is to make a statement. I could have fought a tuneup, but boxing is about accomplishments, and to me, that means winning another world championship.
"My last fight was a bad one for me. I probably should have taken a fight before it, but I was never retired. I could have come back a year and a half ago, but the kind of deal and opportunity we were looking for just wasn't there. It is now.
"This guy [Quillin] is hungry and he wants to win a championship. I love his enthusiasm, so I'm looking forward to fighting him. If he thinks I'm making a mistake fighting him after being off, if he thinks I'm not what I used to be, now's his chance to show it. Let's do it. I'm ready for a fight."
"I'm just getting started. I'm still climbing the ladder, so there's no way I overlook any opponent, especially a fighter that is going to wind up in the Hall of Fame. I'm going to win this fight. I'm in fighting shape. I'm fired up. I'm ready right now to take advantage of this great opportunity.
"I don't fight for my family. I don't fight for my friends. Kid Chocolate fights for himself. If you've never been to the planet Pluto, I'm going to take you there. Pluto is where all the stars are, so if you want to go to Pluto, come out and support me."
"I'm super excited and I know my fight with Delvin will be great. Trust me, Delvin comes to fight, so this is going to be a good, hard fight for a while, but I'm working in the gym on making it easier.
"I know I'm not a household name in boxing. That's why I'm so appreciative of this opportunity and looking forward to taking full advantage of it. I'm looking to fight any of the other titleholders or the biggest names out there."
"I'm from Lincoln Heights [Calif.], so for me to be fighting in my own backyard in my very first world title fight is beyond my wildest dreams. I've been waiting for something like this, and now my opportunity of a lifetime is here.
"I know Malinga is an aggressive fighter who's waited a long time to fight for the IBF title, but I've waited my whole life. I can't wait for June 2 to show what I can do on the biggest stage at the Home Depot on Showtime."