Stephen Espinoza, best known in boxing circles as the longtime lead attorney for Golden Boy Promotions, has been hired as executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, the network announced Monday.
Taking the job means Espinoza will become one of the most powerful people in boxing as he will decide which fights Showtime will buy. Espinoza will oversee an annual boxing budget in the $20 million neighborhood.
"Stephen has had a great career that spans sports, entertainment, television and film," Showtime CEO Matt Blank said in a statement. "His deep experience in a variety of fields and incredible knowledge and contacts within the boxing and mixed martial arts communities will be an asset to Showtime as we continue to expand our offerings. I am confident that he will be a great leader to our already all-star sports group."
Espinoza's hiring is the latest domino to fall in a series that have affected the top of the boxing business in the United States. He will replace Ken Hershman, who left Showtime in mid-October to join rival HBO as president of HBO Sports, although Hershman does not begin until Jan. 9. The HBO Sports job opened after longtime president Ross Greenburg was forced to resign in July. Greenburg's loss of Manny Pacquiao to Showtime for his May fight was the final straw in a reign that had taken numerous hits in recent years.
Espinoza, who was unavailable for comment, will be responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of Showtime's sports and event department, including developing and executing the overall strategy of the group and its pay-per-view unit. Showtime has several sports-related programs, including "Inside the NFL," "Inside NASCAR" and Strikeforce mixed martial arts cards. Boxing, which has been featured on Showtime since 1986, is the network's sports bread and butter with its "Showtime Championship Boxing" and "ShoBox: The New Generation" series.
"I'm very excited for Showtime and very excited for Stephen," Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, who worked closely with Espinoza for years, told ESPN.com. "I think it's a perfect match. Showtime is committed to continuing to build their sports and boxing franchise and with Stephen they have somebody with deep passion for boxing. I am looking forward to continue building on the relationship we already have with Showtime.
"He's a very smart guy. He really knows the ins and outs of boxing. I think he's respected. I think it is a very smart move on Showtime's part."
Given Espinoza's close association with Golden Boy and his intimate knowledge of its contracts and business strategy, some in boxing believe the hiring will give the promotional company an unfair edge at Showtime. Golden Boy's output deal with HBO expires at the end of the year.
"Absolutely that's what it means," said Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, the chief rival of Golden Boy. "Golden Boy is going to move their product over to Showtime. Fine. Better than fine."
Arum brought Pacquiao back to HBO from Showtime for Saturday night's fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, a move that did not sit well with Showtime. And although Arum and Hershman have never been tight, he enjoys a good relationship with Hershman's new bosses.
"This move with Espinoza didn't happen by accident," Arum said. "It sends a signal. Everyone will be on a side. Everyone is taking sides. I'm happy with it. I think it's fascinating. It's another dynamic."
Schaefer denied that Golden Boy would receive special treatment at Showtime.
"I'm in the business of putting together great fights and there are two buyers. One is Showtime and one is HBO," he said. "I have a very good relationship with Stephen but I have a very good relationship with HBO and Ken Hershman as well. People can say whatever they want."
Before joining Showtime, Espinoza, who will relocate to New York, was a partner in Los Angeles law firm Ziffren Brittenham LLP, where he oversaw the Golden Boy account. He handled the company's contracts and was a regular on site for Golden Boy's major events, often seen lugging around a big binder with all of the pertinent paperwork related to the fight. He also represented Mike Tyson.
Dan Rafael is the senior boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.