Top Rank and cable network truTV announced a multiyear deal on Monday under which Bob Arum's promotional company will put on a series of live Friday night boxing cards beginning on May 1 -- the night before the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao fight -- in Las Vegas.
The first card of the still-unnamed series, which will take place at the Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan with television coverage beginning at 10 p.m. ET, will be headlined by Japan's Takahiro Ao (27-3-1, 16 KOs), a former featherweight and junior lightweight titleholder, taking on former two-time title challenger Raymundo Beltran (29-7-1, 17 KOs), of Mexico, for a vacant lightweight world title. They will be fighting for the belt recently relinquished by 2014 fighter of the year Terence Crawford, who is moving up to junior welterweight. Ao was initially supposed to fight former titleholder Juan Diaz but Diaz suffered a shoulder injury and was forced to withdraw.
In the co-feature, unbeaten welterweights Mikael Zewski (26-0, 23 KOs), of Quebec, and Russia's Konstantin Ponomarev (27-0, 13 KOs) will square off in a scheduled 10-round bout.
The series, which will have eight cards this year, was announced as being "in association with Turner Sports and HBO Sports." Turner and HBO are sister Time Warner companies. HBO, which has a close relationship with Top Rank, will help market the series, and the first three cards, on May 1, May 8 and May 15, will take place on the eve of major fights HBO is involved in. Turner Sports, which will also assist in marketing, is consulting on the production of the series and will, along with Top Rank, provide the broadcast team, which has not been announced yet.
"We see this as a great opportunity to bring more coveted live sports programming to the network and believe Friday night prime-time fights will resonate with truTV's young audience," said Chris Linn, truTV president and head of programming.
Said Top Rank president Todd duBoef: "Partnering with Turner Sports and truTV for a new and unique boxing series will further invigorate and grow the sport. Turner Sports' innovative approach to production and programming has attracted and engaged tens of millions of fans of the NBA, MLB, NCAA and PGA, and we believe the same will be true for boxing.
"Additionally, the collaboration between the HBO and truTV programming will help develop and expose current and future champions and world-rated contenders to a broad audience with consistency. All credit goes to Turner's David Levy, Turner Sports' Lenny Daniels and truTV's Chris Linn, who understand the impact of live sports and were instrumental in developing this concept into a program for their platforms."
The new series is the latest in what has been a boom for boxing in 2015. Besides the long-awaited Mayweather-Pacquiao fight being made, adviser/manager Al Haymon has spearheaded time buys on several networks to bring high-level fights under his "Premier Boxing Champions" banner to ESPN, NBC, NBC Sports Net, CBS, Spike TV and Bounce TV. The truTV series is not a time buy.
According to duBoef, the May 8 card is scheduled to take place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, and due to be headlined by Passaic, New Jersey, junior middleweight Glen Tapia (23-1, 15 KOs) against an opponent to be named. Popular Long Island light heavyweight brawler Seanie Monaghan (23-0, 15 KOs), of Long Beach, New York, is slated to appear in the co-feature against an opponent to be determined. Junior welterweight prospect Julian Rodriguez (9-0, 8 KOs), of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, is also due to box on the card.
The May 15 card, duBoef said, will take place at the US Airways Center in Phoenix and be headlined by Phoenix's Jose Benavidez Jr. (22-0, 15 KOs). He will make the first defense of his interim junior welterweight belt against Jorge Paez Jr. (38-5-2, 23 KOs) of Mexico. The co-feature is slated to be a junior welterweight bout between top prospect Antonio Orozco (21-0, 15 KOs) and Emanuel Taylor (18-3, 12 KOs).
"Everybody at HBO is thrilled to see a new platform for live coverage of professional boxing being launched by a bold and creative network such as truTV," HBO Sports president Ken Hershman. "We congratulate Top Rank and Turner Sports on this new initiative. We look forward to lending our support to this important new franchise that will clearly benefit the sport, the fighters and the fans from day one of the series' debut."