Boxing Hall of Famer and former undisputed welterweight world champion Sugar Ray Leonard and David Dinkins Jr., SHOWTIME Sports Senior Vice President and Executive Producer, hosted a media conference call on Wednesday to discuss Leonard joining the CBS broadcast team for Saturday’s welterweight unification between undefeated champions Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia. Stephen Espinoza, Executive Vice President and General Manger, SHOWTIME Sports, began the call with some opening remarks.
The SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING on CBS, presented by Premier Boxing Champions, broadcast will air live on CBS from 9-11 p.m. ET/6-8 p.m. PT from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the home of BROOKLYN BOXING™. The broadcast is presented by Premier Boxing Champions and produced by SHOWTIME Sports® for CBS Television, both divisions of the CBS Corporation.
Leonard will join the SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING broadcast team on Saturday alongside host Brian Custer, play-by-play voice Mauro Ranallo, International Boxing Hall of Fame analyst Al Bernstein and Sports Emmy® Award-winning reporter Jim Gray.
A five-division titlist and one of the most decorated boxers of all-time, Leonard brings unique perspective to the broadcast booth having been in a similar situation to Thurman and Garcia more than 35 years ago. Garcia, the WBC 147-pound titleholder, and Thurman, his WBA counterpart, will unify the exact same titles that Leonard (WBC) and fellow Hall of Famer Thomas Hearns (WBA) unified in their classic 1981 Fight of the Year.
Leonard made his professional boxing debut on CBS in 1977, less than one year after he won gold at the ‘76 Olympics in Montreal as part of what is considered the greatest American boxing team in Olympic history. The March 4 event will reunite Leonard with former CBS producer and current SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING Executive Producer Dinkins Jr.
Below is what the principals said Wednesday on the conference call:
SUGAR RAY LEONARD
“I was telling David [Dinkins] today, this is the perfect matchup. I mean, you have two incredible fighters, each one of them with their own style and confidence with Keith and Danny. What also raises an eye is the unification. That’s big time for any fighter. And if these fighters can live up to their expectations, I think it’s going to be a home run, without question.
“These are the type of fights that are going to bring boxing back to where it used to be. It’s going to require these type of fights, these type of individuals, these type of athletes, these type of potential super stars, to really change and make boxing what it used to be.”
On the importance of having these types of fights on network television and what it takes to bring the sport back to what it used to be…
“These two young men, these two champions, these undefeated fighters, they fit the mold. I talk to people all of the time about what fights they want to see and this is a fight that has star-quality to it.”
On the advantages of each fighter…
“I look at Keith, and I’ve been watching, over and over, tapes of his previous fight. Again, each of them bring something to the table. Keith Thurman, seems to me, a little more fundamentally sound than Danny Garcia. But Danny Garcia, has a neutralizer. One thing I think is a big factor for the actual fight itself, is that both guys are great champs and both of them could take punches. So, I don’t know. Put it this way, I wouldn’t bet my house.
“I do favor Thurman because he just seems to be a little bit more poised and collected. He just seems to be that kind of guy. First of all, he would never give up. Nor would Danny. But I just lean… it’s just my gut that tells me that Keith is a little bit more solid than Danny.”
On Danny Garcia…
“He’s just a guy that has that internal fortitude. He has heart, big heart. And he doesn’t give in. I think he’s the kind of fighter, you know where people short-change him. But I look at him and he’s one of those fighters that, I don’t train – I never train at all – but he’s the kind of fighter that I would enjoy training. Because he deserves to be up there.”
On the importance of facing the best opponents possible…
“That’s extremely important. Fortunately, I was in an era where there were just a lot of guys out there who were so talented. If given the chance they would prove to be champions.
“I always thought that we had to continue to raise the bar as a fighter, as a champion, and continue to fight better and better competition. When I was fighting, I swear, I wanted to be the underdog -psychologically, spiritually and mentally, if I wasn’t challenged, if I wasn’t considered somewhat of an underdog, I couldn’t perform the way I normally would. It’s what would get me going.
“I have said this a number of times: This fight is going to be bigger and better than what we anticipate because of what is at stake.
“The advantage [for me] was the television network exposure, without question. I loved that. It pumped me up because I loved the exposure. I loved the attention. I loved the fights and that’s what also helped me to be the fighter that I became.
On what it’s like being ringside and broadcasting a unification welterweight fight much like the fights and titles he’s fought for…
“It is an out-of-body experience. It’s déjà vu. Like holy, I am 60. It’s a kind of thing that is so special and it’s so rare of a unification it seems like. It speaks volumes to me as far as the significance of it. And these guys, Keith and Danny, they know it. They realize it.”
DAVID DINKINS JR.
“When we were discussing the upcoming Thurman-Garcia fight in our senior staff meeting, many of us longtime fight fans thought about Ray’s first fight with Thomas Hearns and the many parallels there with Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman. You have two undefeated fighters and two titlists who have been on a path toward each other since Danny moved up from being a unified champion at super lightweight and moved into the welterweight ranks and gained a world title at 147 pounds.
“Ray and Tommy were two stars who it just seemed inevitable that they would fight. We feel the same way about Keith and Danny. You have two undefeated champions and it’s inevitable that they would meet and declare who would be the No. 1 fighter at 147 pounds.
“I’m so happy that Ray can join us for this telecast and he and I have discussed over the past few days the many similarities between his circumstance during the Golden Era of Boxing when he had rivals like [Roberto] Duran, Hearns and [Wilfred] Benitez at 147 pounds.
“To make the situation even sweeter it reunites myself and Ray after we had worked together years ago at CBS. He along with Tim Ryan and Gil Clancy formed a very entertaining announce team. Ray was in and out of retirement at that point. So his full-time, part-time job up at CBS was terrific fun. We got to see some great fights and work together. And now he joins Mauro Ranallo and Al Bernstein, who is also a Hall of Famer just like Ray is, ringside this coming Saturday. It’s just incredible great fortune that Ray was available to join us and be a significant contributor on Saturday.”
STEPHEN ESPINOZA, Executive Vice President and General Manager, SHOWTIME Sports
“SHOWTIME continues to deliver the strongest lineup of any network in boxing. We are delivering the biggest and most meaningful fights and delivering to the largest possible audience. With none on pay-per-view.
“This Saturday SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING will present the most anticipated fight of the year live on America’s most watched network, CBS. Danny Garcia versus Keith Thurman is without question the best fighting the best. They are two undefeated champions with a combined record of 60 wins and zero losses and squaring off in the prime of their careers to determine who the top dog is in boxing’s marquee division.
“SHOWTIME has really made it our mission to televise the top-rated champions against the top-rated challengers in boxing’s most compelling weight classes.
“The fans have taken note, and the momentum continues to rise. Adrien Broner and Adrian Granados fought a close fight two weeks ago that was our most watched main event in two years.
“This is just the second primetime fight on CBS in nearly 40 years since Ali-Spinks in 1978. We are grateful to our colleagues at CBS who are helping to deliver this important event for boxing. It is critical that we put our best foot forward in a very hyper competitive television market, and that is certainly what we are doing Saturday night on CBS.”