Showtime announces five fight cards, including two world title unification bouts

The drought of boxing on Showtime is over.

The network, which has not televised an edition of its flagship "Showtime Championship Boxing" series since July 30, unveiled a deep schedule of five fight cards, including two highly anticipated world title unification fights, on Tuesday. Added to the scheduled was one more card this year and four more in the first quarter of 2017.

The boatload of new fights, all being done in association with Premier Boxing Champions, includes the rematch between featherweight titlist Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz, who waged an intense fight of the year candidate on July 30; a super middleweight unification showdown between Badou Jack and James DeGale; and a welterweight unification match between Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia, contingent on Garcia winning a tune-up fight on Nov. 12.

"This is a slate of high-level, evenly-matched, 50-50 fights -- the best fighting the best -- which has become the calling card of 'Showtime Championship Boxing,'" said Stephen Espinoza, the executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports. "Every fight we are announcing today features a top 10-ranked champion taking on a top 10-ranked challenger; in many cases, it's top-five versus top-five."

"No other network is delivering high-quality competitive fights -- without relying on (pay-per-view) -- as consistently as Showtime. No other network is as committed to driving the sport forward. 'Showtime Championship Boxing' is giving subscribers the best that boxing has to offer."

Here's a look at the schedule announced Tuesday:

* Dec. 10: This card comes as no surprise because the promoters have been talking about it for the past week. Featherweight titleholder Jesus Cuellar (29-1, 21 KOs) and Abner Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs) will meet in the main event of a world title doubleheader at the Galen Center on the campus of USC in Los Angeles in a fight rescheduled from June, when Mares failed to obtain a license in New York because of a failed eye test. He has since been cleared by the California State Athletic Commission.

Cuellar, of Argentina, will be defending his secondary belt for the third time against Mares, a Los Angeles-based Mexico native and former three-division titleholder. In the co-feature, junior middleweight titleholder Jermall Charlo (24-0, 18 KOs), of Houston, will make a mandatory defense against Philadelphia's Julian "J Rock" Williams (22-0-1, 14 KOs) in one of the best fights the division has to offer.

* Jan. 14: Super middleweight titleholders Jack (20-1-2, 12 KOs), a native of Sweden living in Las Vegas, and England's DeGale (23-1, 14 KOs) will meet to unify 168-pound world titles and to determine the world's No. 1 fighter in the division in a bout that has been in the works for months. They each retained their belts on the same card on April 30 in Washington, D.C., in semifinals of an unofficial Showtime tournament.

Jack fought to a draw that most thought he won easily against Lucian Bute (who tested positive for a banned substance after the fight) and DeGale outpointed mandatory challenger Rogelio "Porky" Medina.

The camps hoped to put on the fight in November but it was pushed into early 2017. Although there is no set location for the fight, Espinoza told ESPN that it would take place in the United States rather than the United Kingdom.

* Jan. 28: Northern Ireland's Frampton (23-0, 14 KOs) won a decision against Los Angeles-based Mexico native Santa Cruz (32-1-1, 18 KOs) in a fight of the year contender on July 30 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Santa Cruz exercised his right to an immediate rematch in the days following the bout and now it's on. The fight will take place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

A win by Frampton would put him in the driver's seat for fighter of the year honors because he would have two major wins against Santa Cruz and also unified junior featherweight titles in February with a win against Scott Quigg in a major fight before Frampton moved up in weight.

In the co-feature, lightweight titlist Dejan Zlaticanin (18-0, 11 KOs), the first world titleholder from Montenegro, will make his first defense against former featherweight and junior lightweight titlist Mikey Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs).

The fight will be Garcia's second bout since ending a 2 1/2-year layoff while mired in a legal dispute with former promoter Top Rank. He returned on the undercard of Frampton-Santa Cruz I and knocked out former featherweight titlist Elio Rojas in the fifth round.

"I'm very happy and excited for my next fight," Garcia said. "I know that Dejan Zlaticanin is a strong, undefeated southpaw, which will make for a great fight. I'm thankful of being afforded another opportunity to show my skills. I'm ready to take on the very best in boxing, and Zlaticanin is one of the best lightweights in the sport. I want to prove that I'm better than I was before, and that I'm willing to fight anyone. The time off from boxing made me stronger and more competitive than ever."

* Feb. 11: Former four-division titleholder Adrien Broner (32-2, 24 KOs), of Cincinnati, will face Chicago's Adrian Granados (18-4-2, 12 KOs) in a junior welterweight bout.

Broner will be fighting for the first time since April 1, when he knocked out Ashley Theophane in the ninth round the day after he was stripped of his 140-pound title for failing to make weight. Granados, who recently signed with promoter Tom Brown and scored a major upset knockout of Amir Imam last November, has a deceptive record. All four of his losses came by either split or majority decision against opponents with a combined record of 52-1.

The site of the fight has not been determined.

* March 4: Welterweight titleholders Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) and Garcia (32-0, 18 KOs) will meet to unify their belts in perhaps the most attractive fight in the deep 147-pound weight class.

Garcia, however, first faces massive underdog Samuel Vargas in a nontitle bout on Sept. 12 at the Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University in Garcia's hometown of Philadelphia.

Garcia, former junior welterweight champion, moved up in weight in 2015 and in January outpointed Robert Guerrero to win a vacant welterweight title, one of the belts Floyd Mayweather relinquished when he retired.

Thurman, of Clearwater, Florida, retained his belt for the third time when he outpointed former titlist Shawn Porter on June 25 in a fight of the year contender. That bout aired on Showtime sister network CBS in prime time and the fight with Garcia also could air on CBS.

"We're going to discuss that with the people at CBS," Espinoza said. "We have to see how it works around the schedule of college basketball."

Espinoza also said that while there is no set venue for the bout yet it would likely be at Barclays Center, site of Thurman-Porter and where Garcia has already fought five times.

Espinoza told ESPN that each card would be at least a doubleheader with additional bouts being added in the coming weeks.

"With this kind of schedule we have set a really high bar and anything that is added we're going to try to have something of similar quality," he said.

Saving so many fights for one announcement was difficult, although Showtime also did it earlier this year.

"Putting together a slate of fights and an announcement like this is very much like herding cats," Espinoza said. "Once a fight is made or close to being made there is a whole group of people itching to talk about it and it takes a concerted effort to hold it back and release it an organized and comprehensive way. I think after we did it last spring, it became a little bit more clear to the involved parties what the benefits were. It presents the sport in a more organized way."