Showtime announces first-half 2018 schedule, including 10 world title fights

Showtime officially announced ninth fights in 2018, including the anticipated rematch between featherweight world titleholder Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares. Photo provided by Amanda Westcott/Showtime Photo provided by Amanda Westcott/Showtime

One by one the top boxers dressed in formal clothing, many with their world title belts slung over the shoulder, strolled across the stage at a New York banquet hall Wednesday afternoon as Showtime, fight by fight, unveiled most of its schedule for the first half of 2018 to the media.

It was an unprecedented and glitzy presentation that was also streamed live on the internet and showed the depth of talent Showtime has at its disposal thanks to its partnership with Premier Boxing Champions, whose best fighters will appear on the cards.

Excluding the first event of the year, which took place Saturday with Errol Spence Jr. retaining his welterweight world title against Lamont Peterson in the main event, Showtime announced nine additional events totaling 14 fights, including 10 world title fights (one being a unification match), one interim title fight and two more title eliminators involving many of the brightest stars in the sport: Deontay Wilder, Spence, Mikey Garcia, Keith Thurman, Jermall and Jermell Charlo, Adrien Broner, Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares.

None of the fights would have taken any hardcore boxing fan by surprise because each had already leaked out, but Showtime showed off its roster and put on a show with most of the fighters on hand.

"The stars have truly aligned, and Showtime and PBC will once again set the pace for a landmark year in boxing," said Stephen Espinoza, whose promotion to president of Showtime Sports was announced hours before the media event. "To continue with the positive momentum, our goal is to deliver the very best fights on a consistent basis to the broadest possible audience. This lineup delivers pivotal bouts with frequency and purpose -- all free to our subscribers. Showtime is far and away the No. 1 destination for boxing fans nationwide."

Six new cards were made official, beginning with a junior middleweight world title unification fight between aggressive puncher Jarrett Hurd and technician Erislandy Lara, who will meet at a location to be determined on April 7.

Hurd (21-0, 15 KOs), 27, of Accokeek, Maryland, will be making his second defense and Lara (25-2-2, 14 KOs), 34, a Cuban defector fighting out of Miami, Florida, will be making his seventh title defense.

They both defended their titles on the same card on Oct. 14 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, with the unification fight something both camps wanted next.

On April 21, at a site to be determined, former four-division world titleholder Broner (33-3, 24 KOs), 28, of Cincinnati, will square off with former lightweight titlist Omar Figueroa Jr. (27-0-1, 19 KOs), 28, of Weslaco, Texas, in a junior welterweight title elimination fight.

Broner is seeking to bounce back from a one-sided decision loss to Garcia on July 29. Figueroa has been chronically inactive largely because of hand injuries. But he sent Robert Guerrero into retirement by knocking him out in the third round in July in Figueroa's first fight in 19 months.

In the co-feature, Floyd Mayweather protégé Gervonta Davis (19-0, 18 KOs), 23, of Baltimore, will face an opponent to be determined in his first bout since being stripped of his junior lightweight world title for failing to make weight for a defense against Francisco Fonseca on the Mayweather-Conor McGregor undercard on Aug. 26. The fight went ahead anyway and Davis knocked Fonseca out in the eighth round.

Unified welterweight world titleholder Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs), 29, of Clearwater, Florida, will return to defend his belts against an opponent to be determined on May 19 at Barclays Center. Thurman has been out of action since he outpointed Danny Garcia to unify welterweight titles last March, also at Barclays Center, because of elbow surgery.

Thurman could face former two-division world titlist Jessie Vargas (28-2, 10 KOs), 28, of Las Vegas, but that bout has not been made official yet. On the same split-site telecast, from a venue to be determined in Canada, light heavyweight world champion Adonis Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs), 40, of Montreal, will make his ninth title defense against Badou Jack (21-1-3). Jack will be the fist top-flight opponent of Stevenson's five-year title reign. Stevenson was not present at Wednesday's event, apparently because his criminal background prevents him from entering the United States.

Jack figures to give him a strong run for his money. The 34-year-old Sweden native living in Las Vegas is a former super middleweight and light heavyweight titlist. He knocked out Nathan Cleverly in the fifth round on the Mayweather-McGregor undercard in August to win a secondary light heavyweight belt, but then gave it up as part of the contractual agreement to get the fight but with the promise from Mayweather, his promoter, that he would get him an even bigger fight, which he did with the Stevenson bout.

Staples Center in Los Angeles will be the site of the June 9 rematch between featherweight world titleholder Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 KOs), 29, and secondary titlist Mares (32-1-1, 15 KOs), 32, Mexicans who both live in Southern California.

They first met in August 2015 at Staples Center, and Santa Cruz won an action-packed majority decision for a vacant featherweight title and Los Angeles bragging rights. A rematch has been discussed since and was supposed to take place late last year. Instead, they both appeared together on an Oct. 14 doubleheader and retained their belts when Santa Cruz elected to put the rematch off one more fight.

On the undercard, junior middleweight world titlist Jermell Charlo (30-0, 15 KOs), 27, of Houston, will make his third title defense against an opponent to be determined.

And on June 16, welterweight world titleholder Spence (23-0, 20 KOs), 27, will return home to a venue to be announced in Dallas to make his second title defense, most likely against Mexico's Carlos Ocampo (22-0, 13 KOs) in a mandatory fight ordered Monday. Showtime also introduced fighters from three events that had previously been announced:

  • The Feb. 17 card at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas headlined by the welterweight title eliminator between Danny Garcia (33-1, 19 KOs) and Brandon Rios (34-3-1, 25 KOs) with the rematch between super middleweight titlist David Benavidez (19-0, 17 KOs) and Ronald Gavril (18-2, 14 KOs) in the co-feature.

  • A March 3 doubleheader from Barclays Center topped by heavyweight world titlist Wilder (39-0, 38 KOs) making his seventh defense against Luis "King Kong" Ortiz (28-0, 24 KOs) and Jermall Charlo (26-0, 20 KOs), Jermell's twin brother, taking on Hugo Centeno Jr. (26-1, 14 KOs) for a vacant interim middleweight belt.

  • The March 10 card at Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio on which lightweight world titleholder Mikey Garcia (37-0, 30 KOs) will go for a belt in a fourth weight class by challenging junior welterweight titlist Sergey Lipinets (13-0, 10 KOs). The card co-feature will pit Rances Barthelemy (26-0, 13 KOs) against Kiryl Relikh (21-2, 9 KOs) in a rematch for a vacant junior welterweight title.