Ranking the best Showtime fights for the first part of 2018

Featherweight world titlist Leo Santa Cruz, along with many other fighters attended the 2018 Showtime Boxing Upfront in New York City. Abbie Parr/Getty Images

One of boxing's many failings has been the general lack of organization. It's every man for himself, so to speak, and usually promoters, fighters and networks careen from one event to the next with little in the way of a long-term plan. Maybe there's a two-fight plan but rarely anything beyond that.

Fights are generally put together one at a time. Even when a network has a fighter under contract, making the next bout can be a herculean effort.

But Showtime did something on Wednesday that turned that on its head. It assembled boxing media and a galaxy of its top fighters at a banquet hall in Manhattan and did something unprecedented. Showtime, with its partner -- adviser/manager Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions -- announced not one fight or one card or even two or three or five or six. No, it rolled out with all the glitz and spice of an awards show its slate of "Showtime Championship Boxing" events for the first half of the year, each of which will be able to be accessed on all Showtime platforms, be it television, mobile devices or the network's streaming service.

Most of the fighters were there to face off with their opponents and talk to the press. It was a truly impressive scene to have all that talent together.

Including a few cards that had already been announced, Showtime unveiled nine events totaling 14 fights (so far), 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.

On paper, most of the bouts are interesting. Most seem competitive. Some are bouts that fans have been calling for. Others at least figure to lead to a bigger fight next.

The bottom line is that -- and credit where it's due -- Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza (promoted to that position from vice president hours before the media event) and Haymon have done an excellent job of putting together an interesting schedule.

Sure, not every fight is perfect, and some fighters do not yet have opponents, but there is both quality and quantity in Showtime's schedule. And don't forget -- other undercard fights will be added, not to mention that Showtime will be the likely American television home for a huge fight on March 31, the heavyweight title unification fight between Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker.

So let's take a look event by event and give out the prefight grades:

Feb. 17: Danny Garcia vs. Brandon Rios at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

Garcia stepped up to try to unify welterweight titles with Keith Thurman last March in one of the year's most anticipated fights and he lost a close decision. Now Garcia is returning against the battle-tested but shopworn Rios in a title eliminator. Most think Garcia should win handily, but Rios is a warrior. If he has anything left it could be a fun fight. Considering Garcia is coming off his first loss, it's a reasonable fight.

The co-feature is a rematch between super middleweight titlist David Benavidez and Ronald Gavril. In September, they met for the vacant belt and Benavidez won a sensational slugfest that was one of the year's best fights. The rematch figures to be another barnburner.

Grade: B-


March 3: Deontay Wilder vs. Luis Ortiz at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York

Wilder will be making his seventh and by far most dangerous heavyweight title defense when he faces Ortiz. They are top-five heavyweights meeting in one of the best fights that can be made in the division. As a bonus, they are both gargantuan punchers and there's bad blood stemming from the fight being canceled in November when Ortiz tested positive for a banned substance.

The co-feature pits Jermall Charlo, who's looked great in recent fights, against Hugo Centeno Jr. for a vacant interim middleweight belt. I think Charlo deserves to be a heavy favorite, but it's a solid match on paper.

Grade: A


March 10: Mikey Garcia vs. Sergey Lipinets at Freeman Coliseum, San Antonio

Sure, I'd have preferred to see lightweight titleholder Garcia unify belts with Jorge Linares as had been discussed. But that will always be a hard fight to make for a variety of reasons. So as long as that fight is off the table for now, Garcia challenging for a world title in a fourth weight class against junior welterweight titlist Lipinets is a good alternative. It should be an action fight for as long as it lasts, even though I think Garcia is a prohibitive favorite.

The co-feature matches former two-division titlist Rances Barthelemy, who hopes to become the first Cuban to win titles in three divisions, against Kiryl Relikh. They met last May in a title eliminator and Barthelemy got a controversial decision in a very exciting fight. The rematch could be another good one, and the winner could be in line to face the main event winner in a unification bout.

Grade: B+


April 7: Jarrett Hurd vs. Erislandy Lara at TBA

Hurd and Lara are meeting to unify their junior middleweight world titles after each retained their belts on the same card in October. The fight makes sense even though I would have preferred to see Hurd unify with Jermell Charlo instead. He also won on that October card. For whatever reason, Espinoza and Haymon decided to make this fight instead of the other. I'm a fan of watching Hurd fight. He's aggressive, strong, likes to mix it up, but he also can box. Lara is sleep-inducing and rarely entertains. Hopefully, Hurd can bring the best out of him and make it a good fight. No co-feature has been set yet.

Grade: B


April 21: Adrien Broner vs. Omar Figueroa at TBA

Broner has won world titles in four weight classes but has never truly reached his potential, and at this point I doubt he will. He looked awful in July when Mikey Garcia took him to school in a one-sided decision loss. But Broner still has a huge personality and a fan base that has made him one of Showtime's biggest ratings draws. When he fights you still have to watch. He's taking on the hard-charging but inactive Figueroa, who has mainly been sidelined in recent years because of injuries. But he says he's healthy now, and he looked great knocking out Robert Guerrero and sending him into retirement in July. If Figueroa can apply the kind of pressure he usually does and Broner comes in shape and ready for a real fight, this junior welterweight title eliminator could be a lot of fun.

In the co-feature, former junior lightweight titlist Gervonta Davis, who was stripped of his title in August for missing weight, will face an opponent to be announced.

Grade: B


May 19: Keith Thurman vs. TBA at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York

Unified welterweight titlist Keith Thurman will fight for the first time since unifying belts against Danny Garcia last March and then undergoing right elbow surgery. Because of the injury, nobody expects Thurman to fight Godzilla, especially with a future megafight against Errol Spence Jr. ideally at the end of the year or in early 2019. The one name prominently mentioned as a possible opponent for Thurman is former titlist Jessie Vargas, a very legit fight given the circumstances. But it remains to be seen who Thurman will face.

Grade: Incomplete


May 19: Adonis Stevenson vs. Badou Jack at TBA, Canada

Stevenson has been light heavyweight world champion since 2013 and has made eight defenses. But he has fought an embarrassingly soft schedule. He ducked Sergey Kovalev and has been allowed time and again by the WBC to bypass his mandatory defense, which he hasn't made since late 2013. It's ridiculous. But at long last "Superman" is fighting a real fight against Jack, a former super middleweight and light heavyweight titlist. This is one of the better fights that can be made in the division, and it will air as part of a split-site telecast along with the Thurman fight from New York.

Grade: A


June 9: Leo Santa Cruz vs. Abner Mares II at Staples Center, Los Angeles

In their first fight in 2015, also at Staples Center, Santa Cruz won a close decision and a featherweight title, not to mention Los Angeles bragging rights, in a terrific action fight. It's taken awhile to get to the rematch -- longer than it should have -- but it's here, and it should be another tremendous battle between two of the consummate action fighters in the sport today. This is an excellent fight for high stakes.

Junior middleweight world titlist Jermell Charlo looked spectacular drilling highly touted Erickson Lubin in the first round in October in one of the most sensational knockouts of 2017. Charlo is a must-watch fighter now and will defend his belt against an opponent to be determined in the co-feature while he awaits, hopefully, the winner of the Hurd-Lara unification bout.

Grade: A


June 16: Errol Spence Jr. vs. TBA at TBA, Dallas

Welterweight titlist Spence is perhaps boxing's best young star, a potential future pay-per-view attraction who has drawn comparisons to Sugar Ray Leonard. He won his belt last May in a very impressive 11th-round knockout of Kell Brook on the road in England and made his first defense on Saturday in the main event of the first "Showtime Championship Boxing" card of the year as he beat down former two-division titlist Lamont Peterson in a massively impressive eighth-round knockout. Now Spence is headed for a well-deserved homecoming defense, probably against mandatory challenger Carlos Ocampo, an unbeaten up-and-comer but an unknown guy with no resume to be in a title fight. It'll be a great event for Spence at home, and if Ocampo is the opponent -- the mandatory bout was ordered Monday -- then it'll probably be an easy win. But that doesn't mean it's not worth watching because Spence is always worth watching. I have no problem with this kind of fight. Spence has faced two top opponents in a row, wants a homecoming, plans to fight three times this year and has massive fights ahead of him. The show also figures to have a good undercard bout added to it, which could change the grade.

Grade: C