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Will Promoters KO Boxing’s Biggest Fight?

Earlier this month, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez made his return to pay-per-view to fight the previously undefeated Liam Smith, a solid, but virtually unknown British 154 LBS title holder. A live crowd of over 51,000 fans flocked to Texas Stadium to witness the Mexican superstar display the skills that put him at the top of the boxing world, a spot he claimed after the retirement of the sport’s longtime top draw, Floyd Mayweather.

When first announced, most expressed disappointment with the Alvarez/Smith match-up because many are clamoring for a showdown with Gennady Golovkin, who knocked out another UK star, Kell Brook just weeks before Canelo stepped into the ring with Smith. Though undefeated, Liam Smith hadn’t fought anyone of significance in his native country, and he hadn’t fought outside of England until he traveled to the United States to square off with Saul Alvarez. Make no mistake, the Mexican fans were there to watch their native star, not to view his competition.

Prior to the bout, the question of if it would simply be a showcase fight for Alvarez surfaced and the opening round suggested that it would be a platform for him to elevate his profile among the boxing public. However, while not threatening significant damage to Canelo at any particular point in the contest, Smith made a good showing for himself, generating more offense as the rounds progressed. After half a dozen rounds of Alvarez landing a mixture of powerful punches to the head and body of his opponent, he landed a devastating body shot that sent Smith tumbling to the canvas. Shortly after that, the referee halted the bout in the ninth round, awarding Canelo the win.

After the fight, analyst Max Kellerman asked the question that has followed Saul Alvarez after every bout during the past few years, will he fight Triple G? Canelo implied that his group had tried to make the fight, but Kellerman, being the intelligent broadcaster that he is, pressed the subject and cited a quote from promoter Oscar De La Hoya about letting the fight “marinate” until the time is right. Alvaerez’s response was the typical post-fight talk, mostly saying that he would fight anyone.

But, when the WBC announced Triple G as the mandatory challenger for Canelo’s middleweight title earlier this year, Alvarez opted to vacate the belt and avoid the fight. While Golden Boy Promotions founder Oscar De La Hoya claimed that he made a substantial offer to Golovkin, the amount of money on the table wasn’t mentioned so who knows how legitimate the deal was at the time? Was the brief negotiation for the Triple G fight an attempt to quiet the notion that Canelo is ducking him?

In theory, Canelo should generate the highest pay-per-view numbers in the sport, but early reports indicate that the Smith bout garnered a disappointing 250,000-300,000 buys, a noticeable drop from his two previous PPV offerings. The Canelo/Khan card in May draw 500,000 and prior to that, the Alvarez/Cotto event prompted 900,000 buys. Obviously, the quality of competition matters and the general public isn’t willing to pay $65 to watch Saul Alvarez compete in lopsided bouts. I would suggest that Kovalev vs. Ward, a battle of two undefeated fighters in their prime, will draw a better number this November than Canelo’s most recent contest. The bottom line is, the general public is willing to pay for a competitive prize-fight that features skilled athletes in the prime of their career.

Following the Smith fight, it was noted that Saul Alvarez fractured his thumb and will take the rest of the year off to recover from the injury. At the same time, Triple G is targeting a December showdown with the talented WBA middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs and the chance to become the unified middleweight champion.

Assuming Triple G is victorious against Jacobs, the path is clear for the anticipated Golovkin/Alvarez fight next year, undoubtedly the biggest fight that can be made in boxing right now. However, it’s very possible and very disappointing that political jousting could potentially stall this fight at least a few years. The 26-year-old Mexican star is younger and has a bigger frame than Golovkin so the tactic used could be to simply wait until Triple G gets a little older, presumably toward the conclusion of his career. For example, four years from now, Canelo is 30 and his opponent is 38, which at least on paper tilts an advantage toward Alvarez. The problem is, boxing doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for this fight and if it happens is 2020, the amount of people willing to spend money to watch it will be exponentially less than it is right now. The argument could be made that the time when the general public was willing pay to watch glorified exhibition fights went away with Floyd Mayweather. The numbers for Alvarez/Smith suggest that Canelo needs an established opponent to draw buys.

As I’ve said before, it’s ironic that certain stars in boxing avoid marquee match-ups because they assume a defeat will hinder their drawing power, but in reality, they actually leave more money on the table when the in-demand fights aren’t signed. Regardless of the result of Canelo/Golovkin, unless it’s a total flop, fans will want to see a rematch and depending of who wins those bouts, there’s the possibility of a trilogy. Instead of one mega fight that happens years after it should, a trilogy could take place within the same time frame and translate to more money for everyone.

In my opinion, Saul Alvarez is ducking Gennedy Golovkin because Oscar De La Hoya doesn’t want to risk the drawing power of Golden Boy Promotions’ top commodity. If De La Hoya wanted to make the fight, he would make a legitimate offer and a 50/50 split is more than reasonable because without Triple G, there’s no super fight for Canelo. Sure, the argument could be made that Alvarez is the bigger star in the United States because of the Hispanic population, but the numbers from the Smith fight prove that Alvarez needs quality competition to draw ratings.

The debate of if Canelo could handle Triple G’s power or if Alvarez would use his skill to land more combinations against Golovkin is a moot point. Until the contract is signed, it’s just speculation, and anticipation to a fight that might not materialize. Ultimately, either boxing will or won’t learn from the pitfalls of the Pacquiao/Mayweather debacle. Either we will see Saul Alvarez standing across the ring from Gennady Golovkin and be provided with an example of how great of a sport boxing can be or politics will continue to dictate the stagnant direction of the sport.

Until next week

-Jim LaMotta

@jimlamotta

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