Mexican star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Golden Boy Promotions announced yesterday that the 24-year-old super welterweight signed a long-term deal with HBO, which is as big a development in boxing since Floyd Mayweather signed a similar deal with Showtime last year. The arrangement was orchestrated by the current busiest man in boxing–Oscar De La Hoya–who within the last few months and ever since gaining back full control of his promoting company, has made it his mission to end the Cold War that kept fans from seeing the biggest fights.
Or at least, that’s the way the Golden Boy is selling the story. While Canelo’s return to HBO is seen by some as progress in ending the promotional standoff, the truth is that professional boxing will remain a zero-sum game as long as the market is unable to grow. In other words, HBO’s gain comes only at Showtime’s loss. In fact, Stephen Espinoza–head of Showtime Sports–is already mourning the loss of the Mexican pugilist while condemning Golden Boy’s “deceitful” ways.
On the surface, the Mexican’s return to “The Network of Champions” looks like a wickedly smart move, as several of the biggest names campaigning above welterweight ply their trade on HBO’s airwaves. Fans are already salivating at the prospect of enticing matches between Canelo and James Kirkland, Miguel Cotto, and even Gennady Golovkin. An all-Mexican fantasy matchup between Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. suddenly looks more plausible than it has in a long time, despite their weight disparity. Perhaps it was only a product of the giddiness of the moment, but yesterday at the press conference where the deal was announced, some even dared to whisper Manny Pacquiao’s name. In short, the sky’s the limit for the ambitious Saul: his demonstrated willingness to challenge himself against top opposition together with this new deal all but guarantee some Alvarez-led blockbusters in the near future.
Nevertheless, the skeptical fan can’t help but wonder if a thawing of the Cold War is really in sight, or if Canelo’s move will only serve to engorge his wallet and that of Golden Boy Promotions. It’s hard to say how much Canelo’s defection will affect Golden Boy’s relationship with Showtime–who has regularly showcased Golden Boy’s biggest names at welterweight and below for the last couple of years. But if the damage is significant, this will make it more difficult–not less–to stage appealing fights between Showtime-endorsed fighters and those that fight on HBO. This is a direct contradiction of De La Hoya’s stated aim.
The first half of 2015 will surely test the new dynamics in the relationship between Golden Boy and Showtime; Mayweather and Canelo both wish to fight on Cinco de Mayo weekend—one of the most coveted slots in boxing’s calendar year. Unfortunately for Showtime, the Pretty Boy faces slim pickings in choosing his next adversary (there’s no one currently in the running besides the fragile Amir Khan). On the other hand, HBO, Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank–under whose banner Miguel Cotto has fought of late—dreamily eye a Cotto vs. Canelo confrontation for the lineal middleweight title on next May. Fans thus reason that Mayweather–who struggled to sell PPVs in 2014 thanks to lack of credible opposition–is now forced to come up with something big to steal the thunder from Cotto vs. Canelo.
Many believe–perhaps naively–that this leaves Mayweather with no choice but to make a long-eluded fight with Manny Pacquiao a reality at last. But sheer logic has never before succeeded in eroding Mayweather’s refusal to do business with Bob Arum; why would things be different this time? Moreover, given his risk-averse nature, his contract-backed minimum salary and his impending retirement, Mayweather has no incentive whatsoever to face risky opposition in his two remaining fights under Showtime.
Mayweather’s deal with Showtime last year made an impressive splash, but fans eventually realized that its consequences would be limited and short-term. We can’t say for sure the same is not true of Canelo’s deal with HBO, but with Floyd on his way out and with Canelo only about to hit his stride, HBO may have—in only about a year-and-a-half since Mayweather’s defection—turned around its fortune in a big way. HBO’s long-term bet shows they believe Alvarez is the next big thing in boxing, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. It’s now up to the Mexican to prove he is the supernova HBO hopes he is. –Rafael García