The boxing kingpin of the post-#MayPac era, and the fighter to whom HBO and Golden Boy Promotions have entrusted their minting operations, has finally announced his first engagement of 2016. On May 7, at Las Vegas’ brand new T-Mobile Arena, Mexican middleweight Canelo Alvarez will face Brit welterweight Amir Khan at a 155-pound catchweight bout for the middleweight championship of the world. That’s right, boxing fans. Last year it was #MayPac; this year it will be #CaneloKhan.
The announcement shocked the boxing world yesterday, mainly because there had been practically zero signs the match was being negotiated, much less that it was signed, sealed and delivered. And it’s even more surprising considering Amir Khan’s reputation for being a blabbermouth, his oral cavity at least partly to blame for his previous failed negotiations for megabouts with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Luckily, for the Brit and his fans, third time proved a charm, as he has now—finally—landed a fight with one of the sport’s biggest stars.
Not everyone is as ecstatic as Amir, though. A large contingent of ‘boxingheads’ threw cynical barbs at the fight via their social media outlets; hard to argue with them, since viewed through a certain light, #CaneloKhan looks like little more than a shameless money-grabber.
In all fairness, lots of other fans (many of them, one suspects, living in Great Britain) welcomed the bout as a much-needed “event,” and praised the “creative” matchmaking involved, as well as Khan’s “courage” in jumping two weight classes to challenge the Mexican redhead. In summary, the response to #CaneloKhan has been polarizing to say the least, so much so that to put it all into perspective, a breakdown is in order. Thus, The Fight City is here to help you figure out what the hell happened, and what exactly #CaneloKhan means to boxing.
For those with a glass-half-full disposition, Canelo vs Khan represents an intriguing stylistic clash between two of the sport’s most recognizable fighters in a can’t-miss event. Pitting a speedy, skilled boxer against a highly-efficient counterpuncher for the middleweight title, this high-stakes Vegas extravaganza is bound to be watched by millions around the world. At a time when fans (misguidedly) equate fighting revenue with fighting quality, #CaneloKhan could, indeed, be as big as boxing gets today. What’s not to like?
Lots. For starters, #CaneloKhan wastes one of the two matches that each of these two recognizable fighters will engage in this year. Whether we like it or not, inactivity is now one of the hallmarks of name recognition in boxing, and the fact Canelo will face Khan next means we will have to wait at least until September to find out how the middleweight champion would fare against a real middleweight, or someone more closely resembling one than Amir. On the other hand, while many observers are glad to see Khan fight someone of significance—as opposed to the Algieris and Alexanders of the world—unless the Brit pulls off a monumental upset against Canelo, his challenge of the Mexican will fail to answer the question of whether he is indeed an elite talent, or just a very good boxer. Matches with Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter or Kell Brook would’ve been far more relevant to that end–not to mention winnable–for the Brit.
History of the "155lb WBC title":
1900-2015: DID NOT EXIST
— Tom Craze (@TomCraze) February 2, 2016
Boxing as a sport, as opposed to boxing as show business, is about the best fighting the best to find the true boss in each division. With that in mind, and for argument’s sake, let’s pretend for a moment that Khan signed up to face Canelo purely out of a desire to reach greatness (and not chasing a paycheck, like his failed chasing of aging stars Mayweather and Pacquiao suggests). Let’s also pretend Khan has the attributes to give Canelo a competitive fight (a not insignificant allowance). In short, let’s pretend everyone who pays for #CaneloKhan gets their money’s worth and more, maybe even a Fight of the Year candidate.
Even if all that turned out to be true, how can anyone justify a match staged between a man who regularly climbs into the ring as a light heavyweight and a smaller man who has never before weighed in above the welterweight limit? In other words, is #CaneloKhan, with the grossly uneven playing field it presents in Canelo’s favor, more likely to be an event to endear boxing to the masses, or one that puts another nail in the sport’s coffin as far as casual fans and the mainstream media are concerned?
Think about it. Taking the tremendous size differential into account—and Khan’s susceptibility to even middling power like Danny Garcia‘s or Julio Diaz’—chances are slim Canelo vs Khan will yield a competitive bout, and there exists the possibility we could see Khan suffer physical trauma under as prominent a spotlight as the sport will enjoy this year. This should be even more grating for fight fans when one considers that there are perfectly willing and able middleweight challengers available, but Canelo has elected to instead grant a welterweight a shot at his title instead of defending it against a 160-pounder. Ugly enough for you?
— Amir Khan (@amirkingkhan) February 2, 2016
That being said, Amir Khan is indubitably the biggest winner of the #CaneloKhan announcement. His name is all of a sudden in everyone’s mouth, and the allegations of ducking dangerous welterweights have subsided given that he’s willing to take a beating from Canelo—albeit for the right sum of money. Further, and despite what the detractors might say, Khan has put himself in a can’t-lose situation: no one expects him to beat Canelo, so a loss won’t be held against him. Khan will thus enjoy the biggest paycheck of his career and earn tremendous exposure while hedging a possible loss with the option to come back down to welterweight after the Canelo engagement. We can only imagine what a win against Canelo, far-fetched as it may be, would do for Khan’s career. Kudos to Khan for a well-played hand.
Biggest Winner – Runner-up
And kudos as well to Oscar De La Hoya, who will stage what could be the biggest PPV of 2016. Perhaps more impressively in the social media era, the Golden Boy kept the whole thing under wraps during its gestation period, denying detractors the chance to kill the match before arrival, instead walloping them with the announcement when they least expected it. Finally, by letting Khan—an Al Haymon client and PBC star—fight Canelo, Oscar may just succeed in convincing Khan to switch allegiance and become once again a Golden Boy-promoted boxer, robbing Haymon of an important asset at the same time. Well played, Oscar. Well played.
Biggest Winner – Third place
#CaneloKhan, whatever its merits as a fight, will be a financial blockbuster, and no one will make more money off it than the kid from Juanacatlan, Canelo Alvarez. Once heralded as a beacon of ambition in a sport where the biggest names usually fall prey to contentment, the Mexican is doing all he can to fall back in step with the times. Following his lifting of the middleweight title from Miguel Cotto, Canelo has refused to defend it against the number one challenger in Gennady Golovkin. Delaying that encounter to take on Amir Khan is a shrewd business move, as the Brit represents an extremely winnable fight and an exceedingly profitable outing. With legacy and fighting pride fading into irrelevance in the rearviewmirror, the ginger is riding his popularity all the way to the bank.
Not that anyone is keeping count, but Canelo Alvarez is the third straight lineal middleweight champion to dodge the challenge of Gennady Golovkin, and so the Kazakh terror is clearly the biggest loser of #CaneloKhan. Some point out GGG has the WBC’s word that Canelo will have to face him in September or risk losing his belt, yet we all know what the Sulaiman clan’s word is worth: absolute dog shit. What is the most feared middleweight in the planet to do if he just doesn’t get his shot at the crown? Well, fight Dominic Wade, apparently, who’s not even ranked in the top 10 in the division. But, hey, at least he competes in the same weight class! Bad as all this is, Gennady must stay focused and pray day and night Khan doesn’t pull off the upset, since the contract with Canelo stipulates a rematch clause for Canelo which, if enacted, would further keep GGG watching and waiting while two self-declared non-middleweights fight a second time for a belt that has the Kazakh’s name all over it.
Biggest Loser – Honorable mention
Spare a thought for hardcore fight fans, the ones who duly pay their cable bills and pay-per-view fees, the ones who buy tickets for low-key shows and are priced out of premium “events,” who put more value on a fighter’s record and skills than on the size of their twitter following or spending habits. Those who take the bait when a fighter says he’s a throwback, because they remember how great boxing can be. Spare a thought for them, because they’re once again getting the shaft from one of the biggest names in the sport who promised something better. By choosing Khan over Golovkin, Canelo is betraying the fans he says he wants to please and the legacy he said he intended to build. And while it’s not a novel thing for a rich and famous prizefighter to renege on the promises he made on his climb to the top, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth our time pointing it out. The stakeholders of #CaneloKhan will win big on May 7, but their haul will come at the cost of hardcore fans.