Creating Boxing’s Next Cash Cow

Mayweather vs Pacquiao signaled a change of order in boxing as the sport will need new stars to supplant these two as its biggest attractions. Who will step up, and, perhaps more importantly, how can it be done? Using a three-pronged rubric to break down a fighter’s capacity to ascend boxing’s mountain, we assess the potential of different boxers to become the ‘next one’. In Part One we considered the possibility that Gennady Golovkin could reach the pinnacle. In the second installment of ‘Creating the Next Cash Cow’, we look at Mexican junior middleweight Canelo Alvarez:

Record: 45-1
Age: 24
Division: Jr. Middleweight
Last Opponent: James Kirkland (2015-05-11) KO3
Next Opponent: ?
Network: HBO
Promoter: Oscar De La Hoya, Golden Boy Promotions

Style and brand: To talk about Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’s potential for boxing superstardom is to state the obvious. This is particularly true after his recent demolition of James Kirkland, a tough, if highly flawed fighter Canelo stopped inside of four rounds at Houston’s Minute Maid Park two weeks ago. Over 31,000 fans attended that fight. I suspect few left with ambivalent feelings about whether they’d like to see him again.

Despite his young age, Canelo has been a mainstream name for some time. In September 2013 he fought, and lost, to Floyd Mayweather, thus experiencing, at only 23, the pressure of playing a central role in a super fight. Already 42-0-1, Alvarez’s record was inflated by many of the wins he picked up against nondescript opposition in Mexico, plus an assortment of contenders and once-greats in the United States, like Kermit Cintron, Josesito Lopez, Austin Trout, and Shane Mosley, the four men he fought in succession in the lead up to his bout with Mayweather (Trout was undefeated when he fought Canelo). Of course, Floyd gave him a boxing lesson, and it was clear Alvarez was completely out of his depth, playing chess against a grandmaster too canny to expose his king.

Floyd-Mayweather-Jr-and-Canelo-Alvarez
Floyd gave the youthful Alvarez a boxing lesson.

Following the loss to Mayweather, Alvarez stopped Alfredo Angulo and then outpointed Erislandy Lara. These were both résumé building wins, and solidified his reputation as young fighter keen on facing the best competition, regardless of their style. Whether a master boxer, as in Mayweather’s case, a talented runner like Lara, or a violent thumper like James Kirkland, Alvarez will fight you. It is a rare approach in an age where some of the freshest young talents are afraid of jeopardizing their puffy records.

The other half of the Canelo’s appeal, which has little to do with boxing, is his boilerplate charm. Despite his Mexican heritage he has the craggy handsomeness of an Irish dockworker, and like Oscar De La Hoya before him he’s gained a sizeable female following. Canelo rarely says anything that deviates from a prepared PR script, except that yearns to box, as if, without boxing and the opportunity to fight he would be existentially incomplete. His public persona is somewhat removed, which is similar to that of many athletic prodigies who are in the spotlight for so long, and from such a young age, that they eventually develop a merrily bland way of dealing with the media so as not to expose their true selves and become targets of criticism.

Canelo is an amalgam of Mexican heart and heritage, boxing talent, personal inoffensiveness, and sexual charm. That’s an appealing blend, and can be reliably bought and sold.

External Variables: Floyd Mayweather is still the champion at 154 lbs, where Canelo hovers impatiently underneath. After Alvarez there is an assortment of names at jr. middleweight, none of which portend much excitement for boxing fans. He’s already beaten Lara and Trout, after which there are undefeated challengers like Demetrius Andrade and the Charlo brothers, who no one is clamoring for him to face.

Now, save Mayweather, Canelo could fight these men, and though he’d be favoured to beat each they still represent risk for little reward. Alvarez’s star won’t ascend by vanquishing a Charlo, but it will be diminished if he loses. There are other, truly big fights to be made right now, and he should take advantage.

canelo-alvarez-vs-erislandy-lara-08-photo-by-naoki-fukuda
Canelo’s already beaten the slick Lara, and there are few enticing opponents for him at 154 lbs.

Matchmaking: Because of Golden Boy’s superb matchmaking in getting Kirkland in with Canelo, Alvarez has three chances to make huge money fights: against Miguel Cotto, Floyd Mayweather, and Gennady Golovkin.

The fight Alvarez should make first is against Miguel Cotto, who is still the lineal champion at 160 lbs (even though he’s a true jr. middleweight). Of course, many want Cotto fight Gennady Golovkin, but that seems unlikely, given Cotto’s unwillingness to get in with the hyper-dangerous ‘GGG’. It is far easier to envision him accepting Alvarez as an opponent, since Cotto stands to make more money against Canelo and the potential for getting severely hurt is significantly less. It would be a dream fight for marketers, since it would pit two superstars with immense native fan bases against one another. There have been many historic Puerto Rico-Mexico showdowns in boxing, and this would carry as much weight as any. It could also be staged in any of the big American fight markets, whether Texas, Nevada, California, or New York, and could fill a football stadium.

Assuming he gets past Cotto, Alvarez should turn to Floyd Mayweather next and demand a rematch for their 2013 fight. This would presumably happen next year, and would thus require Floyd to renege on his promise to retire after this September’s fight against an opponent who’s still to be named. The marketing pitch would be simple: Floyd is coming back for one more fight against boxing’s best young gun, who’s desirous for revenge after being taken advantage of as a green 23 year old, who’s cleaned up the jr. middleweight division and who Floyd must beat to move to 50-0 and surpass Rocky Marciano’s record, after which he can retire in peace. If Canelo creates enough momentum, this is possible, and it would make for another bonanza.

Golovkin_and_Alvarez_after_sparring
They’ve sparred, but we want to see them fight.

Getting past Mayweather is no easy feat, obviously, and there is no guarantee Floyd will be willing to return once his Showtime contract ends. If that fight can’t be made Canelo should look to Gennady Golovkin next. The scariest man at 160 lbs, if not all of boxing, Golovkin-Alvarez is a fabulous stylistic matchup featuring two highly competent boxer-punchers, with the advantage in power clearly held by Golovkin. After beating Kirkland, Alvarez said he will fight ‘GGG’ but his handlers might be wary of making this match right away, since there are safer options for more money. It might be more difficult sidestepping the public, though. Golovkin’s management is eagerly courting Mexican fans, and you can bet they will campaigning loudly for this fight.

It could be argued that Canelo would be wise to wait, both until Golovkin becomes even more popular (for instance, after he fights Froch, if that is to happen), and after he crosses over onto the wrong side of 35. We might have to exercise some patience for this match, but it should happen eventually.

As an added incentive, it should be noted that Canelo can lose to any one of these stars and emerge largely unaffected. Youth is an effective excuse for explaining away a loss, particularly when it comes against boxing’s best in an era when many fighters reach their full maturity well into their thirties. In other words, a defeat to Cotto wouldn’t necessarily prohibit Canelo from making a rematch with Floyd, and certainly not Golovkin, who desperately wants an opponent with Alvarez’s popularity. The young man holds all the cards.

Potential: Alvarez’s potential to become a boxing superstar is stronger than anyone’s at present, given his unique combination of options and talent. He is young, skilled, exciting, good-looking, already followed by millions, and he’s eager to impress. And, unlike Roman Gonzalez, he fights in a weight class that casual fans care about. Everything is in place for him to achieve stardom. The boxing world is his to take.

— Eliott McCormick

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