There are journalists and there are fans. I periodically write about boxing, but I don’t claim to be a serious reporter and I hope I never do. You hear guys who do this kind of thing full-time — sports analysts, pundits, talking heads — and they’ll tell you how they used to be a fan, they used to care who won or lost, but now it’s just a job. They prepare their articles or their spiels for radio or TV, blab away, spouting sentiments they half-believe in, and eventually it all becomes empty, just a way to pay the bills.
Me, I don’t want to lose my spirit, my fervor for the fight game. I’m still a fan, and like Al Pacino, I gotta hold on to my angst. This isn’t a job for me; it’s not even a sideline. It’s a passion. Boxing is in my blood and, God help me, I actually care about this so-called sport. Which is why, right now, I’m seriously ready to get down on my knees and petition the big man in the sky for something no one thinks can happen tomorrow night. I’m praying that Danny Jacobs shocks the boxing world and beats up Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
I don’t think it will happen. In fact, I’m on record as picking Canelo to win, most likely by decision, maybe by knockout. I think the Mexican, beyond being a highly skilled boxer, is just too sturdy and too powerful for Jacobs. But rarely have I ever wanted more to be wrong about a fight.
“Hate” is maybe too strong a word, after all I don’t know the man, but I really, really dislike Canelo Alvarez. And I believe I have every right to feel that way. In fact, there are very sound reasons for anyone who cares about boxing to loathe this man and it bothers me that more people don’t voice similar sentiments. Yeah, I know, he’s only 28, highly talented, has already put together a career worthy of Canastota.
As well, he is at present boxing’s premier global superstar, a fact proven by his unprecedented contract with DAZN, a commitment reportedly worth $365 million dollars, a sum I can barely get my head around. Given his popularity among legions of Latin-American fight fans, his ability to “make it rain,” as they say, to bring millions of eyeballs to boxing, along with his undeniable talent, why does he arouse such resentment and anger?
Not long ago I spelled out in detail my answer to that question when I disqualified him from my “pound-for-pound” rankings. Yes, I know, he actually is one of the best boxers on the planet, pound-for-pound. But my tongue-in-cheek list was meant, more than anything else, to inspire discussion and debate. And what I want debated and questioned is less the standing of Canelo Alvarez as a pugilist, and more the fact that he keeps getting away with shit he shouldn’t get away with.
It boils down to four basic facts. One, he’s a repeat offender in terms of bullshit catch-weights and taking gratuitous advantage of the day-before weigh-in. Two, he shamelessly ducked Gennady Golovkin. Three, he was caught using a performance enhancing drug. And four, he has never suffered a serious sanction of any kind for any of this and instead, thanks to some very dubious verdicts in his bouts with Golovkin, he has profited handsomely.
The bottom line is he is a walking endorsement for being a dishonorable competitor, because in the end it’s smart business: you guarantee yourself an edge, fair or unfair, exploit every possible angle, even cheat, but you get away with it and as a result you get the jackpot. Call me old-fashioned or idealistic, but I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to be. I like to think I would never conduct myself that way and I can’t respect anyone who does.
Re-hydrating after the weigh-in to the tune of fifteen or twenty extra pounds should not be allowed. Ducking your most deserving rival should not be allowed. And the so-called punishment for getting caught using a banned substance, when you customarily compete only two or three times a year, should not be a meaningless backdated suspension of only six months. Further, when you clearly lose a fight, you shouldn’t get a draw. And when you are out-fought in the pivotal final round of a razor close battle, two of the three judges shouldn’t award you that round and thus the match.
How can anyone cheer for this guy? He’s too lucky and he’s got too many vested interests, including the odious WBC, openly backing him. There’s too many things that go his way to believe that something weird isn’t at play, something less than honest. Don’t forget, his wins over Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara were questioned by more than a few, while one of the judges for his one-sided defeat to Floyd Mayweather somehow scored the match a draw, something which should have inspired a full-blown investigation. Bottom line: when it comes to fighting Canelo Alvarez, an entirely level playing field does not appear to exist and that’s the way he likes it. And that bothers me. And I think it should bother everyone else. That’s my “angst” talking, I guess. (But it keeps me sharp. On the edge. Where I gotta be.)
When a young fighter named Cassius Clay first burst onto the boxing scene almost 60 years ago, he inspired more alarm and dismay than anything else. But he sold tickets; he made the turnstiles sing. And for years, the majority of those ticket-buyers put their money down not so much to cheer for a particular fighter, but in the hopes of witnessing a particular outcome. They were unwitting rubes, falling as they did for Clay’s “Gorgeous George” act, their outrage over a young black man boasting and bragging motivating them to hand over their money.
So I guess I’m a rube too because my keen interest in tomorrow’s fight is all about the boxer I love to hate. I have no strong feelings for Danny Jacobs one way or the other, but I’ll be cheering for “Miracle Man” like I’ve bet my mortgage on him. But Muhammad Ali never ducked a competitor. And sure, he maybe got the benefit of the doubt sometimes on the judges’ cards, but he never sought an unfair advantage over an opponent, at least not that I know of. And in the later years of his career people were buying tickets not because they hated him, but because he was revered and loved, a legend, “The Greatest.”
Will I someday come to admire Canelo? Will I be able to forgive him? Maybe. I wouldn’t mind. One gets tired of being angry. So let’s have Danny Jacobs win tomorrow night. And then I’ll see if I can let go of my angst. — Robert Portis