Can boxing produce a new money star in the U.S. market? Canelo Alvarez wins showcase fight

By Jeremy Wall

If I could build a promotion for the long-term around any boxer on the planet, it would be Canelo Alvarez. He is only 24 and already has a 46-1-1 record, with the only loss being to Floyd Mayweather by majority decision in one of the biggest boxing pay per views in history. He’s already a legend with Mexican fans and he is only going to become a bigger draw. On Saturday, May 9th, he knocked out James Kirkland (31-2-0, 28KO) at 2:19 of the third round in a nasty brawl in front of 31,588 at Minute Maid Park in Houston at super welterweight.

“Last week was the past,” said Oscar De La Hoya, who promoted the fight under the Golden Boy banner. “Tonight, we witnessed the future.”

Kirkland, 31, was clearly brought in as a showcase opponent. He’s had a couple of long stints in prison and is referred to as the mini Mike Tyson, both for his look and for his pugnacious fighting style. He has virtually no defense. He is a brawler more than a boxer, always pressing forward until either he or his opponent hits the canvas. His promoter is rapper 50 Cent. His nickname is the Mandingo Warrior. Somewhere on Saturday night Vince McMahon was sitting around wonder what the hell is a Mandingo Warrior.

Alvarez knocked Kirkland down in the first round. Kirkland took so much abuse in this fight that it is hard to imagine this guy not having health problems when he is old. But he kept coming forward. He made the rest of round one and round two interesting, although Canelo won the second round, too.

After the first knockdown, though, Kirkland never seemed like he was altogether there. He hits hard and did just that on Canelo in the second, but ate a ton of leather in that round, too. In the third, Canelo knocked him down again. The ref could have stopped the fight at that point, but Kirkland got up. There were times in the third round when Kirkland was getting pummeled on the ropes and the ref could have stepped in, too. Finally, Canelo unleashed a vicious overhand right that put Kirkland to sleep on his feet. It was both disgusting and exciting, as you could see the years coming off Kirkland’s life as he fell prostrate to the canvas. The crowd loved it. It was what they came to see.

“I did not know I was knocked out,” Kirkland said.

“I knew that James is a strong fighter, but he did surprise me with his aggressiveness in the first and second rounds,” Alvarez said. “But once I dropped him the first time, I knew I had him.”

Canelo landed 79 of 132 power punches for a 60-percent connection rate, compared to 23-percent for Kirkland. Overall, Canelo landed 87 of 150 punches (58-percent) compared to Kirkland at 42 of 197 (21-percent). Kirkland had a bad night. His long-term trainer is Ann Wolfe, who didn’t train him for this bout. The last time she didn’t train Kirkland was for his bout against Nobuhiro Ishida in 2011, where Kirkland was stopped in the first round. The two split before this fight again, but apparently 50 Cent is hiring Wolfe to train Kirkland again after Saturday night’s result.

“What my emotion was — to see my family hold their faces, to see my son cry, to see James like that, to see his mother upset like that, see everybody upset… it wasn’t ‘I told you so, I’m happy because that happened to you.’ It was fucked up,” said Wolfe.

“I’m proud of him, he’s a true warrior, and I’m going to get him back with Ann Wolfe,” said 50 Cent.

“I believe we witnessed Hagler-Hearns all over again,” De La Hoya said. “It was action-packed, it was dramatic, and I believe Kirkland had Canelo a bit tired and maybe a bit shaken up.”

“I was not surprised because I did see [Canelo] in the gym and I witnessed him sparring,” De La Hoya added. “I was shocked by what I saw. I saw him grow into his man strength. He’s a complete fighter. He can box, he can fight and he’s a complete fighter.”

The fight aired on HBO and was promoted by Golden Boy. Canelo is a draw on pay per view and could have easily headlined another pay per view, although Kirkland may not have had the name to make a pay per view work. But in order to get Canelo scheduled the weekend after Cinco de Mayo, they would have to do the fight close to Mayweather-Pacquiao and there is no way anyone could follow that fight with another pay per view in May (or at least that is the theory, we will see how UFC does later in the month). Doing the fight the weekend after Cinco also means they could do a stadium show because of the hype of the Mexican star fighting on the holiday.

So, the fight aired on HBO instead of pay per view. It should draw well. Top HBO fights usually draw around 1.5 million. Wladimir Klitschko’s recent title defense from MSG drew 1.63 million, which is a great number. I would expect Canelo’s fight to be around that number, maybe not quite as high. It went up against UFC’s Fight Pass show from Australia, although I don’t think that will make a huge difference. The NHL playoffs and NBA playoffs are also underway, as well as the MLB season.

There was also a Premier Boxing show on CBS that afternoon on the other side of the state in Hidalgo. Premier and Golden Boy are in a nasty war, with Golden Boy recently filing a $300 million suit against Al Haymon. Premier headlined with Omar Figueora and was obviously trying to take advantage of Cinco by holding a major card just across the border in Hidalgo. Clearly they couldn’t counter program against Canelo on Saturday night, so they had a CBS card on Saturday afternoon. Premier’s CBS time buy is for Saturday afternoon shows, so booking a Saturday afternoon show this weekend made sense considering Canelo was fighting at Minute Maid Park on HBO at night.

Canelo was the second most searched for item on Google on Saturday, behind Mother’s Day. It is the third Saturday in a row where at least one boxer has placed in the top seven most Googled key words.

In his post-fight interview with Max Kellerman, Canelo said he would be interested in fighting either Miguel Cotto or Gennady Golovkin. Both would be huge fights. Both fighters are under contract to HBO and a Canelo-Cotto fight could easily draw well this fall on pay per view. It would take place around the same time as Floyd Mayweather’s next fight. Cotto, who is promoted by Jay Z’s Roc Nation, faces Daniel Geale June 6th at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on HBO. If Cotto beats Geale, and it is expected he will, that should setup Canelo vs Cotto on pay per view this fall.

“We’ll definitely be watching Cotto’s fight very closely,” De La Hoya said. “Our intention is to make a superfight, Canelo with Cotto. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll move on to Plan B.”

Golovkin is a different story. He fights at middleweight and is a little bit larger for Canelo. I think Canelo would be favoured to beat Cotto and it would be a good match for everyone involved. I think Golovkin would be the favourite to beat Canelo, though. It would draw well, too, although probably not as well as Canelo-Cotto. But I think it’s a riskier fight for Canelo, although it is something that could happen next year. Golovkin also doesn’t have many opponents who are drawing cards and a fight against Canelo might be the way to get the most mileage out of Golovkin at the box office.

A fight between Canelo and Golovkin is more likely to happen when Canelo moves up in weight. “In the future, why not?” said Canelo of fighting Golovkin. “I’m open to fighting anybody, but obviously he’s in a different division right now. I wouldn’t want to give anyone advantages, but when I move up eventually, why not? No problem.”

“Because GGG is a solid middleweight. And Canelo, he can make 154 with no problem,” De La Hoya said. “We have to keep in mind that Canelo has been out of the ring before this fight for about nine months, and he [still] did make the weight relatively easy. He looked strong. He looked in tremendous shape and made 154 and a half. We have to go back to the drawing board and discuss future plans and see what weight he feels comfortable at. But eventually he is going to grow into a middleweight and is going to fight GGG when the time is right.”

“And I can guarantee you one thing: People were talking about the superfight last weekend — you talk about a super-fight, a year and a half down the road, two years, GGG-Canelo would surpass any type of number or hype of last week’s fight, and it would guarantee action,” added De La Hoya. “The fans want to see fights. They want to see action. They know the game. And the world knows that GGG vs. Canelo down the road would be the next super, mega-fight.”

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Floyd Mayweather Sr was recently interviewed by ProBoxingInsider.com about the potential of his son facing Golovkin. “No, we not fixin’ to fight no damn giant,” said Floyd Sr. “Now they say that Floyd won’t beat him, but I’m just telling you because, the guy is probably just so big and strong, man. Floyd probably, all he would be doing is, he’d take a lot of punches. He’d come in, Floyd would run the stuff off of him. But the whole thing is, it’d be a struggle, but Floyd probably could beat him. I can’t say that he can’t beat him.”

Canelo, nevertheless, is one of the few stars Golden Boy has left. The Golden Boy roster was gutted after Al Haymon took all of his fighters away and formed Premier Boxing. Haymon provided the majority of fighters to Golden Boy, including most of their stars. Canelo is one of the few Golden Boy fighters not managed by Haymon and one of the few stars Golden Boy has left.

Golden Boy has a Fox Sports 1 TV deal called “LA Fight Club” and they need to focus on creating new stars rather than getting involved in trumped up lawsuits. But creating new stars is hard in this landscape with Premier holding most of the rest of boxing’s air time on free television. Bob Arum’s Top Rank also has deals with truTV (a new deal in response to Haymon taking so much TV time away from other promoters, including Friday Night Fights on ESPN2, as boxing is like any other sport and needs free TV to create stars and draw money) and on Spanish-language station UniMas. Jay-Z’s promotion has time buys on FS1 and BET.

But Canelo is Golden Boy’s golden meal ticket. If you’re going to build a promotion around any single fighter, right now Canelo is the one you want. Golden Boy doesn’t have much else, but if they can keep Canelo drawing at the box office for years to come, then they have that. After Mayweather and Pacquiao, Canelo is arguably the biggest draw in boxing and he is only going to get bigger.

For upcoming boxing, Arum’s Top Rank is on truTV on May 15, running against Friday Night Fights on ESPN2. Gennady Golovkin puts on drama show against Willie Monroe Jr on HBO in Inglewood on May 16th. Friday Night Fights has its series finale on May 22nd, going up against Golden Boy’s LA Fight Club on Fox Sports 1 and a smaller boxing show promoted by Roy Jones Jr on CBS Sportsnet. On May 23rd Premier is back on NBC for its third show on the network with James DeGale vs. Andre Dirrell. Premier is back on Spike on May 29th with Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri. June 4th is another broadcast of LA Fight Club on FS1 and June 6th is Cotto vs Geale on HBO.