Canelo Álvarez Is Back, and Boxing Is Back to Its Usual Uncertainty


Four days earlier than Saul Álvarez and Billy Joe Saunders had been scheduled to meet in a high-stakes boxing match at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, organizers had been giddy over the ticket gross sales projections for his or her super-middleweight title battle on Saturday night time.

Eddie Hearn, the promoter and the pinnacle of Matchroom Boxing, stated the matchup — between Álvarez, a 30-year-old from Mexico nicknamed Canelo who holds the W.B.C. and W.B.A. titles at 168 kilos, and Saunders, the undefeated W.B.O. champion from England — was anticipated to yield a sellout of 70,000 tickets.

That determine, Hearn stated, could be a document for an indoor boxing match within the United States, surpassing the 63,350 spectators on the Superdome in New Orleans for a Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks battle in 1978. The attendance would even be the newest signal of a basic opening up of huge occasions within the nation as pandemic-related restrictions have eased, permitting substantial crowds for the N.F.L. draft and the Kentucky Derby, in addition to the enlargement of capacities at baseball and basketball video games.

“This is boxing. Saturday night, the world will be watching,” Hearn stated. “It’s so encouraging.”

But Saunders almost derailed the occasion on Wednesday when he threatened to stroll away over the scale of the ring. The fighters had agreed on a hoop dimension that’s pretty commonplace — 20 toes by 20 toes. But Saunders demanded an even bigger ring — 22 toes on all sides — and issued an ultimatum to Álvarez’s camp. Saunders instructed Hearn to fly him again to England if Álvarez refused, and for just a few tense hours, battle followers fearful the bout is perhaps off.

Álvarez agreed to the expanded ring, although it figured to favor Saunders, an elusive boxer who wants room to function. .

Only boxing may serve up that sort of last-minute plot twist. Imagine the N.F.L. letting groups negotiate the scale of the sector, or the Red Sox refusing to play the Yankees until they agreed to shorten the sport to six innings. This flirtation with self-sabotage, simply days earlier than the largest battle to date this yr, urged that the boxing trade was easing again into prepandemic habits.

The sport was urgent ahead amid its typical long-term uncertainty, whereas Álvarez ready to face Saunders in a conflict of world champions with a mixed document of 85-1-2.

“I’ve been in a lot of important fights. This is another day at the office,” Álvarez stated at a prefight information convention. “I always go 100 percent. Boxing is my life. I’m here to win.”

In 2018, Golden Boy Promotions, which represented Álvarez, signed a $365 million contract with DAZN, the streaming service carrying Saturday’s battle. The deal relied on Álvarez’s drawing energy and assured 11 Álvarez bouts. Then his relationship with Golden Boy dissolved in a flurry of lawsuits, however he and his built-in viewers remained with DAZN. Outside the heavyweight division, Álvarez is the largest single attract aggressive boxing.

That distinction is vital whereas the game rides out a wave of attention-grabbing novelty fights. A November exhibition between Roy Jones Jr. and Mike Tyson (mixed age: 105) spawned negotiations for more such bouts, including ones pitting Jones against Joe Calzaghe and the 63-year-old Thomas Hearns and a possible rematch between Tyson and Lennox Lewis.

Then there’s Jake Paul, the YouTube personality-turned-boxer who parlayed a knockout of a retired basketball player, Nate Robinson, on the Tyson-Jones undercard into a pay-per-view windfall for a bout against a retired mixed martial arts fighter, Ben Askren. On Thursday afternoon, Paul received more attention after he and Floyd Mayweather Jr. traded insults and shoves at an event hyping Mayweather’s June 6 exhibition against Paul’s brother, Logan.

Those events might not captivate the avid boxing fans who plan a Saturday night around Álvarez and Saunders, but they attract the broad audiences that turn title fights into big mainstream events. Hearn acknowledges that boxing’s stakeholders will need to plan countermoves.

“If the fight game doesn’t step up and make great fights, we’ll get overtaken,” he said.

Saunders’s prefight gambit aside, Saturday’s bout is the opposite of a novelty. Saunders, 31, is a hard-to-hit southpaw who has won all 30 of his pro fights. He moved up to the 168-pound weight class in 2019, has defended his title twice, and has said he will not be satisfied to simply share the ring with Álvarez.

“I don’t think we’ve had anybody come to win for a very, very long time,” Saunders said, referring to Álvarez’s recent opponents. “We’ve had a lot of people turn up, fly in, collect checks and fly out. But we haven’t had the heart and soul and I.Q. that I will bring to the table.”

The last time Álvarez faced a fighter as committed to movement and defense as Saunders is, he lost. That was in 2013, when he faced Mayweather. Since then, Álvarez has collected 14 victories and briefly moved up to the light-heavyweight division, where he knocked out Sergey Kovalev for a world title.

“He’s a great fighter,” Álvarez said of Saunders at a news conference on Thursday. “But I’m not the same fighter I was six or seven years ago.”

Álvarez remains a key component of DAZN’s plan to expand its presence in the United States. In other countries, the streaming service has rights for events like N.F.L. games, Premier League soccer and international rugby. But in the United States it has positioned itself as a boxing-first platform, putting it in competition with the premium cable outlet Showtime and the streaming service FITE TV.

DAZN has deals with Álvarez and the middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, who fought Álvarez to a draw in 2017 and lost a close decision to him the following year. Joe Markowski, the company’s executive vice president, has been explicit about DAZN’s desire for a third fight between them. But Golovkin would almost certainly have to add weight and move up to Álvarez’s division, and he recently turned 39, raising questions about how long he can compete at the most elite level. Álvarez maintains that if he beats Saunders he would rather fight the American super-middleweight Caleb Plant than face Golovkin again.

“What we respect about Canelo is his pursuit of greatness,” Markowski said, referring to Álvarez’s aspiration to unify the 168-pound title. “If he beats Saunders, the last piece of that puzzle is Caleb Plant. But the Golovkin fight holds a special place in the hearts of boxing fans.”

Plant, the International Boxing Federation champion, is signed with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, which has partnerships with Fox and Showtime. Working out a deal between him and Álvarez would mean more wrangling over purse splits, promotional rights and broadcast platforms, which in turn could lead to typical boxing chaos. Last month, the heavyweight champions Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury reportedly had a $150 million deal for a fight in Saudi Arabia. Then, suddenly, they didn’t.

Saturday’s bout will happen, but nothing beyond Álvarez-Saunders is guaranteed. Boxing fans recognize that uncertainty. For them, it’s a sign the sport is back to normal.



Source link Nytimes.com

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