LAS VEGAS — A few notes, new items and observations from the Miguel Cotto-Canelo Alvarez fight weekend.
A star is officially born
With Floyd Mayweather (ostensibly) retired, Alvarez was already among the biggest stars in boxing before he stepped into the ring with Cotto. Last Saturday’s decisive win might have pushed him to the top. Freddie Roach’s protests aside—and Roach was right, the scores (119–109, 118–110, 117–11) were too wide—this was a brilliant performance from Canelo. He looked stronger and sharper than Cotto while not looking at all out of place against a vastly more experienced opponent.
Alvarez is the new face of boxing. That is not in dispute. He’s enormously popular and is willing to fight anybody. That’s not lip service; Alvarez’s résumé is loaded with elite fighters from 147 to 154 pounds. He says he will fight Gennady Golovkin, and even if that is not his next fight, there is no reason to doubt that he will.
Said Canelo, “I’ll put the gloves on right now and fight him. I respect he’s a great champion. I know him. He’s a friend of mine. But right now I’ll put the gloves on against him.”
My prediction: With Alvarez determined to take over the two Mexican holiday weekends in May and September, he will target the later date for Golovkin. That will give Canelo time to take another middleweight fight—Andy Lee, who defends his version of the title next month, is a possibility—and further build a fall showdown.
Cotto will continue
In the immediate aftermath of Cotto-Canelo, I wondered: Would this be the last we see of Miguel Cotto? At 35, Cotto has had a long career, and the $15 million he made against Canelo would be a nice parachute. But talking to people close to Cotto, I’m now convinced we will see him again. Money is a factor; Cotto has a lucrative deal with Roc Nation that guarantees him sizable sums every time he gets in the ring. And despite losing to Alvarez, Cotto didn’t embarrass himself.
What is clear: Cotto has no business anywhere around 154 pounds. He was a small junior middleweight to begin with and that size disadvantage gets compounded when opponents balloon into the 170’s the night of the fight while Cotto struggles to crack 160. The problem I foresee with Cotto is opponents. The 154-pound division has some good fighters (Erislandy Lara, Demetrius Andrade) but few stars. One possibility: Tim Bradley. Bradley has made noise about moving up to 154 in the past and Cotto would be an ideal opponent against whom to do it.
A big 2016 for Sergey Kovalev?
That’s what Kathy Duva, Kovalev’s promoter, was selling at the press center last week. Duva already has one fight lined up: An anticipated showdown with Andre Ward that HBO has penciled in for next fall. But Duva continues to push to make a unification fight between Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, a fight that has been snake bitten since the negotiations started.
According to Duva, there have been productive conversations with Stevenson’s promoter, Yvon Michele. That could mean nothing; Al Haymon, Stevenson’s advisor, makes the final call on Stevenson’s fights. But the timing could be right. Stevenson has had an abysmal reign as 175-pound champion. He has fought a steady stream of mediocre competition and in two years he has gone from a rising star into a laughingstock. The 175-pound well has run dry (sorry, Edwin Rodriguez) and it’s hard to justify putting Stevenson on TV if he isn’t going to take a real fight.
Duva needs the fight to be on HBO. Kovalev is contractually tied to the network, and even if he wasn’t Duva isn’t going to detonate a relationship that provides Main Events’ most significant source of income for one fight. Stevenson has fought on Showtime, but he has also fought on the various networks associated with Haymon’s time-buy series. There is no reason why, for the right deal, Stevenson can’t move to HBO for one fight.
What is that deal? To me, Kovalev-Stevenson has no business being on pay-per-view. Boxing people have a tendency to use the fervor of fight fans to extrapolate potential interest from the mainstream. That doesn’t work. Kovalev is a rising star in boxing. But I’d bet most average sports fans have no idea who he is. And Stevenson? I’ve seen Stevenson walk through arenas in Canada, his adopted country, with no one recognizing him. Are casual U.S. fans going to? I doubt it. Could it generate 100,000 buys? Probably. There are enough hardcore fans who have been waiting for the matchup to do that. Anything more than that would be challenging.
What Duva needs is for HBO to step up and offer a license fee in the $4-5 million range. That should be enough to cover the costs and put it on the platform it should be on.
Kovalev-Stevenson would probably take place in Canada, and this brings me to another problem with Kovalev. He has no fan base. None. He’s the best light heavyweight in boxing, among the best pound-for-pound, and he doesn’t draw crowds anywhere. He’s a 175-pound Tim Bradley. In January, Kovalev is going back to Montreal to fight Jean Pascal in a rematch. Why? Because it’s the easiest way to make money. Long term, it’s foolish.
Kovalev should be fighting in New York. He should be fighting in the Barclays Center, where he could tap into the Brooklyn’s multicultural fan base, or at Madison Square Garden. He should have done that in 2014, when he fought Bernard Hopkins in Atlantic City. AC offered more money, but the long term benefit of building a fan base in New York is far more valuable. Ask Golovkin, who fought his first fight at the Garden in 2013, as a champion, on an undercard. He headlined the Theatre in ’14 and last month he sold out MSG for his fight against David Lemieux. This is a path that, perplexingly, Kovalev has elected not to take.
I wouldn’t fight Pascal again. It’s a decent fight but it’s hard to see Pascal having a better chance the second time around. Kovalev should be fighting in January, in the Theatre, against Seanie Monaghan, an undefeated 175-pound contender who is a proven ticket seller in New York. Is Monaghan a better fight? Heck no. But it’s a way to build Kovalev in a fan-friendly fight in a sold-out venue.
If Stevenson is next, that’s in New York, too. Maybe in the main room at MSG or in Brooklyn. After two fights in New York, Kovalev will have built a home base that will make a Ward fight even bigger. Duva firmly believes that Ward-Kovalev could sell out MSG. She is one of very few who does. She thinks that New York fans will buy tickets to see two of the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. I think that without a proper buildup—read: Kovalev and Ward fighting on the same card in New York in the spring—ticket sales would be a disaster.
To me, there is a clear path to building Kovalev into more of a mainstream star. It just requires some concessions to be made by fighter and promoter both. That’s easier said than done, of course; it’s not my money that would be left on the table. But Golovkin is an example for how to build a fan-friendly, Russian fighter into a ticket seller in the U.S. The blueprint is there, if Kovalev is willing to follow it.
What’s Plan B for Gennady Golovkin?
Last Saturday, Golovkin sat on a couch in his suite in the Mandalay Bay, surrounded by a smattering of media and an impressive collection of belts. The IBF, WBA, IBO and WBC all recognize Golovkin as a champion, and Golovkin has the hardware to prove it. But sitting there, Golovkin made it clear: Belts are great. But he wants the big fights.
Are they out there? Consider this scenario, one I think is likely: Alvarez passes on a Golovkin fight, at least until September. Instead, he takes on Andy Lee or Timothy Bradley. If it’s Bradley, Lee pivots to the winner of next month’s fight between Peter Quillin and Daniel Jacobs. That leaves Golovkin, again, searching for opposition. One opponent would be Tureano Johnson, the IBF mandatory challenger. That fight could happen in February or March. After that? Golovkin would be left waiting on the outcome of Alvarez’s fight in May, hoping that Canelo will decide to face him.
And if he doesn’t? There is not a lot out there at 160 pounds. He could mine the 154-pound division for opponents like Erislandy Lara or Demetrius Andrade, but those are hardly exciting options. Realistically, the best Golovkin could do would be staying active, fighting three or four times next year.
“Gennady can never be accused of not taking the most dangerous fights, of never searching for the best fights,” Loeffler said. “But if Canelo says he isn’t going to fight him in May, we aren’t going to wait for anyone.”
Not securing a Canelo fight would have to be bitterly disappointing for Golovkin, who has done everything to make himself appealing to the biggest names in and around his division. He’s the unquestioned king of the middleweights, he’s a proven ticket seller and he is coming off a productive pay-per-view that generated 150,000 buys, a solid number for a PPV debut. Yet it seems that unless he is willing to dangle gold bricks above the ring apron, some fighters are going to do whatever they can to avoid facing him.
As the media event wound down, I asked Golovkin if he still had the same energy he did when he first started fighting in the U.S., in 2012.
“I understand my job and I understand my situation,” Golovkin said. “The first thing I want, I want all the belts. The second thing, I want a big, big fight. That’s my dream. I have plenty of energy. I’m more serious about my career than ever. I know this is my time. I know every step is bigger. I know every step is more serious. Every fight is bigger. I will get what I want. I know I’m a little old [he is 33] but I still feel that I have time. I think I will fight for another five years. I can do this.”