By Jake Donovan
So how much more do we need to overlook in attempting to embrace Saul Alvarez’ HBO Boxing After Dark debut this weekend?
Arguably the most popular Mexican fighter in the sport today, the 20-year old manchild is slated for his first live HBO headliner this weekend, when he faces Matthew Hatton on Saturday evening in Anaheim, California.
Yet after all that has brushed aside in order to focus solely on what takes place in the ring, the latest stunt pulled by the event’s handlers has left a sour taste in the collective mouths of many in the boxing industry.
A strong push by Golden Boy Promotions to make this a title fight came to fruition last week, with the announcement coming during an international conference call no less. Despite the fight being contracted at a catchweight of 150 lb., Golden Boy managed to get the WBC to agree to put their vacant junior middleweight title at stake.
The latest news surrounding the fight is that it will now take place at the division’s full limit of 154 lb. Apparently the WBC couldn’t bear the criticism of staging consecutive vacant title fights at a catchweight limit, as was the case when Manny Pacquiao won the crown after dominating Antonio Margarito over 12 rounds last November, before vacating earlier this year.
Such a stance by the sanctioning body is a double-edged sword. It’s the right call on their part, as title fights should take place at the full divisional limit. Fighters should have the option to weigh at or below that mark rather than being forced to come in at a made-up weight.
However, to change the weight this late in the promotion only underlines the joke surrounding the belt being at stake in the first place, not to mention that the suggestion that the deck is now completely stacked against the visiting Hatton, who was already at a disadvantage in competing above the welterweight limit.
The sad part of it all is that none of the bells and whistles were necessary to sell this weekend’s fight as anything other than an Alvarez showcase.
From the moment the date was first reserved late last year, there has been a tremendous amount of anticipation surrounding his Boxing After Dark debut.
It had nothing to do with the opponent he’s facing, how he looked in his previous fight, or even what awaits his career with a win this weekend. It was just because Alvarez has grown into that much of attraction as he enters the prime years of his career.
So with that in mind, it was forgiven that last December’s 12-round decision win over Lovemore N’Dou wasn’t exactly a barnburner. After all, it takes two to tango and most will agree that N’Dou did little more than show up for a paycheck.
Perhaps he’ll look good the next time, we thought. Not to mention that even with more than 30 fights as a pro, he’s still only 20 years old and growing in and out of the ring.
The hope for this weekend being a fun action fight for however long it lasts was enough to atone for the fact that in the opposite corner will stand Matthew Hatton, Ricky’s younger and less accomplished brother.
It’s not a step up for Alvarez in terms of career progression, but instead more of the same. Hatton fought N’Dou to a draw a little over a year ago, though put together a nice run in 2010, including a quality win over former alphabet titlist Yuriy Nuzhnenko.
The year he led was enough to convince his critics that he’s not just along for the ride, though not quite enough to sell him as a legitimate contender.
It was enough, however, to land him the plum assignment of occupying the B-side of a fight that HBO and Golden Boy hope will mark Alvarez’ grand entrance as their next centerpiece.
The fight was finalized after plans fell through for Alvarez to challenge for his first major title. An offer was extended to undefeated welterweight titlist Viacheslav Senchenko, but the money wasn’t nearly enough to entice the Ukrainian to leave his home country.
No big deal; it can be argued that Alvarez first needed to enter the contender status of his career before being paraded around as a champion, even if the belt was of the paper variety.
Perhaps after Hatton, his handlers could begin eyeing legitimate Top 10 opposition either at 147 or 154. At which weight he would vie for his first title was always an open ended question.
The plan last year was to attempt to win a strap at 147, then perhaps immediately vacate and eye alphabet hardware at 154. A natural course of progression, as it stood to reason that he would grow into the junior middleweight division sooner rather than later.
Hopefully by then, resolution would come of his legal issues with previous promoter All-Star Boxing. News of their lawsuit resurfaced last month, when the Florida-based outfit hired a new lawyer to take up the case, which claims that they still have Alvarez under contract.
The pending case doesn’t seem to be enough to block this weekend’s fight from happening or even souring the mood. Press conferences and media day sessions have been scheduled all week, and Alvarez very much remains the center of attention ahead of Saturday’s showdown.
It appeared as if many were also looking to look the other way when it’s suggested that Alvarez and his handlers are looking to create their own weight class.
Had the original contract terms remained in play, this weekend would have been the Mexican’s fifth straight fight at or around the manufactured 150 lb. catchweight. It’s hardly of concern when nothing at all is at stake, nor is it uncommon to fight a few pounds above your targeted weight class when taking on opponents on the level of Jose Miguel Cotto.
However, a manufactured belt has been at stake for his past three fights. All came with the tagline of a junior middleweight title fight, despite none of them taking place at the actual junior middleweight limit.
The title at stake was obscure enough to where it didn’t become a very big part of the story. Instead, proper focus was paid to the impressive manner in which he handled and finished off the likes of Lucian Cuello and Carlos Baldomir, and that despite not providing thrills and chills in his win over N’Dou, still dominating a former titlist the way he did over 12 rounds.
Such is no longer the case going into this weekend’s fight, which is a tremendous disservice to both fighters. In particular to Alvarez, whose tremendous future upside should be the storyline, and not all of the absurd bells and whistles now surrounding the event.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .