by David P. Greisman
It is a fight that has been a long time coming, but it has not at all been a long time in the making.
Canelo Alvarez will face Erislandy Lara this Saturday in a pay-per-view main event. Theirs is a pairing that many of us believed would never happen.
That is because Alvarez was one of the prized prospects within the Golden Boy Promotions stable. He has since become a cash cow, the biggest boxing star in Mexico today and a crossover success within the United States as well. He draws big ratings and sells tickets no matter which of the two countries he fights in.
That is what was expected of Alvarez. That is why we felt Lara was being kept away from him.
Lara was one we felt could expose the fraud we felt was being perpetuated, whose skill and experience would be too much for a fighter whose main selling point was the fact that he was a red-haired, fair-skinned Mexican and a handsome young man. Alvarez’s opponents often were smaller fighters, or older fighters, or smaller, older fighters. He was making big money, building a fan base and being steered toward major fights. Lara, meanwhile, was not.
We felt it unjust, particularly so since they shared the same promoter. But we also understood. This is a business. Canelo Alvarez is good business. No matter how good a boxer Erislandy Lara is, he has not been anywhere near as magnetic of an attraction.
This fight, then, is a matter of privilege. Lara feels Alvarez had been handled with kid gloves and is about to receive a hard lesson.
It is a matter of prestige. Both men have much to gain with a win.
And it is a matter of pride. Alvarez didn’t have to take this match, but is doing so, in part, to show that it’s not just how he looks that lands him in big bouts, but also how well he fights.
Alvarez turned pro at 15 years old and was just 19 years old, and 31-0, when he fought on the televised undercard of a Floyd Mayweather pay-per-view in May 2010. He appeared slow in that win over Jose Miguel Cotto, the smaller brother of Miguel Cotto. Jose Miguel was 15 to 20 pounds heavier than his prime fighting weight in the bout with Alvarez, and yet he was able to hurt Alvarez early. Alvarez came back and scored the technical knockout.
The development continued: a win over the faded Carlos Baldomir came on the September 2010 undercard to Shane Mosley vs. Sergio Mora. A pair of HBO appearances in the first half of 2011 brought wins over Matthew Hatton and Ryan Rhodes.
The Hatton win also brought a vacant world title at 154 pounds, a belt essentially handed to Alvarez so that the World Boxing Council could exact its sanctioning fees from the rising star. By later that year, Alvarez was in the main event at Staples Center, though not the headline bout on the broadcast — he drew ticket buyers into the arena in Los Angeles, and he helped draw more eyeballs to televisions to watch Mayweather take on Victor Ortiz in a ring hours to the east in Las Vegas. Alvarez wrapped up in 2011 with another spotlight, a stoppage of Kermit Cintron.
Once more in 2012, Alvarez took part in a Mayweather pay-per-view, beating up the aged Mosley right before Mayweather took on Miguel Cotto. Later that year, Alvarez was to headline his first pay-per-view show, but the opponents kept falling out; Paul Williams suffered a career-ending injury in a motorcycle crash, Victor Ortiz suffered a broken jaw in an upset loss to Josesito Lopez, and James Kirkland refused to return sooner than expected from an injury given the level of compensation that was being offered. Alvarez defeated Lopez easily on Showtime instead.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Alvarez truly started to earn respect. He faced Austin Trout, a capable boxer who, like Alvarez, had performed decently against those he’d faced but had not yet truly faced top opposition. Alvarez won by unanimous decision.
It was clear that the move to 154, and the continued development, had brought visible improvement. Alvarez didn’t look as slow, nor as limited. He still wouldn’t have anywhere near enough to defeat his next foe: Mayweather.
Alvarez-Mayweather, held last September, was as much a business transaction as it was a boxing match. It was the most lucrative event ever held in this sport. Mayweather got his record-breaking payday. Alvarez got the rub of being in the ring with the biggest star and the best boxer around. Mayweather won the decision, and Alvarez got to move on with finally trying to establish himself.
Part of doing that is getting consumers in the habit of buying his pay-per-views. Alvarez served as the A-side this past March in his win over Alfredo Angulo.
The other part, though, is facing the other top junior middleweights. Alvarez could’ve made big money against many other opponents. He didn’t have to meet Lara.
“I’ve accomplished so much at such a young age, but I’m still not satisfied,” Alvarez was quoted as saying in the first episode of Showtime’s “All Access” series for this bout.
“I want to be so much more. I have the opportunity to choose my opponents, the same as [Manny] Pacquiao or Mayweather. But the difference is I choose the most dangerous opponents,” he said. “Oscar [De La Hoya, his promoter] advised me not to take the fight with Lara, but I want to fight the most dangerous opponents and win this fight for pride.”
While Alvarez had a minimal amateur career before turning pro, Lara came from one of the best amateur programs in the world. He was a top welterweight from Cuba and a 2005 world champion — and he, like others from that country’s athletic system, wanted more. He wanted out.
He attempted to defect once in 2007, only to be caught and returned. He got away for good in 2008.
“If I had stayed in Cuba, I would’ve been like the other boxers in Cuba who stand around drunk on the street corners,” Lara told Showtime’s documentary crew. “They are disasters.”
For whatever reason, the major American promoters do little to push their Cuban boxers — who arrive in the pro ranks with refined skills and accumulated experience — as the stars they could become. Perhaps part of that is because the promoters feel there isn’t much potential for these fighters to build fan bases, be they ethnic or otherwise. Perhaps the promoters feel that a style made for amateur success doesn’t make for entertaining action in the pro ranks.
There’s some truth to that, but promoters also could seek to break away from such self-fulfilling prophecies. Either way, Lara didn’t do himself any favors when he fought Carlos Molina to a controversial draw in March 2011. Nor were any favors done for him when two judges robbed him of a victory over Paul Williams that July.
His career’s seen fits and starts since then: a one-round blowout of Ronald Hearns, followed by a decision over Freddy Hernandez and a technical draw with Vanes Martirosyan. He had an entertaining battle with Alfredo Angulo last year, winning via 10th-round stoppage when a punch drew significant swelling around Angulo’s eye. That bout was followed, however, by a less-than-pleasing decision win over Trout. Lara made it look easy, but he didn’t make himself look enjoyable.
“Fighters know the danger I pose in the ring,” Lara told Showtime. “I’m a smart and challenging boxer.”
That usually means that a boxer poses plenty of risk while bringing too little reward.
Alvarez, however, will sell no matter the opponent. In this case, the reward Lara brings isn’t money, but meaning.
That meaning has been there all along. Now, though, Lara has finally done enough to get Alvarez’s attention, particularly with him joining Canelo on the dais following Alvarez’s win over Angulo.
“He said he wouldn’t fight me, to wait my turn when it came. So what did I do? I shot strong words at him so he would have no other choice,” Lara said.
Said Alvarez: “Him talking so much was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
So we finally get the fight between Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara. There is much in the balance for both:
Privilege. Prestige. Pride. And proof.
The 10 Count
1. This was the first weekend in quite some time without a major boxing card — three months, really. And so those of us who were truly desperate, truly addicted, truly masochistic or some combination of those three decided to log on Sunday afternoon to a stream of a fight card taking place in Russia in the Chechen capital of Grozny.
It was there, at the Ahmat Arena, that Ruslan Chagaev faced Fres Oquendo in a bout that we would have cared even less about had it not been for the trinket known as the World Boxing Association’s vacant “regular” heavyweight title.
The heavyweight champion, after all, is Wladimir Klitschko, who holds the WBA’s “super” world title, as well as two other major sanctioning body belts.
May’s title bout for the World Boxing Council’s vacant heavyweight belt pitted Bermane Stiverne against Chris Arreola, two fighters who had no truly notable wins on their record. Stiverne had beaten Ray Austin and had topped Arreola once before. Arreola had wins over Seth Mitchell, Jameel McCline and Chazz Witherspoon.
But at least that fight was a somewhat fresh 35-year-old Stiverne against the 33-year-old Arreola. This past weekend brought Chagaev, 35 years old, six years beyond his loss to Klitschko and nearly three years beyond his loss to Alexander Povetkin, against Oquendo, 41 years old, no big wins on his record, and more than a decade removed from his defeats against John Ruiz and Chris Byrd.
It nearly got worse. Oquendo waited until the last moment to board his flight overseas, citing family members with health issues, and we suddenly began to hear about potential late replacement opponents such as Shannon Briggs or Alexander Petkovic. The WBA said that Chagaev-Oquendo was the only bout it had sanctioned, and Oquendo ended up making it to Grozny.
The fight was not good. That’s not a surprise. Chagaev won by majority decision.
I’m not sure what was sadder: that I watched Chagaev-Oquendo on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, or that I wasn’t the only one doing so.
2. What had Ruslan Chagaev and Fres Oquendo done in recent years to earn this shot at a vacant trinket?
Chagaev, in the nearly three years since losing to Alexander Povetkin, had gone through the murderer’s row of Kertson Manswell, Billy Zumbrun, Werner Kreiskott, Mike Sheppard and Jovo Pudar.
Oquendo was off for more than a year following back-to-back defeats in 2010 against Jean-Marc Mormeck and Oliver McCall. He came back in 2012 and put together a winning streak against the rogue’s gallery of Travis Fulton, Joey Abell, Robert Hawkins, Derric Rossy and Galen Brown.
Don’t ask them whom they beat to get a shot at the title. I doubt that they, or even the WBA, could recall the names.
3. Fortunately, we can get away from weekends like this past one — soon and often. This summer doesn’t bring the usual doldrums; there are far more notable bouts than usual.
This coming weekend has the aforementioned Canelo Alvarez-Erislandy Lara pay-per-view. And on this Thursday is the 130-pound title bout rematch between Argenis Mendez and Rances Barthelemy.
July 19 is somewhat of an off day, given that the only significant action will be airing from Macau, China, with Zou Shiming on HBO2 and with Guillermo Rigondeaux’s championship defense airing on tape-delay on UniMas.
July 26 has the HBO doubleheader of middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Geale, and Bryant Jennings facing Michael Perez in a bout between unbeaten heavyweight prospects. There will also be a rematch in the U.K. that day between heavyweights Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora.
Aug. 2 has HBO’s split-site tripleheader featuring Brandon Rios vs. Diego Chaves, 140-pound WBA “regular” titleholder Jessie Vargas against Anton Novikov, and 175-pound titleholder Sergey Kovalev vs. Blake Caparello.
Aug. 9 has Showtime’s tripleheader with 140-pound champ Danny Garcia against Rod Salka, 140-pound titleholder Lamont Peterson vs. Edgar Santana, and then middleweights Daniel Jacobs and Jarrod Fletcher in a bout for another one of those WBA “regular” trinkets.
Aug. 16 has a welterweight title bout on Showtime featuring Shawn Porter vs. Kell Brook.
Aug. 23 and Aug. 30 look for the moment to be “off weeks,” though there are some recognizable names in action, including cruiserweight titleholder Marco Huck in Germany on the latter date.
Sept. 5 has a fight for us hardcore fans that everyone should find a way to watch: the flyweight championship fight in Japan featuring Akira Yaegashi vs. Roman Gonzalez. And on Sept. 6, heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko faces Kubrat Pulev in Germany, 122-pound titleholder Kiko Martinez faces Carl Frampton in a rematch in Northern Ireland, and 154-pound titleholder Carlos Molina faces Cornelius Bundrage in Cancun, Mexico.
As for Sept. 13? Well, it remains to be seen whether Floyd Mayweather still plans to fight on his usual Mexican Independence Day Weekend pay-per-view.
4. In last week’s column, I’d wondered about that Mayweather fight, especially given that no announcement had been made for a date that’s rapidly approaching.
Apparently as I was typing those words last week, Mayweather was giving the answer we expected — that he’d be facing Marcos Maidana in a rematch.
But there’s not yet a deal, nor has there been an official announcement.
There are 68 days between today (July 7) and the presumed date of Floyd Mayweather’s next bout (Sept. 13).
That’s nine weeks and five days away.
For comparison’s sake:
There were 74 days between the Mayweather-Robert Guerrero announcement and the actual fight.
There were 108 days between the Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez announcement and the actual fight.
There were 69 days between the Mayweather-Maidana 1 announcement and the actual fight.
5. And two weeks ago, I’d wondered about what drug testing would be done for the June 28 fight between Terence Crawford and Yuriorkis Gamboa, particularly as Gamboa had been implicated last year as being among several professional athletes who allegedly received performance-enhancing drugs from the Biogenesis clinic in South Florida — the same scandal that caught up star baseball players Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, among others.
None, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com.
Wrote Rafael: “Brian Dunn, the deputy athletic commissioner in Nebraska, told ESPN.com by email on Wednesday that the commission did not test because nobody from the WBO asked for it — even though [WBO supervisor John] Duggan said the WBO did suggest it and that the commission was well within its rights to test on its own.”
Rafael also got this quote from Dunn:
“In Nebraska, every contestant is subject to random drug testing, but we do not have a policy that requires certain competitors be tested. We are, of course, willing to test any athlete at the request of organizations, but no particular testing was requested from the WBO. Neither boxer was told that they would be tested after the bout, at least not by my staff. I am sorry to hear they were waiting [to be tested].”
What a horrible, horrible approach. Never mind that anyone who has been connected to or caught using performance-enhancing drugs should be placed under additional scrutiny. Never mind that additional scrutiny should be the rule in a sport that is sadly extremely lax when it comes to proper drug testing. But to leave it up to a sanctioning body to make a request? There’s a reason why athletic commissions exist — to regulate the sport, allowing something that would typically not be legal (fighting) to be done under a supervised, safer system.
Just as boxers need to be checked for the sake of their own health — with brain scans and blood tests for preexisting conditions — so, too, should they be closely monitored to make sure they are not using any banned substances, which could then give them a competitive edge over their opponent in a sport that can lead to death or life-changing damage.
But with that said, the WBO, the promoters involved and the fighters themselves need not have left drug testing up to the whims of the state athletic commission. Those details could have been hashed out early, and if drug testing were truly important to them, they could’ve found a way to finance it themselves.
6. Also in performance-enhancing drug news last week came the revelation that heavyweight journeyman Brian Minto has been undergoing what he described as testosterone-replacement therapy for the past five years.
“Yeah, I’m legally prescribed it by an endocrinologist,” he told Glen Larmer of New Zealand’s RadioLive ahead of his loss last week to Joseph Parker. “I don’t take it to enhance my performance. I take it because my body doesn’t produce it, so I have to take it through a gel called Androgel 1.62. This is all personal stuff of mine that should not have been released to the media or the press without my authorization.”
Minto had apparently informed Parker’s team of this, and Parker’s team subsequently told the media.
“My body doesn’t produce it. I have hypogonadism. … My last test that I had was a month ago, and I was taking two pumps a day of this Androgel… it was 125, that’s abnormally low. I have my blood monitored monthly. I have everything checked. This is no Mickey Mouse game where you can say, ‘he’s performance-enhancing.’ ”
But here’s the thing: This kind of treatment needs to be made public. The commissions need to know it. His opponents need to know it. The testing needs to be done by the commission, and often (and not by his personal physician on a mere monthly basis) so as to make sure he’s staying within the therapeutic use of the drug.
Or you can (and should) get rid of therapeutic-use exemptions as a whole, as Nevada recently did.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Welterweight contender Amir Khan has been accused of assaulting two teenagers early Friday morning in the United Kingdom as the teens were headed home from a mosque, according to The Bolton News. The alleged attack stemmed from one of the teens saying something disrespectful to one of Khan’s friends, the report said.
“Police said the two men were hurt but not seriously injured in the incident,” the newspaper said. “One of the alleged victims is believed to have suffered an injury on his cheek and the other on his leg. The men were known to Amir.”
Khan, 27, became a full-fledged 147-pounder this past May when he outpointed Luis Collazo on the undercard to Floyd Mayweather’s win over Marcos Maidana. That brought the former junior-welterweight titleholder’s record to 29-3 with 19 KOs. The defeats came via first-round knockout to Breidis Prescott in 2008, by a very close and controversial split decision to Lamont Peterson in late 2011, and by a fourth-round stoppage to Danny Garcia in 2012. Since then, he’s beaten Carlos Molina, struggled in a win over Julio Diaz, and topped Collazo.
Khan is free on bail and denying the allegations. A spokesman for the fighter said they expected the case to be dropped.
“All nonsense please don’t believe what you read,” Khan tweeted later on Friday. “I’m home with my family and nobody got beat up.”
8. For Amir Khan’s sake, I hope his alleged victims were welterweights, at the least. If so, this incident might help him make his case for landing a fight with Floyd Mayweather…
9. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: Adam Watt, a retired Australian cruiserweight who challenged unsuccessfully for a world title, has been arrested for allegedly being “an accessory before the fact to murder,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
The case stems from allegations that a member of a cocaine syndicate paid a hit man $200,000 to shoot and kill a witness. The hit man was arrested, as were the cocaine syndicate member’s wife, Watt and another man.
Watt, 46, fought as a pro boxer from 1996 to 2001, going 14-4 with 14 KOs, according to BoxRec. Three of those losses came to familiar names, including Wayne Braithwaite (who knocked Watt out in one round in 1999), Johnny Nelson (who knocked Watt out in five rounds in a world title bout in 2000) and Sebastiaan Rothmann (who knocked Watt out in eight rounds in 2001).
He also competed as a pro kickboxer, going 37-12-1, according to Wikipedia, which also mentions this facet of his criminal background:
“In September 2008, Watt was arrested for conspiring to import chemical precursors to the drug methamphetamine. While Watt was on remand awaiting trial, he was hit from behind with a sandwich toaster inside a pillowcase. When ambulance officers reached Watt he was clinically dead, but they managed to revive him at the scene.”
10. Man, of all those fights listed above, I really can’t wait for the junior-middleweight title fight between Carlos Molina and Cornelius “K9” Bundrage…
…to be over.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]