by David P. Greisman
Last year was supposed to set up this year for Canelo Alvarez and Adrien Broner.
Instead, 2013 has turned 2014 into a make-or-break year for them.
Winning won’t necessarily make Alvarez or Broner into the next Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao. But neither man can afford a loss, not if he wants the opportunity to take over the pay-per-view empire after Mayweather and Pacquiao retire.
Mayweather, who turns 37 in February, remains the greatest attraction in the sport today. He just set revenue and ticket sales records this past September with his win over Alvarez, and he has another four events remaining in his blockbuster deal with Showtime.
That victory — and the fact that both men work with Golden Boy Promotions — ensured that Mayweather has first dibs on the coveted Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day weekends in May and September, which have become the traditional dates for some of boxing’s biggest pay-per-views.
Pacquiao, who just turned 35, is firmly in second place behind Mayweather. His November win over Brandon Rios pulled in a buy rate that was far less than his previous two pay-per-view appearances: a controversial decision loss to Timothy Bradley in June 2012 and a one-punch knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez six months later.
Mayweather has headlined a pay-per-view for 11 of his last 12 appearances, dating back to June 2005. Pacquiao has been in pay-per-view main events for 18 of his last 19 appearances, dating back to March 2005. Their initial buy rates were on the lower end, then skyrocketed after each defeated Oscar De La Hoya.
Alvarez is 23. Broner is 24. Neither has come close to reaching Mayweather’s and Pacquiao’s achievements in boxing, never mind in the boxing business. But they’ve been poised to dip their toes into the pay-per-view waters due in large part to the way their personalities transcend the niche audience for this sport of prizefighting.
They draw some of the best ratings in boxing in the United States, and Alvarez is a remarkable attraction in Mexico as well as among Mexican-American fans. Alvarez’s bout in April 2013 against Austin Trout — who was Canelo’s first true test at junior middleweight — had more than 15 million viewers on Televisa in Mexico, more than 1 million on Showtime in the United States, and an announced attendance of nearly 40,000 in San Antonio.
Many believe that Alvarez’s appearance on three of Mayweather’s past pay-per-view undercards helped pad the buy rates, and that Alvarez’s popularity is a major reason why his fight with Mayweather shattered records.
Broner, meanwhile, was in one of the top-rated HBO cards of last year, and was in the two highest-rated Showtime bouts of 2013. His brash personality made him an antihero to some, a villain to others, and must-see viewing for many.
But that’s not enough.
They can’t just subsist on personality from here on out. If they are to thrive, it will be because of performance.
Alvarez would’ve been astronomically elevated had he beaten Mayweather. He shouldn’t be diminished because of his first pro defeat, however. Yet he still cannot afford to come up short against Alfredo Angulo in the main event of their March 8 pay-per-view.
Alvarez has been tremendously popular even though he hasn’t separated himself from the pack of titleholders, contenders and prospects at 154 pounds. Now is the time for him to prove that he belongs, that he’s not just a good fighter with a gimmick of being Mexican with red hair, fair skin and freckles.
There are reasons why his team selected Angulo: It’s a sellable fight, and a winnable one. There’s nothing awkward or tricky about Angulo; he’s just a very tough, aggressive foe who will take Alvarez’s power punches in order to land his own.
As for Broner, he was initially slated to make his pay-per-view debut this past December in a fight against Marcos Maidana. Instead, Broner-Maidana was moved to “regular” Showtime. Maidana knocked Broner down twice en route to a unanimous decision win. And that meant that Broner’s first pro loss — a marketable occurrence, given that it was comeuppance for a polarizing fighter — came without people needing to fork over at least $60 to see it.
He clearly has talent, but there definitely are holes in his résumé. He’s a three-division titleholder who hasn’t accomplished much in those divisions.
Broner was pretty much handed a belt at junior lightweight against a gimme opponent, defended it successfully once and then came in quite overweight for what would’ve been his second defense but ended up being a non-title victory against Vicente Escobedo. He then moved up to lightweight and beat one of the top-ranked titleholders there, demolishing Antonio DeMarco. His lone title defense at 135 was a stoppage of Gavin Rees.
There wasn’t much depth at 130 or 135, though there were other respectable opponents. Many wanted Broner to move to the packed junior-welterweight division. Most of the top names at 140 were tied up, though, and so Broner jumped to 147 and won his third world title via split decision against Paulie Malignaggi, who is a good welterweight, but not among the best.
Marcos Maidana also wasn’t considered a top welterweight. Broner very well may have taken Maidana lightly. He didn’t respect Maidana’s power, didn’t expect that Maidana could hit him and didn’t think that Maidana would hurt him. Maidana came in with a good strategy and with improvements made under trainer Robert Garcia. Broner appeared slow, unable to block or dodge many of Maidana’s big shots.
Broner and his team easily could conclude that it’s best to drop to 140 or lower. Instead, Broner’s seeking a rematch with Maidana.
It is essentially a “double or nothing” bet.
It is reminiscent of when Shane Mosley sought an immediate rematch with Winky Wright, or when Vernon Forrest got right back in the ring for a second tilt with Ricardo Mayorga. Mosley and Forrest both came up short in those sequels.
Granted, had Broner moved back down in weight, it could’ve been seen as tucking his tail between his legs and admitting that the challenges at 147 were too big for him, both literally and figuratively. This Maidana rematch, should it happen, is a calculated risk, with Broner’s team believing that he just needs to be better prepared for the second fight.
A win could put Broner back on track. A second loss would derail him, and it would be much more difficult to rebuild at 140 or 135 after two defeats instead of after one.
There was a time that Canelo Alvarez and Adrien Broner were seen as potentially being the future superstars of boxing. They still could be. But it’s no longer about the future, not when 2014 has become a make-or-break year for them.
It’s now — or never.
The 10 Count
1. It’s still “never” for Erislandy Lara — who is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, advised by Al Haymon and still can’t get a shot at Canelo Alvarez.
2. Boxing will have a pay-per-view in March (Canelo Alvarez vs. Alfredo Angulo), a pay-per-view in April (Manny Pacquiao vs. TBA) and a pay-per-view in May (Floyd Mayweather vs. TBA), all at a combined cost that will probably run between about $175 for standard definition and around $200 for high definition).
Meanwhile, the online WWE Network will be streaming its 12 pay-per-views in 2014, including WrestleMania, at a combined cost of about $120.
3. The launch of the WWE Network serves to remind us of the many ways in which boxing promoters and networks have left money on the table over the years.
In the era of tapes and DVDs, there could’ve been releases of the best bouts and best trilogies. I happily would’ve paid for a legit copy of the Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward trilogy on DVD instead of picking up a bootleg version.
And in this era when so much content has been pirated and is available on YouTube or for download, it would’ve been great for the powers-that-be to put up their own content — for free — and then pull in residual revenue via ads.
That’s what The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have done to great effect online, providing a clearinghouse for people to watch past episodes and segments. Hulu and Hulu Plus provide another outlet for programming. The WWE also puts matches up on YouTube.
But with boxing, massive libraries of past fights remain on the shelf, and often the only reason you can find bouts both new and old online is because everyone else has worked to make them available, illicitly and illegally — and thankfully.
4. Those of us who remember Zahir Raheem would choose not to remember him. Despite his excellent win over Erik Morales in 2005, there were stinkers such as his split decision loss to Acelino Freitas in 2006, among others, that led to me calling him Zzzzzzzzzzahir Raheem.
“He’s scored knockouts in most of his recent fights,” Raheem’s adviser told me before last week’s episode of Friday Night Fights, which had Raheem facing Bayan Jargal in the co-feature.
It was his way of admonishing me for the derisive nickname, and Raheem’s adviser was indeed correct in saying that Raheem had scored knockouts of late.
Of course, the caveat was that those knockouts had come against:
- Roberto Valenzuela (who was 55-53-2 at the time)
- Santos Pakau (who was 28-7-2 and had fought just four times in five years)
- Justin Juuko (long in the tooth and more than 11 years removed from his loss to Miguel Cotto)
- Tim Coleman (who looked done in his previous fight, more than a year and a half before, against Kendall Holt)
Jargal, meanwhile, is an enjoyable but highly limited foe whose previous appearance was a third-round stoppage against a 14-2-1 guy named Chris Howard.
Raheem-Jargal went the brutal distance — brutal in that it was 10 rounds with far too little punching. CompuBox credited Raheem with throwing just 31 punches per round and landing just 8 per round.
Raheem won the decision. And he’ll remain Zzzzzzzzzzzahir in our minds for the moment.
5. George Foreman turned 65 this past Friday. And I’d still favor him over many of today’s heavyweights.
6. And Bernard Hopkins turns 49 this Wednesday (Jan. 15) and is still the favorite against a majority of today’s light heavyweights.
7. For all of the complaints we hear about Baseball Hall of Fame voting, at least the players’ vote totals are public. That’s more than we can say about the voting done each year for the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
I’d love to know how many (or few) votes were received by the remaining 42 names on the IBHOF ballot. That would help provide justification for removing some of those fighters who’ve been on the ballot seemingly forever and with seemingly no chance of making it in. And that would help add more new names to the ballot this year; for some reason, only three are added each year, even when there might be many more deserving of consideration.
8. It was amusing to see Joe Cortez brought in via video feed on last week’s episode of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.” Cortez explained how referee Pete Podgorski was out of position for the late-hit knockout that Rances Barthelemy scored over Argenis Mendez on Jan. 3.
It was amusing, as others noted, because Cortez had often been maligned for his refereeing mistakes during his career, including being out of position when Floyd Mayweather scored an otherwise completely legal knockout against Victor Ortiz.
9. Joe Cortez on Skype is still better than Chuck Giampa on camera…
10. Maybe next week, “Friday Night Fights” will bring in C.J. Ross to explain proper judging…
“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]