By Lyle Fitzsimmons
When are 2 million pay-per-view buys and the largest-grossing fight in history a bad thing?
Well, OK, they’re never a bad thing.
But just because Showtime’s hottest boxing property took another step on Sept. 14 toward the ladder rungs occupied by names like Hagler, Hearns, Leonard and Duran, doesn’t mean it’s a similarly slam-dunk windfall every time he appears from this day forward.
True, Floyd Mayweather Jr. is just two fights into the deal that’s in no small way responsible for a perception switch that’s moved the perpetual little brother to the head of the premium cable table more often occupied by its “Network of Champions” nemesis.
Nonetheless, the ease with which a 36-year-old “Money” dispatched Mexican heartthrob Saul “Canelo” Alvarez – who entered the ring 13 years younger, and 15 pounds heavier – may have done far more harm than good when it comes to marketing the Mayweather product.
If nothing else, the decisive win made the final four fights more of a task to sell to a progressively more jaded customer base – which necessitates the folks in the executive wing getting a little creative.
Whether the match with Mayweather came too soon on Alvarez’s career arc – or whether it would have mattered a year later – is up for debate. But what’s not in dispute is that the redhead was far and away the most lucrative of the practically possible opponents.
The kid drew headline attention when fighting on the champ’s undercard as a teenager and proved his crowd-appeal chops by drawing nearly 40,000 to San Antonio’s Alamodome for a nice attraction – but hardly a transcendent matchup – against Austin Trout.
The enthusiasm shown to him by fans on the summertime press tour – dubbed “Canelo Mania” by Richard Schaefer – went a long way toward boosting PPV hits past the 2 million mark. And it’s hardly a secret that promotional and TV execs were pulling for a compelling, competitive contest that would warrant a rematch – and possibly even better numbers – in six months’ time.
In the aftermath, no one outside of CJ Ross can make a case for wanting to see the same thing again in the spring, which takes away the most-desired option for contract fight No. 3.
Though Showtime boxing chief Stephen Espinoza rattled off several names when asked about future foes in the summer, none of the fighters he suggested has the gravitas Canelo possessed.
Nor would any necessitate a similar 10-city hyperbole tour under any circumstance.
Argentine Lucas Matthysse was Espinoza’s first choice for the next fight with an eye on the “Can anyone stop Lucas Matthysse?” angle, but his surprise loss to Danny Garcia removed all intrigue from what could have been an intriguing bull vs. matador confrontation.
Countryman Marcos Maidana is a popular TV product, but only his blindest-faith supporters could concoct a scenario in which he’d give Mayweather anything beyond mild annoyance.
Elsewhere, former 147-pound champ Victor Ortiz turned heads in a Money shot two years ago, but a broken-jaw loss and 15 months on the shelf have reduced him from headliner to “whatever happened to.” If he were to return and defeat Alvarez himself, the perception could change. But until then, the folks clamoring for a repeat of the cheek-kiss/cold-cock sequence are more likely few and far between.
Still, beyond the Matthysse, Maidana, Ortiz ilk lie some intriguing possibilities, given the right tweaks.
Garcia earned a spot in the pecking order with the handling of Matthysse, though his positives would be best accentuated closer to the East Coast, where Garcia is more of a known product.
It’s easy to envision the youngster’s Philly connections helping sell a date at Madison Square Garden or Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, or perhaps even Citizens Bank Park in his own backyard.
While it wouldn’t make the fight more competitive, a backyard locale could add juice to the run-up and maximize the endless blowhard potential of Garcia’s talkative father and trainer, Angel.
A similar road trip could make a match with former 140-pound king Amir Khan worthwhile, too, especially in Wembley Stadium or another venue in the gifted but flawed Englishman’s backyard.
Beyond fellow welters or rising lighter men, the most interesting quarry for Mayweather lies another division past Alvarez.
WBC middleweight champ Sergio Martinez was the last of the names suggested by Espinoza – he dismissed Gennady Golovkin and Andre Ward as too big – and the former 154-pound titleholder has expressed past interest in a Mayweather match, perhaps even at a midpoint catchweight.
Sergio’s promoter, Lou DiBella, was in Vegas for the Alvarez match, but he refused comment when asked after the fight if he’d had any discussions regarding Martinez and Mayweather.
Meanwhile, any mention of foes for Mayweather in the last several years has included a passing mention of a certain multi-division champion from the Philippines.
Conflicts between Mayweather and ex-ally Bob Arum have been a sticking point, and Pacquiao’s KO loss to Juan Manuel Marquez removed a great deal of the relevance the bout might have had years earlier.
Those issues will keep the fight on “could have been” lists for foreseeable days, though perception since Marquez indicates Pacquiao may be more amenable to purse splits and drug tests initially labeled deal-breakers.
Should Manny return impressively against Brandon Rios, drums will start beating again.
And, given latent interest that still exists, don’t be surprised if the suits do ultimately find a way to get it signed before the rivals get their matching plaques in Canastota.
It says here they will, sometime between here and 49-0.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC light heavyweight title – Montreal, Canada
Adonis Stevenson (champion) vs. Tavoris Cloud (No. 9 contender)
Stevenson (21-1, 18 KO): First title defense; Eleven straight wins by KO/TKO (46 total rounds)
Cloud (24-1, 19 KO): Seventh title fight (5-1); Held IBF title (2009-13, four defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Neither are finished products by any stretch, but Cloud has struggled more on top level and seemed to regress in loss to Hopkins. Score one for momentum.” Stevenson in 9
Last week's picks: 0-0
2013 picks record: 53-31 (63.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 516-183 (73.8 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.