Boxing’s biggest stars are now fully aligned.
The idea that 2020 could pass without an appearance from nominally reigning lineal middleweight king Saul Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KO) wouldn’t have been boxing’s worst case scenario. After the interruptions from COVID, the sport has bounced back to have a rock solid fall. Fans in the US have found gems on just about every outlet with several more still to come.
Still, Alvarez is Alvarez.
As one of a handful of boxing’s biggest names, when Alvarez is active the sport is better for it. Tuesday’s announcement of a December return was welcome news.
It was also the latest twist in a fascinating outside the ring saga. After lawsuits and acrimony that resulted in the dissolution of a once touted marriage between Alvarez, streaming service DAZN, and Golden Boy Promotions, Alvarez will make his return on...DAZN?
He will indeed and he’ll do it against a serious challenge in a fight where, really, everyone wins.
Let’s start with Alvarez.
The Mexican battler, now 30, doesn’t lose a year of activity. On December 19, in 30-year WBA super middleweight titlist Callum Smith (27-0, 19 KO), Alvarez will face a World Boxing Super Series winner who Alvarez can’t take lightly. The last time fans saw Smith, he was exceedingly lucky to get by a tough John Ryder. It’s never wise to judge a fighter on a single night, especially their worst. At 6’3, coming from a boxing family, and with solid power, Smith presents physical obstacles to overcome.
Smith also gives Alvarez a chance to cement his claim as a four division beltholder. While Alvarez already won a WBA trinket at 168 lbs., Rocky Fielding was the organization’s secondary stalwart. Smith is the ‘super’ or primary WBA kingpin. Smith is also the leading contender in the TBRB rankings and Ring Magazine’s champion. For Alvarez, it marks six straight fights (including two fights with Gennady Golovkin) against foes rated top ten in their division by TBRB or Ring.
Five of those six fights were against top three rated foes in their division. There will be fans who might have preferred another opponent for Alvarez. Preference doesn’t equal a problem. Alvarez can only fight them one at a time and Smith gets his turn first. Fans should appreciate the consistency.
It’s certainly a win for Smith. Since defeating Groves to win the WBSS, he hasn’t been able to fully capitalize. Hasan N’Dam N’Jikam and Ryder are solid pros but they aren’t the opportunity foes fighters dream about. Alvarez is a chance for Smith to explode into another level of recognition.
It wouldn’t be boxing if one didn’t also embrace a good storyline and in Alvarez-Smith, there is a little of the old blood vendetta. Alvarez’s last win in the Jr. middleweight division came with a stoppage of Liam Smith in 2016. Liam is the older brother of Callum. It’s just organic enough to avoid being manufactured drama...and even if it wasn’t, when did that ever really hurt anything?
It’s also a win for promoter Eddie Hearn and streaming service DAZN, who get an event that helps to launch their UK debut. Hearn has struggled to expand his footprint in the US and may continue to do so, but for a night it’s hard to ask for more.
While DAZN may not stay in the Alvarez business the way they thought they would, this working evening at least leaves the door open for future dates. For fans of the international scene, and some of the lower weights, DAZN has largely been a tremendous bargain but their market power and long term potential in the US remain unclear. COVID has been arguably more harmful to their designs than any other platform airing boxing in the States.
Alvarez-Smith is Christmas come early for DAZN heading into 2021. Any subscriptions they pick up will only be good for remaining clients, including Golden Boy. The promoter lost their marquee attraction and it’s hard to find a win in that for them but any extra eyeballs will only help young fighters under their banner like Vergil Ortiz long term.
What will 2021 mean with an Alvarez win?
Alvarez is in a unique position. He has intriguing foes to choose from available under multiple umbrellas. DAZN is surely still keen on a Golovkin rubber match and have also aired light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol. ESPN and Top Rank have lineal light heavyweight king Artur Beterbiev. Showtime or Fox, and the PBC umbrella in general, offer unification options at super middleweight if Alvarez defeats Smith. They also have a certain Jermall Charlo who is just a division down the scale right now.
Alvarez could do business long term with any of them or work on a limited basis with all of them where it makes sense, driving up the bidding between fights without having to decline his level of opposition. Already a fifteen-year professional, it’s hard to say how much of Alvarez’s prime window remains open. It could be several years.
It could be nearer to closing than anyone realizes.
All signs point to Alvarez trying to make the most of either scenario.
Wins all around.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org