by David P. Greisman
The best boxer in the world today became the richest fighter ever, remaining a huge attraction in part because he never lost. Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez don’t have Floyd Mayweather’s fortune, nor are they as fortunate.
They cannot make tens of millions no matter the level of opponent, like Mayweather will do in four weeks when he faces Andre Berto on pay-per-view in what purportedly will be Mayweather’s final fight. That’s not a consequence of the losses on their records, but rather a reflection of the kind of mainstream appeal Mayweather has achieved but which has eluded nearly all since the Sweet Science became a niche sport in the United States.
They are still stars. And that stature has endured despite their defeats.
Cotto came into prominence as a 140-pound titleholder, drawing crowds in Puerto Rico as well as in New Jersey and New York, states with sizable populations of people of Puerto Rican descent. He was not anywhere near as beloved as Felix Trinidad, but he was a suitable hero in the wake of Tito’s retirement.
They continued to support him even after he could take no more from Antonio Margarito, and again after Manny Pacquiao broke him down. They celebrated with heavily invested emotion when Cotto avenged his loss to Margarito. And they stuck around even when Cotto had dropped two in a row, excusably to Mayweather and then more disturbingly to Austin Trout. He resuscitated his career once more, going on to take out middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, and they rose and roared their approval.
Alvarez like other Mexican fighters turned pro as a teenager, beginning his pro career at 15 and building up a following that appreciated his entertaining style. It didn’t hurt that he was a charismatic and good-looking young man whose nickname became his nom de guerre. His red hair helped him stand out long before he’d shown whether he could be outstanding. He was still a prospect when he first shared the spotlight on Mayweather’s pay-per-views, helping draw buyers for the broadcasts. He pulled in very good ratings as a titleholder headlining on HBO and did the same upon his jump to Showtime.
Nearly 40,000 people came to Alvarez’s fight in Texas with Trout, an astronomical number for boxing in America, even if the tickets were available at highly affordable prices. Canelo was such a star that his pay-per-view fight with Mayweather was a formality based on popularity. It was as much a business deal as a boxing match, setting revenue records that could only be broken when Mayweather finally faced Manny Pacquiao. After the loss to Mayweather he headlined a pair of pay-per-views on his own, though they didn’t do great numbers.
The love for him among Mexican and Mexican-Americans continued to be clear. They were loyal, and American fight fans of various other ethnic backgrounds still wanted to see him as well. When Canelo fought James Kirkland this past May in his return to HBO, the baseball stadium hosting them had more than 30,000 people in attendance and the television broadcast dwarfed any other boxing show on that network in almost a decade.
Cotto and Alvarez are stars on their own who nevertheless needed each other.
They make millions for each fight, but can only make monumental money when in momentous matches. The politics behind the business of boxing leaves limited options available. It seemed a given that Cotto and Canelo would end up in with each other.
Cotto is a former titleholder at 140, 147 and 154 who is the lineal champ at 160, even while many feel he’s not actually the best at middleweight so long as Gennady Golovkin also is in that division. Physically speaking, Cotto better belongs at junior middleweight. He came in at 155 against Martinez, weakened challenger Daniel Geale with a demanded catch-weight of 157 pounds earlier this year (Cotto was comfortable at 153.25), and will limit Alvarez to no more than 155 when they step on the scales some 30-plus hours before their Nov. 21 fight.
Alvarez began his career at 140, quickly grew into 147 and matured into 154, where he won a world title. At just 25 years old his body is still filling out; Canelo actually hasn’t come in below the junior-middleweight limit since facing Mayweather. He was 155 against Alfredo Angulo and Erislandy Lara, then 154.5 against Kirkland. He tends to rehydrate beyond 170 pounds on fight night.
Cotto is 34 and more than 14 years into his pro career. He’s been rejuvenated since switching to trainer Freddie Roach, going from thinking he had maybe a few fights left to looking toward a longer run.
But those fights also came against an overmatched opponent in Delvin Rodriguez, a hobbled champion in Martinez, and a diminished foe in Geale. This bout with Canelo could be Cotto’s last chance to show that he still belongs among the top names in boxing for the remainder of his time in the sport. That will be the case should he win, or even if he falls short in a highly competitive defeat.
Alvarez appears to be improving, though it’s also difficult to tell how well he matches up against others in or around junior middleweight.
His win over Trout was good, and something Cotto was unable to do just months before, though it’s also become clear that Trout may not have been as good as once thought. There was little shame in losing to Mayweather. Angulo was physically done and resembled a punching bag. Lara gave the fight away with his emphasis on making Canelo miss rather than landing shots of his own. And as impressive as it was that Alvarez weathered Kirkland’s early storm and then took him out, Kirkland was no longer in the Top 10 at 154.
This fight with Cotto is an important second chance. While Cotto’s fans remained with him after his losses, that was because he had long ago proven himself. Canelo’s popularity came before he’d firmed up his credentials. He’s clearly got some talent, but his following could be diminished if he continues to come up short in his biggest fights. It would take more to rebuild from a clear loss to Cotto than was required after the defeat against Mayweather. A win, meanwhile, could make him into the bona fide pay-per-view star his team was hoping he’d be after Mayweather but couldn’t quite become.
Each needs the other’s name on his record in order to advance with his future plans.
That’s why they began to look toward each other at the end of 2014. The fight made sense and promised to make money as well. They couldn’t reach an agreement in time, particularly as Alvarez’s team set deadlines because they wanted to fight in May. Alvarez went on to face Kirkland that month, while Cotto returned from a yearlong layoff to beat Geale in June.
HBO invested money in those fights and wanted a return on its investment. That meant Cotto vs. Canelo or one of them taking on Golovkin.
GGG has been positioned as a sanctioning body’s mandatory challenger to Cotto and will remain in that spot no matter the winner this November — so long as Golovkin beats David Lemieux in October. It’s believed that Canelo is more willing to take on Golovkin, though Cotto hadn’t been shy about facing difficult opponents in the past. Yet Cotto at this stage of his career is weighing the risk/reward ratio more than before. The potential reward might finally be enough to face Golovkin in 2016.
Cotto vs. Canelo is an important fight for what it might mean for them. It’s also an important fight for what it might mean for others in the middleweight and junior middleweight divisions.
And it has great potential to be a very good fight — which is even more important than merely being important.
The 10 Count
1. The making of Miguel Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez means there are three major pay-per-views in the coming months, with Floyd Mayweather’s supposed farewell fight against Andre Berto on Sept. 12, Gennady Golovkin’s throwdown with fellow middleweight power-punching titleholder David Lemieux on Oct. 17, and Cotto vs. Canelo on Nov. 21.
I expect Mayweather-Berto to have the strongest sales of the three, followed by Cotto-Canelo. Golovkin vs. Lemieux perhaps is a case of a fight being too expensive to be paid for with an HBO license fee, with more money to be made by popping it on pay-per-view instead and marketing it to the hardcore.
It’s also an experiment of sorts, given that Golovkin has drawn very good audiences on HBO. Now they will learn how many of those fans will be willing to pay more to see him. It potentially creates the expectation from boxing fans that they will now need to dig deeper into their wallets when “GGG” fights and could begin to make the idea of a Golovkin fight feel like an event.
We’ll see. The only other major boxing pay-per-view we’ve had this year was the $90/$100 money grab involving Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. This isn’t like those years when there would be between eight and 10 pay-per-views each year.
I also don’t think the Aug. 29 rematch between Shane Mosley and Ricardo Mayorga will draw a sizable pay-per-view buy rate. It’s going up against a “Premier Boxing Champions” card on ESPN between Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz, and it’s not as if the first Mosley-Mayorga fight had many salivating for a sequel, never mind that this second installment comes years later when they are even farther past their best days.
The good news is that Mayweather and Pacquiao facing each other earlier this year meant there was just one pay-per-view involving them instead of two separate shows. The same can be said for Cotto and Canelo, though they likely wouldn’t have been on pay-per-view without a fight as significant as this.
And we won’t be getting another Pacquiao pay-per-view in 2015, given that he’s supposed to be spending the rest of the year on the sideline thanks to the shoulder injury he aggravated prior to the Mayweather fight. Pacquiao had surgery afterward.
2. Then again, Pacquiao is supposedly already wholly healed from that surgery, even though the doctor who performed it — a doctor who’s worked on star athletes such as Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant — described the injury as a “significant tear” and told ESPN’s Dan Rafael in May that Pacquiao wouldn’t be back in the ring for a while.
“If all goes as expected with the surgery and the rehab is successful, Manny could be back training in about six months,” the doctor told Rafael. “At that point he will be regaining strength and endurance and competition is reasonable within nine months to a year.”
There had been some contention in the headlines about Pacquiao not doing his rehab, which upset promoter Bob Arum.
Then came a report from The Philippine Star last week in which Pacquiao lifted his arm all the way up without any indication of pain or problems.
“I’m fine. It’s God’s work. I never saw a doctor. I never did rehab. All I did was to swim in the sea as often as I could. The salt water healed my wound,” Pacquiao was quoted as saying.
3. It was disappointing to read that last Friday’s “Premier Boxing Champions” main event between Antonio Tarver and Steve Cunningham didn’t have any additional drug testing beyond whatever was done by the New Jersey commission, according to an interview Cunningham did with BoxingScene’s own Victor Salazar.
It was disappointing because Tarver had tested positive for a banned substance following his 2012 draw with Lateef Kayode.
It was disappointing because a lack of stringent drug testing in this sport means we have no idea how many boxers are doping, nor are there solid-enough preventative measures in place.
And it was disappointing because PBC’s announcement had mentioned that there would be additional drug testing done for its fighters in the interest of clean competition.
But then we had learned earlier this year that John Molina’s positive test for a banned diuretic came in Nevada Athletic Commission testing done for his fight with Adrien Broner, and apparently USADA, the testing agency that had been contracted for PBC’s fights, didn’t do any testing for that bout.
While we should be disappointed in all of this, it isn’t merely a PBC problem. Promoters in general continue to pass the buck on making sure that fighters aren’t using performance-enhancing drugs. And commissions and sanctioning bodies still aren’t doing anywhere near enough either.
4. This past Friday, Antonio Tarver — now 46 years old — appeared on a “Premier Boxing Champions” main event on Spike TV, fighting to a draw with Steve Cunningham.
This past Saturday, Glen Johnson — now 46 years old — appeared on a card in Miami, Florida, losing a 10-round unanimous decision to a 5-0 light heavyweight named Avni Yildirim.
This past Sunday, Roy Jones Jr. — now 46 years old — fought on a card in Connecticut and aired on some cable network called NuvoTV, taking out a 12-9-2 opponent named Eric Watkins with a sixth-round knockout. It was the first of three fights Jones had planned for the four-week period between last weekend and Sept. 12.
It could always be worse. There was a fight on Aug. 8 involving James Toney — who turns 47 next week. Toney lost a 10-round unanimous decision to a 9-3-1 heavyweight named Charles Ellis.
5. Tarver doesn’t look to be in great physical shape, though he at least sounds lucid, for which he can partially thank a career in which he turned pro late, has competed in fewer than 40 pro bouts, and didn’t take too much punishment. He flashed some skill against Cunningham, who at 39 looks in fantastic shape but is no longer able to pull the trigger as much or as well in the ring.
Johnson has now lost three in a row and seven of his past 10. He’s now fodder for prospects.
Jones hasn’t lost since 2011 and has won eight in a row, though of course against low-tier opposition. It’s a good thing that cruiserweight Marco Huck lost this past weekend if it means that the fight Jones wanted against him won’t come to fruition. Still, someone will take advantage of his name someday, and the fear is that Jones will be subjecting himself to dangerous damage.
As for Toney? If you want to be more depressed than you normally would be on a Monday, then watch this interview and listen to how slurred his speech is: http://bit.ly/toneyslurring
6. I highly enjoyed the cruiserweight fight on the Tarver-Cunningham undercard that saw Krzysztof Glowacki come off the canvas and come from behind to knock out longtime titleholder Marco Huck.
The best description of the surprising ending came from longtime boxing writer Eric Raskin, who simultaneously summed up the result concisely while also cracking a great play on words:
7. Boxers Behaving Goodly, a roundup:
- Floyd Mayweather’s namesake foundation was scheduled to give away backpacks and school supplies this past weekend to more than 600 students in need in Las Vegas, with a handful of Mayweather Promotions fighters such as Badou Jack, J’Leon Love, Ishe Smith and Andrew Tabiti announced in a press release as being there.
- Something similar was done last week by Abner Mares, who donated 500 backpacks to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Century Station Youth Activity League, according to a press release.
- Virgil Hill was slated last week to fight an exhibition match at a fundraising event to bring a boxing club back to the North Dakota city of Williston, according to the Associated Press.
- Late last month, five Golden Boy Promotions fighters — Joshua Franco, Joet Gonzalez, Abraham Lopez, Jonathan Navarro, Hector Tanajara — visited a summer youth camp and led a boxing clinic, according to a press release.
- Also late last month, a female fighter named Mikayla Nebel announced in a press release that she would be donating a portion of her paycheck for a fight to a local animal rescue organization in Phoenix, and promoter Iron Boy Promotions said it would match her donation.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly, a roundup:
- Former junior welterweight prospect Tim Coleman’s wife has already been arrested in the late July stabbing death and robbery of an 84-year-old woman who lived nearby in Las Vegas, and now prosecutors say they will seek an indictment against Coleman as well, according to the Associated Press. Coleman, 31, fought from 2005 to 2013, going 19-4-1 with 5 KOs.
- Kassim Ouma has a warrant out for his arrest after he failed to appear in court on a felony cocaine possession charge, according to TMZ Sports. His attorney said Ouma was in his home country of Uganda. The 36-year-old last fought in late 2013, notching a win that brought the former 154-pound titleholder’s record to 28-8-1 with 17 KOs.
- Stuart McFadyen — a 33-year-old who fought in the U.K. — was found guilty of shoving a waiter who had tried to stop the former boxer and his girlfriend from skipping out on their restaurant bill, according to the Burnley Express. He was fined. McFadyen fought between 2006 and 2009, largely around junior featherweight and featherweight, going 12-1-1 with 1 KO.
- And in an update, retired junior middleweight Anthony Small was found not guilty late last month of trying to support the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria by “disseminating terrorist publications,” trying to raise money to travel to Syria, and “possess[ing] false documents with improper intention,” according to BBC News. The 34-year-old fought as a pro between 2004 and 2010, going 23-2 with 16 KOs.
9. You might’ve seen an ad during last Friday’s “Premier Boxing Champions” show for Adonis Stevenson’s Sept. 11 fight against Tommy Karpency. And if you did, you might’ve noted that this very website was quoted as describing Stevenson as “one of the most powerful pound-for-pound punchers in the world.”
It’s true. Those words did run on this website on Aug. 6. Of course, they ran as an article that was a press release verbatim, appearing under the headline “Photos: Adonis Stevenson, Karpency Go Face To Face.”
Anything can be written in a press release. Quotes from people in press releases sometimes weren’t ever even said by the person being quoted, but instead were written by publicists.
Journalistic institutions will write articles using information from press releases, but they tend to shy away from using the releases verbatim. That’s sadly changed in some spots, especially with fewer newspaper staffers and a desire to publish stories, fill space, and get clicks. I do PR for my day job these days. The publicist in me loves when publications put my stuff out there without cutting it down or watering it down too much. The journalist in me just shudders.
This website’s staff members could spend their entire days rewriting all of the releases we receive. It’s regrettably quicker just to copy and paste the information into a so-called “article.” But I do wish that those “articles” were more clearly marked as being press releases, just as you’ll see magazines with “special advertising sections.” Even though websites likely aren’t being paid to run a press release, there needs to be a strong indication to the reader that the words aren’t our own.
10. If you actually believe that swimming in salt water healed Manny Pacquiao’s shoulder, then have I got a Mayweather rematch pay-per-view to sell you…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s 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]