LAS VEGAS – The unofficial odds on whether Canelo Alvarez will return to work with Premier Boxing Champions after Saturday night at least are better than the odds on his fight against Caleb Plant.
Al Haymon doesn’t have a contractual commitment from Alvarez for another PBC bout, despite Haymon’s best efforts to lure boxing’s biggest star in the United States into the PBC universe for more than one fight. Haymon had more leverage entering these negotiations because PBC’s Plant owns the only super middleweight title Alvarez needs to become boxing’s first fully unified 168-pound champion in the four-belt era.
A loyal Plant, thankful for everything Haymon, manager Luis De Cubas Jr. and TGB Promotions have done for his career, wasn’t about to fight Alvarez on DAZN, on a card promoted by Haymon’s rival, Eddie Hearn. Earning essentially twice as much to battle Alvarez than Callum Smith made for the same assignment 10½ months ago definitely didn’t hurt, either.
If Alvarez, a 12-1 favorite according to many credible online sportsbooks, beats Plant in this Showtime Pay-Per-View main event at MGM Grand Garden Arena (9 p.m. EDT; $79.99), securing Alvarez’s services for his next massive payday probably won’t be as easy for Haymon. If Plant upsets Alvarez, well, that obviously changes everything because Alvarez (56-1-2, 38 KOs) will want nothing more than to attempt to avenge what would be his first defeat in eight years.
Let’s proceed, though, on the assumption that the consensus best boxer, pound-for-pound, in the sport prevails against a skillful fighter who will take an undeniable steep step up in competition.
First and foremost, Haymon must determine whether guaranteeing Alvarez a purse of nearly $40 million was worthwhile. That’ll depend largely on how Alvarez’s first true test on pay-per-view in more than three years performs in a crowded market marred by piracy.
Alvarez’s last exclusive pay-per-view appearance – a majority-decision victory over rival Gennadiy Golovkin – did nearly twice that number of buys in September 2018. Golovkin, of course, is a much more marketable opponent than Plant, had done big business with Alvarez in their first fight a year earlier and was widely considered a true threat to beat the Mexican icon in an immediate rematch that benefitted commercially from their heated rivalry and Alvarez’s PED ordeal earlier that year.
Plant’s last fight on FOX drew average and peak audiences of 1,887,000 and 2,019,000, respectively, though, and, for all Alvarez’s advantages, is an unbeaten world champion who hasn’t come close to losing.
Still, substituting Plant (21-0, 12 KOs) for Golovkin isn’t the only significant challenge from a business standpoint Saturday night. Alvarez-Plant will go head-to-head on pay-per-view with UFC 268, a highly anticipated MMA event from Madison Square Garden in New York.
The competition for casual consumers will have some impact on the Alvarez-Plant buy rate. UFC 268, headlined by the rematch between welterweight champion and MMA pound-for-pound king Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington is considered a stacked card, whereas the underwhelming undercard for Alvarez-Plant has drawn some criticism.
Of course, when a main event costs nearly $50 million in guaranteed purses, there’s not much left over for intriguing undercard bouts.
Regardless, Haymon and Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza are hopeful that the most bankable boxing star in the United States still is alluring enough among mainstream customers that this will be a worthwhile venture for everyone involved. Showtime and its parent company, ViacomCBS, which also owns BoxingScene.com, devoted vast resources to getting back into the Canelo business for the first time since his controversial, split-decision victory over Erislandy Lara in July 2014.
Alvarez-Plant has been marketed heavily during CBS’ NFL and college football telecasts in recent weeks, while Showtime has hyped the fight with a three-part installment of its award-winning “All Access” series and through its various social media platforms. Signage for Alvarez-Plant is everywhere in Las Vegas this week – most noticeably on enormous video billboards all along “The Strip,” where MGM Resorts International is pushing the event at most of its nine properties on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Awareness isn’t an issue, but now it’s up to Alvarez to deliver commercially commensurate to his hefty paycheck. If that happens, Haymon will be incentivized to take perhaps an even greater financial risk to have Alvarez fight either Jermall Charlo or David Benavidez in the four-division champion’s first fight of 2022.
The 31-year-old Alvarez has made it clear that he prefers Charlo (32-0, 22 KOs), the unbeaten WBC middleweight champ, over Benavidez if he tops Plant and returns to PBC. Nevertheless, Benavidez (24-0, 21 KOs) must get past underdog Kyrone Davis (16-2-1, 6 KOs) in a “Showtime Championship Boxing” main event November 13 at Footprint Center in Phoenix for the former WBC super middleweight champ to keep his ticket for the Canelo sweepstakes.
Ultimately, it’ll come down to whether Alvarez wants to fight Charlo and possibly Benavidez in 2022 or move back up to the light heavyweight division for a long-discussed fight against unbeaten WBA champion Dmitriy Bivol (18-0, 11 KOs). If trying to become an undisputed champion in another weight class is a more appealing alternative to Alvarez than trying to beat higher-profile, undefeated fighters like Charlo and/or Benavidez, then Haymon will have never really had much of a chance of working with Alvarez beyond Saturday night.
The Bivol bout should be easy to make because Bivol is aligned, albeit unofficially, with Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing. DAZN, Hearn’s deep-pocketed partner, has streamed Bivol’s last three fights as well.
If Alvarez were to beat Bivol, however, he’d have to fight one of two boxers co-promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. to continue his pursuit of full unification within the 175-pound division. That could become one of the deciding factors for Alvarez because it is highly unlikely that Top Rank would meet Alvarez’s asking prices for fights against WBO champ Joe Smith Jr. (27-3, 21 KOs) or IBF/WBC champ Artur Beterbiev (16-0, 16 KOs).
This scenario could change, of course, if Marcus Browne (24-1, 16 KOs), a PBC boxer, upsets Beterbiev in their WBC-mandated championship match December 18 at Bell Centre in Montreal. Smith must get past another Russian challenger, Umar Salamov (26-1, 19 KOs), whenever their fight is rescheduled, as well.
Alvarez has repeatedly expressed how he enjoyed working with Hearn for each of his past three fights – an easy points victory over Smith (28-1, 20 KOs), a third-round destruction of WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim (23-4, 13 KOs) and his injury-induced stoppage of another previously unbeaten Brit, Billy Joe Saunders (30-1, 14 KOs). Hearn has been in Las Vegas this week to promote other events, but he hasn’t been allowed to be Alvarez’s promotional representative for the Plant fight.
Hearn has leverage of his own in Bivol and backing from executives at DAZN, who still seem willing to meet Alvarez’s asking prices after downsizing in the U.S. market earlier this year. That said, assuming Alvarez handles his business against Plant, the free agent’s preferred partners both in and out the ring will determine whether Haymon’s gigantic gamble on boxing’s biggest star in the U.S. will pay off with Alvarez’s return to PBC for his following fight.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.
ADD COMMENT VIEW COMMENTS (88)