By Cliff Rold
Fans of divisions where depth holds the potential for plenty of both good and makeable fights might find middleweight frustrating sooner than later.
The biggest news of the boxing week is the signing of Saul Alvarez to an exclusive contract with online streaming outlet DAZN. It was the sort of news that reached beyond the sports page. A reported $365 million for eleven fights moves a lot of needles and raises plenty of eyebrows. When the Drudge Report has two headlines and a photo, boxing’s reach went a little farther than its normal grasp.
While the middleweight division in 2018 should not make anyone forget about more loaded eras of the past, it might have its most depth in about a decade. That’s how long it’s been since Jermain Taylor, Arthur Abraham, and Kelly Pavlik among others were battling for the top of the class.
Today, we have the lineal king Alvarez with the WBC and WBA belts and the path to potential riches for everyone near him on the scale. His supporting cast is good and growing.
This weekend, the vacant WBO belt will be decided between 2008 US Olympian Demetrius Andrade and Walter Kautondokwa. Next weekend, the vacant IBF belt will be filled by either Daniel Jacobs or Sergiy Derevyanchenko. Surrounding the various title situations are a Gennady Golovkin that many think beat Alvarez twice, Japan’s Ryoto Murata with the WBA’s sub-title, and former titlist David Lemieux.
That’s all without mentioning the WBC’s interim beltholder, Jermall Charlo, or former WBO titlist Billy Joe Saunders. Saunders was supposed to fight Andrade this weekend but lost his belt to a failed PED test. He’ll be back in the mix soon enough.
That’s a rock solid foundation for any class with fresh matches, a diversity of styles, and lots of men at or near their prime.
It won’t take long for it all to likely get complicated.
Alvarez’s signing with DAZN will be good for him but, depending on how other chips fall, could pave the way for a three-track scenario at middleweight.
It’s something we might see a lot of in several divisions for the foreseeable future. The competition between ESPN, DAZN, and Showtime, with Fox’s full role yet to be unveiled, might force all entities to up their games and make the best fights available.
It will inevitably act as an obstacle to others.
Alvarez is positioned in a way economically that he can realistically force anyone in the division short of a returning Floyd Mayweather to fight on his platform. That doesn’t mean he’ll win all of his next eleven fights or keep all his belts.
The IBF belt could become an important pawn in the coming months. If Jacobs defeats Derevyanchenko, he may be on track for an Alvarez fight. Lemieux and Andrade could be realistic foes as well and Andrade would lock the WBO belt in at DAZN as well.
If Jacobs loses, Derevyanchenko could find business through multiple outlets. His promoter, Lou DiBella, does plenty of business with Al Haymon but also has a fighter in the World Boxing Super Series on DAZN.
The WBC recently ordered a WBC eliminator between Charlo and Golovkin. Golovkin’s name is being bandied about for a fight with Murata. Derevyanchenko with a belt becomes a very hot commodity.
We all know how it goes too often in boxing. When guys want to fight the rainmaker, they want the most they can get for it. Often, the way to get there is to grab another belt and build cache. Is there a scenario in 2019 where the PBC fighters are chasing the IBF title, Golovkin is fighting on ESPN against Murata, and Alvarez is going through the rest of the class online?
It’s not impossible or even unrealistic.
For now, there are enough fresh matches for Alvarez to make it work. If Jacobs wins, his ties to Eddie Hearn, like Andrade’s, lock him in to DAZN. It would also give the streaming outlet control of all the reigning middleweight champions. What do fighters affiliated with Showtime and Fox through the PBC do in that scenario?
And in that scenario, would Alvarez keep both the alphabet belts he holds? Assuming Alvarez will be one and done at super middleweight after his December fight with Rocky Fielding, that’s a decision he and his team will have to make. If he elects to keep all the titles he won in the ring, and he hasn’t always, then this won’t have to be complicated at all. More unification could unfold, chances will come, and the network balance of power in the division will ride where it should: on results in the ring.
Few things are ever that easy in boxing.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]