By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – When DAZN boss John Skipper announced two months ago that the company had signed Canelo Alvarez to a game-changing, five-year, 11-fight contract, virtually everyone focused on how much it’s worth.
Promoter Oscar De La Hoya and DAZN executives loved attaching that headline-making number, $365 million, to the deal. That gaudy figure obviously is dependent upon Alvarez continuing to win or at least remaining very competitive in his fights, thus it’s about as guaranteed as an NFL quarterback’s contract.
Then again, embellishment and often flat-out lying are inherent, accepted parts of promoting boxing. So, $365 million it is, devilish details be damned.
Within the boxing industry, the focus hasn’t really been about the “how much” since Alvarez’s astounding deal was announced. No, they’re more interested in the “who” – as in who has the final say in choosing Alvarez’s opponents?
Do De La Hoya and Alvarez have sole control over opponents? Or can Skipper step in and remind them that, for the kind of money DAZN is paying, those that run the fledgling streaming service have more say than the promoter and the fighter in picking people for him to fight?
Those choices of opponents ultimately will determine whether it was worthwhile for DAZN, funded by a brazen billionaire, to keep Alvarez away from competitors CBS/Showtime and ESPN once HBO bowed out of the boxing business.
Much like DAZN’s subscription numbers, we might never get an actual answer as it pertains to who’s calling Canelo’s shots.
We are, however, about to get quite a hint.
De La Hoya told the Los Angeles Times for a story posted to its website Thursday that Alvarez will not fight Gennady Golovkin or Daniel Jacobs on May 4. He has reserved T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for that night, but other than that, De La Hoya knows only that neither Golovkin nor Jacobs will square off against Alvarez in the Mexican superstar’s second fight of his gargantuan DAZN deal.
The prevailing feeling among boxing insiders is that De La Hoya wants Alvarez to fight David Lemieux next.
When Alvarez edged Golovkin by majority decision September 15, two fights after Lemieux demolished Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan in the first round on the undercard, Lemieux lobbied to fight Alvarez on May 4. De La Hoya acknowledged Alvarez-Lemieux made perfect sense because his company promotes both boxers.
Lemieux, while one of boxing’s most dangerous punchers, also would afford Alvarez a safer foe than Golovkin would be in a third venture versus Alvarez. It’s a lower-profile fight, but an easier encounter that also would aged Golovkin one more year before Alvarez fights him yet again.
Alvarez’s DAZN deal lured the 28-year-old icon into another fight sooner than usual, though, exactly three months later. If Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KOs) and Lemieux (40-4, 34 KOs) still are to meet May 4, those two heavily favored fighters must first defeat England’s Rocky Fielding (27-1, 15 KOs) and the Bahamas’ Tureano Johnson (20-2, 14 KOs) in their respective bouts Saturday night at Madison Square Garden (DAZN).
From Skipper’s perspective, allowing Alvarez to fight Fielding and Lemieux in the first two fights of his contract won’t initiate the subscription surge DAZN needs from its franchise fighter. Golovkin and Jacobs, to a lesser degree, would generate that type of interest among consumers unsold on paying another $9.99 per month to watch boxing.
De La Hoya hasn’t received that company memo, apparently.
When asked after a press conference Thursday whether Alvarez would fight Golovkin or Jacobs after facing Fielding, De La Hoya told the Los Angeles Times, “No, not in May, not at all. We have no opponent whatsoever, but not Jacobs.”
Brooklyn’s Jacobs defeated stablemate Sergiy Derevyanchenko to win the then-vacant IBF middleweight title on October 28 in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. That makes Jacobs more valuable than when their fight was discussed in June, when he was just a contender, because Alvarez could capture another 160-pound championship by beating Jacobs.
Now that money is less of an obstacle than it was when Alvarez exclusively fought for HBO, Jacobs’ purse for facing Alvarez could approach eight figures. Jacobs (34-2, 29 KOs) was offered approximately a third of that amount when negotiations for the Alvarez-Golovkin rematch stalled in June.
Golovkin’s negotiating tactic worked and he received a 55-45 split in favor of Alvarez for their HBO Pay-Per-View rematch.
Another controversial conclusion has somewhat soured Golovkin on the idea of facing Alvarez again, but it is by far the most profitable fight available to the former champion from Kazakhstan.
“I want to see the Triple-G fight again,” De La Hoya told the Los Angeles Times. “Everybody wants to see that fight again.”
But, “no,” De La Hoya continued, “That isn’t an option for Alvarez on May 4. We’re not sure what Triple-G is doing yet. We’re not waiting for him. We have our own plans. I definitely want to make that fight relatively soon, but not May.”
Alvarez-Golovkin III is worth even more to DAZN than Golovkin, because Alvarez must compete in pay-per-view-level fights if that ambitious business model is to become successful.
To that end, Skipper and promoter Eddie Hearn have tried their best to secure Golovkin’s services. He also has offers from Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc., which is partnered with ESPN, and Al Haymon, whose Premier Boxing Champions is affiliated with FOX and Showtime.
Golovkin is in the process of deciding his next move. De La Hoya’s willingness, or lack thereof, to put Alvarez and Golovkin in the ring again could be a determining factor for the 36-year-old Golovkin (38-1-1, 34 KOs).
Same goes for Jacobs, who, like Golovkin, is a platform free agent. Jacobs’ promotional contract with Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing USA also has expired.
If Jacobs can’t get an Alvarez fight next, he, too, will have to seriously consider offers from Arum and Haymon. Because a fight against the other middleweight champion aligned with DAZN, unbeaten WBO title-holder Demetrius Andrade, is about as unappealing to Jacobs as it is to Golovkin.
Of course, Golovkin and Jacobs could circumvent Alvarez altogether and agree to fight each other again. They’d each make less money by boxing each other than they would for fighting Alvarez, but Arum and Haymon would be willing to pay plenty, certainly more than Golovkin and Jacobs made for their first fight in March 2017, to promote their rematch.
That’s why De La Hoya’s statements Thursday made us and surely Skipper take notice. If Alvarez doesn’t agree to fight Golovkin or at least Jacobs next, those decisions could drive Golovkin and/or Jacobs toward joining competing promoters and networks.
Taking two of Alvarez’s top opponents out of the DAZN equation would be bad for business, making it impossible perhaps to earn the desired return on the company’s gigantic investment.
The “how much” might matter more if that happens and Alvarez is left to fight Andrade – a taller, skilled southpaw who’ll be a tough out for anyone – or another bigger super middleweight, maybe a 168-pound champion more accomplished and talented than Fielding. For now, the “who” – as in who’s calling Canelo’s shots? – is the quintessential question.
We might not get an actual answer after Saturday night, when De La Hoya and Alvarez apparently intend to start pushing Lemieux as his next opponent. At the very least, we’re about to get quite a hint regarding whether, one fight in, Alvarez’s historic contract already will have become a problem for DAZN.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.