John Skipper's epic failure has Canelo Alvarez flexing his muscle at DAZN

Kevin IoleCombat columnist

There is no other way to put it: John Skipper is making an absolute mess of the boxing program at DAZN.

He blew it by not having final say on Canelo Alvarez’s opponents, and in the process he blew a major event for the streaming service in September that would have led to a major influx of new subscribers.

The number of people who watch fights on DAZN matters little in its subscription-based business model. What it needs is for each fight it streams to help boost the subscriber numbers.

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More than 90 percent of its fights, no matter how good they turn out to be in the ring, do nothing to sell subscriptions. It’s the fights with the biggest names — Alvarez, Gennadiy Golovkin, Anthony Joshua — that do that.

There are two massive weekends each year on the boxing calendar, the first Saturday in May when there is always a major event in Las Vegas to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. The other is on Mexican Independence Day weekend in September.

The tradition of fighting on those two weekends was begun by Top Rank when it was promoting Oscar De La Hoya. The majority of the largest pay-per-view bouts in history has come on one of those weekends.

DAZN executive chairman John Skipper (L) and CEO James Rushton pose backstage at the launch of the global sports streaming service on July 17, 2018, in New York. (Getty Images)
DAZN executive chairman John Skipper (L) and CEO James Rushton pose backstage at the launch of the global sports streaming service on July 17, 2018, in New York. (Getty Images)

Neither Alvarez, who signed a contract with DAZN last year that was in excess of $300 million for 10 fights, nor Golovkin will be fighting on Mexican Independence Day weekend in Las Vegas this year.

That is nothing more than a failing of Skipper’s leadership. When he signed Golovkin to a deal that paid him more than $100 million as he was moving down the backstretch of his career, Skipper failed to get anything in writing to protect DAZN if Alvarez and Golovkin, for whatever reason, didn’t want to fight each other.

Alvarez and Golovkin deeply dislike each other, much of it emanating from Alvarez’s two failed drug tests in 2018. When Alvarez won their rematch on Mexican Independence Day weekend last year, he gained the upper hand and has been flexing his muscle.

He was refusing to fight Golovkin. On Monday, as Skipper desperately sought to salvage the situation, he approved Sergiy Derevyanchenko as a potential opponent for Alvarez. Alvarez also got Skipper to agree, inexplicably, that he wouldn’t have to fight Golovkin on Cinco de Mayo next year.

Alvarez and Golovkin sold over a million pay-per-views in each of their two fights, and the lure of a rubber match on DAZN was why Skipper signed the 36-year-old Golovkin in April to that $100 million-plus deal.

A show headlined by Alvarez-Golovkin III would be the one that would deliver more new subscribers to DAZN than any other.

When DAZN made its U.S. debut last September with a heavyweight title fight between Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin, it promised pay-per-view-caliber events on a regular basis.

But in the 10-plus months it’s aired in the U.S., how many cards has DAZN aired that would have been on HBO Pay-Per-View in the past?

It says here that it’s just one, the May fight between Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs. Other than that, there’s been a lot of very entertaining fights streamed on DAZN, but nothing that would have been remotely close to a pay-per-view card.

That is a massive failing and it falls on the man at the top. Worse is Skipper’s failure to have some sort of protection in his deal with Alvarez to ensure a situation like this wouldn’t occur.

A rubber match between Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin isn't going to happen anytime soon. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
A rubber match between Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin isn't going to happen anytime soon. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

Because he didn’t want to fight Golovkin, Alvarez first entered talks with light heavyweight Sergiy Kovalev. That was going to be the Sept. 14 Mexican Independence Day fight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

But by the time talks with Kovalev commenced, he’d already committed to a fight in Russia with Anthony Yarde. DAZN attempted to buy its way out of the problem, but it couldn’t get a deal done on time. Golden Boy announced Alvarez wouldn’t fight on the second-most coveted date of the year, and Kovalev went ahead with plans to face Yarde.

That turned the attention to Derevyanchenko, who somehow became the IBF mandatory challenger by beating Jack Culcay one fight after he lost his title to Jacobs.

There was a purse bid scheduled, but it was postponed multiple times when it appeared that Alvarez and Derevyanchenko wouldn’t be able to come to a deal. Golden Boy went so far as to say it would surrender the IBF belt if it didn’t reach a deal with Derevyanchenko.

A final deadline was posted for 3 p.m. on Thursday, and 15 minutes after that passed, the IBF followed through and stripped Alvarez of his belt.

De La Hoya, who promotes Alvarez, released a statement ripping the IBF, but it was hard to feel any sympathy for him given his side had previously agreed to surrender the belt if a deal with Derevyanchenko wasn’t made.

That, though, didn’t stop Golden Boy from teeing off on the IBF, which has often been way wrong in the past but did everything according to its rules this time.

“We offered his team an unprecedented amount of money for a fighter of his limited stature and limited popularity, but the truth is that I’m now certain they never had any intention of making a deal,” De La Hoya said in his statement. “But instead they wanted to force us to relinquish Canelo’s belt. This is an insult to boxing and more importantly an insult to the boxing fans of the world.”

The true insult is that all sides weren’t working feverishly to make the fight the fans really wanted to see, the trilogy bout between Alvarez and Golovkin.

While a deal for a bout between Derevyanchenko and Golovkin for the now-vacant IBF belt is not finalized, it’s close and should be completed in a few days.

That leaves Alvarez still without a fight. He could wind up fighting Jaime Munguia in what would be a colossal mismatch.

This situation, though, shows the risks inherent in paying boxers the kind of money DAZN pays Alvarez and Golovkin without any control of whom they fight.

They’re worth a lot more than $35 million and $20 million, respectively, if they fight each other. But they’re not worth all that much more than anyone else if they’re fighting the likes of Rocky Fielding and Steve Rolls.

Skipper is the man in charge and he blew this. He’s the guy with the big checkbook and he theoretically should have the hammer. Yet Alvarez has shown that he, and he alone, will decide who he fights and that Skipper has little to do other than to make it to his ringside seat for the first bell.

This is nothing more than an epic failure by Skipper and will be remembered as one of the lowlights in an otherwise long and mostly successful career.

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