ARLINGTON, Texas – They embraced in the ring, promoter and fighter, boxing legend and young star well on his way to getting there. There is so much Oscar De La Hoya in Canelo Alvarez. From the magnetic personality to the concussive power, the boyish good looks to rock-star popularity, there are few obstacles preventing Alvarez from earning the type of mainstream success De La Hoya once enjoyed.
Actually, there’s just one.
Alvarez knocked out Liam Smith on Saturday, in a fight that played out exactly how anyone with even a cursory understanding of the matchup expected. Smith — a nominal titleholder with no résumé to speak of — was game but overmatched by Alvarez, who assaulted Smith’s body for eight rounds before finishing him in the ninth with a savage left hand just under Smith’s ribcage. The crowd — 51,420, a boxing record for Jerry Jones’s AT&T stadium — roared, Alvarez preened and a couple hundred thousand fans who forked over $65 for this mismatch started searching for Seinfeld.
And…that’s it. A fight that had been savaged for weeks met its inch-high expectations. And that, friends, is the problem. Once, Canelo was branded fearless. He rushed into the ring with the likes of Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara, high-risk/low-reward fights valuable only to a fighter determined to prove he was the best. He was De La Hoya, burnishing his résumé regularly against elite foes.
Today? He’s a punch line. Chickenelo is a part of the boxing lexicon. Duckanelo, too. A Gennady Golovkin-sized shadow hangs over Alvarez, growing larger with each passing fight. It’s all anyone wants to talk about, and until Alvarez gets in the ring with the 160-pound destroyer, it’s all anyone will.
Here’s the thing: The negativity directed at Alvarez has reached a critical mass because everyone — Alvarez, De La Hoya, Golden Boy Promotions — has fed it. Flashback to last fall: Alvarez had just claimed a middleweight title, outpointing Miguel Cotto, himself a blown-up junior middleweight. Suddenly, Alvarez was a 160-pounder; suddenly, Alvarez was a Golovkin foe.
Had Alvarez said he didn’t feel ready for middleweight, that he was dropping back to 154 pounds until his then-25-year-old body naturally developed, it would have been over. We would still clamor for Alvarez-Golovkin, sure, but we wouldn’t be feverishly demanding it the way we are now.
Except he didn’t. When asked about Golovkin, the Spanish-speaking Alvarez said, in perfect English, “I am ready.” After flattening Amir Khan last May, Alvarez pointed a gloved finger Golovkin, sitting ringside, and waved him into the ring. Later, he declared his body ready for 160 pounds while De La Hoya goofily told reporters that Golovkin’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, better be ready for his call on Monday morning.
The only meaningful call anyone made was to the WBC, alerting the sanctioning body that Alvarez would be dropping his title rather than defend it against Golovkin.
Alvarez buried himself in his rhetoric. And his team has looked foolish trying to dig him out of it. All week Alvarez, De La Hoya, even Bernard Hopkins, were peppered with questions about Golovkin, about why reporters were grudgingly covering a mismatch instead of giddily writing about the biggest fight in boxing.
The responses were comical, grown men spinning wild narratives like teenagers looking for an acceptable explanation for why they broke curfew.
Canelo isn’t ready to move up in weight
No, it’s the money. Golovkin’s team wants too much money.
Wait, wait, that’s not it…
It’s happening, the fight just needs to build a little longer.
I made an offer—I’m still waiting for a call back
That last one — declared by De La Hoya last week and tacitly endorsed by Alvarez, when he said he made a big offer to Golovkin a month ago — was just the latest in a seemingly never-ending string of excuses to steer clear of Golovkin. De La Hoya doubled down on that one after the fight, saying he made an eight-figure offer to Golovkin for next September and that Golovkin’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, has refused to negotiate.
Here, though, the devil is in the details. Golovkin isn’t a flat-fee opponent. He’s the unified middleweight champion who has sold out shows in New York, Los Angeles and London and did a credible number — 150,000 buys — in his first foray on pay-per-view last year. He’s the B-side, sure, but he’s the lighter side of a 60-40 split.
And even if Golovkin was inclined to take a fee, why would he do it now? His value today may not be what it will be next year. Golovkin’s biggest fight is Alvarez, but there are marketable, credible fighters in front of him. Danny Jacobs is Golovkin’s mandatory challenger. That’s a sold-out fight in New York that will attract in excess of 1.5 million viewers on HBO. Billy Joe Saunders — the WBO titleholder who owns the last piece of the middleweight crown — posted a YouTube video declaring he was ready, willing and able to fight Golovkin. That’s another sold-out building in the U.K. — and a big payday.
Tack those two fights on to Golovkin’s résumé, he’s in a brand-new tax bracket. And Golden Boy knows this. They needed to fight back against a tsunami of bad press and they found a nifty narrative to push. But the reality is this: Golovkin has never made outlandish financial demands and is genuinely driven by a desire to fight the best. A reasonable offer will instantly be agreed to.
Late Saturday night, Canelo faced reporters, a fresh bandage wrapped around his bruised right hand, the same tired message coming out of his mouth. He wants to fight Golovkin. He is probably done at 154. He made a big offer, two or three times what Golovkin has ever earned. He’s waiting to hear back.
It’s clear he believes what he says. And it’s just as clear no one else does.