Thursday, December 20, 2018

Thoughts On Alvarez-Fielding

The Super-Middleweight clash between current unified WBA/IBO/WBC Middleweight world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and top Super-Middleweight contender Rocky Fielding had all the makings of a big event. One of Boxing’s biggest stars stepping into the ring to compete alone will draw attention, but the added elements of that star moving up in weight to test the waters in a new weight class as well as where this fight took place made for a special night of Boxing.

Off of a landmark $365 million dollar broadcast deal with digital sports streaming network DAZN, Saul Alvarez would not re-enter the ring after becoming a Middleweight world champion for the second time in September in a venue in Las Vegas as has been the norm for many of his recent bouts, but would instead take place in a historic venue rich in Boxing history. Alvarez would make his Super-Middleweight debut in the venue rightfully regarded as “The Mecca Of Boxing.” Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY.

When Alvarez entered The Garden ring on December 15th to face top Super-Middleweight contender Rocky Fielding it appeared on paper that it could be a difficult task for the current Middleweight world champion to combat. After all, it is worth remembering that Alvarez began his career as a 140lb. Jr. Welterweight and first became a world champion as a 154lb. Jr. Middleweight. This fight would be nearly thirty pounds up the weight scale from where Alvarez made his professional debut in 2005, the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division.

An illustration of how the physics did not necessarily favor Alvarez going into this encounter could be seen in the tale of the tape as he was five inches shorter than Fielding and was also giving up five inches in reach to his opponent. While not always an accurate illustration of what will happen when two fighters square off inside the ring, it does more often than not play a role in at minimum showing the task before the fighter who is at the height and reach disadvantage.

Despite the disadvantages that Alvarez had to contend with as well as facing a naturally bigger man, a great fighter more often than not will find a way to combat the challenge. Two things were immediately apparent in this fight. Alvarez knew how to implement the strategy for facing a taller and naturally bigger opponent, and Fielding did not know how to make use of the physical advantages he had going into the fight.

Alvarez immediately got on the inside of Fielding and pounded away at his body scoring four knockdowns over three one-sided rounds to earn a stoppage in the third round. The fight did not live up to what became an event, but the event itself did mark a continuing shift for the sport as Alvarez, one of Boxing’s top pay-per-view draws officially stepped away from the realm of traditional television and pay-per-view and into the future of Over The Top (OTT) digital distribution in what was the first fight in his five year, eleven bout agreement with the DAZN digital sports streaming network.

While his fight against Rocky Fielding can best be described as one fighter chopping another down, it is obvious that the public that are now being exposed to the DAZN streaming service are going to want to see Alvarez face stern competition in subsequent fights. This observer wants to remind those who were critical of Alvarez for facing a fighter in Rocky Fielding, who was not particularly well-known to casual fans or known here in the United States, who have in the days since the fight took a stance in suggesting that the encounter might have been “Fixed.”

This of course comes from the source of the disgruntled fan who more often than not are very difficult to please in today’s age of social media. It was clear that the fight between Alvarez and Rocky Fielding was one between a world-class fighter in Fielding stepping up not in weight class, but in class of opposition by facing an elite level fighter in Saul Alvarez. While at the end of the day, it proved to be a mis-match, Fielding did get in there with one of the best fighters in the world and continued getting up when knocked down, despite being outclassed.

What I would like to remind folks who shared a common accusation of those who are disgruntled that prior to 2018, a year that has seen the inception of low cost digital subscription streaming sports networks like DAZN and ESPN+ that a fight featuring a fighter who is not only regarded as one of the top boxers in the sport, but also a top draw would have been one that would have been offered via traditional cable/satellite pay-per-view where similar fights would have been changed to the consumer for $70+. Although this was a one-sided fight that left some unsatisfied, it was offered to consumers at a more economically sensible price as part of a monthly subscription plan and offered more content than what is normally offered on traditional mediums.

While this is in no way meant to put down the Boxing fan, who may feel dissatisfied with what might have been their first exposure to the sport delivered via Over The Top (OTT) digital distribution, it does leave a sense that no matter what a fighter, a promoter, or a network does or offers there will always be a segment of the audience who will not be satisfied. Although it may present what some might see as a “No-Win” scenario, it does underscore the importance that all involved strive to make the best fights possible for the fan/consumer.

With that in mind, an obvious question that yours truly has pondered in the days since the fight has been what will Alvarez do next? To be more specific, not only who will he fight next, but in what weight class will that fight take place? Given Alvarez’ new agreement with DAZN, there may be no shortage of interesting options in either the 160lb. Middleweight division or the 168lb. Super- Middleweight division. This is obviously due to the influx of talent that is available in both weight classes featuring fighters who have regularly been competing on DAZN cards since its launch here in the United States in September or will be doing so in 2019.

An obvious question that most fans and experts alike are asking is whether or not a third encounter between Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin is a potential option. In the eyes of this observer, there is no clear answer as of this writing as to whether or not a third fight between the two will take place in the near future. This is because as of this writing Gennady Golovkin has not formally announced where he will sign as far as his future in terms of what network/platform will televise his fights in the near future following HBO’s recent decision to step out of the Boxing business after forty-five years.

As many know, both Golovkin and Alvarez were under contract to HBO, but each of their respective deals with the network concluded after their second fight making both free agents as far as television networks were concerned. With Alvarez now signed to DAZN the question of whether a third fight between the two will take place will likely come down to what network/platform Golovkin chooses to sign with. In my opinion, I think the question really should be not if, but when a third fight between the two takes place. It is of course the fighter’s decision, in this case Golovkin’s, to decide what is best for him at this stage of his career.

After two hotly contested battles with Alvarez that each ended with elements of controversy as far as the scoring of those fights and opinion among both fans and experts as to who won those fights, a third encounter remains warranted. Until Golovkin makes his decision public, there are other options that should be considered for Alvarez.

The two obvious options in my mind would be a unification bout with recently crowned IBF Middleweight world champion Daniel Jacobs at Middleweight or to face WBA Super-Middleweight world champion Callum Smith if Alvarez wants to stay at 168lbs. A fight with each of those champions would provide an interesting challenge for Alvarez and in terms of a potential fight with Smith, Alvarez did earn interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s Super-Middleweight ratings with his win over Rocky Fielding, which essentially makes him the number one contender for Smith’s world championship.

Both of these options may indeed be logical due to both of those fighters being promoted by Eddie Hearn, who also promotes Rocky Fielding and who also has a deal with DAZN. While the idea of fights being easy to make can be and often times is wishful thinking, it does give the appearance that a fight with either Jacobs or Smith would be perhaps easier to make as there are no contracts between competing networks/platforms that would potentially interfere in a fight being finalized.

As readers may recall in my preview of Alvarez-Fielding, I stated that no matter what happened in the ring on December 15th that it would be a win for the sport. While there may be some who remain critical not only of the fight itself, but more specifically the direction that the sport is going in terms of OTT/streaming options over traditional television and pay-per-view, it was indeed a win that Boxing fans should celebrate. How DAZN, Alvarez, and the respective promoters that are involved will follow that win remains to be seen.

With the sport in general moving in a much better and economically sensible direction for the fans that support it and stepping into the future in terms of technology, I for one am encouraged by where things are heading. All too often, fans as well as those of us who cover the sport have to deal with the negative aspects of Boxing that yours truly has often referred to over the years as “Black Eyes.” For once, we’re not discussing a situation that involves controversy or an instance where fans feel “Cheated” by paying an inflated fee to see a Boxing card that ultimately left them unsatisfied. While some critics may remain, this observer will conclude this column by asking a simple question, “Why criticize a good thing for Boxing?”

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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