One of the more dominant stories outside of the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic in the sport of Boxing was the well-publicized legal dispute that emerged between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, his longtime promoter Oscar De La Hoya, and digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN. A dispute where Alvarez alleged among other things breach of contract and one that ultimately resulted in his being released from a lucrative $365 million eleven fight agreement with DAZN and a split between Alvarez, De La Hoya, and De La Hoya's promotional company Golden Boy Promotions.
In Boxing however, such disputes tend to be a chapter as it was announced shortly after Alvarez being released by both DAZN and De La Hoya that he would be returning to the ring after a one year absence to challenge undefeated WBA Super-Middleweight world champion Callum Smith on December 19th at the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX. A bout that will headline a card broadcast globally by DAZN.
While it is unusual to see parties involved in such a high-profile dispute being willing to re-enter business together so soon after settling such dispute, to be honest it was the only sensible option for both Alvarez and DAZN as well as perhaps lending some credibility to the idea of some that the core of the dispute was more between Alvarez and De La Hoya rather than the broadcaster, who frankly seemed to be caught in the middle. Although Alvarez is now said to be on a fight by fight agreement with DAZN rather than a deal similar to the guaranteed multi-fight/year agreement he initially signed along with De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions to join DAZN following cable network HBO's decision to exit the sport after forty-five years in 2018, realistically, starting a new chapter with the digital streaming broadcaster made sense.
Why did it make sense? DAZN has marketed itself as an alternative to the overpriced and undervalued model of pay-per-view upon it’s arrival here in the United States in 2018. While DAZN is not a network exclusively devoted to Boxing, the multi-sport broadcaster has served as a worthy successor to HBO and has also shown the sport can succeed under a subscription-based platform as part of a full array of sports as opposed to offering cards on pay-per-view on a per card basis at inflated prices.
Where Alvarez fits into the equation was prior to DAZN's entry into the United States, he was one of the few legitimate pay-per-view draws in the sport in an overall declining medium. Alvarez has successfully helped DAZN market itself as a more viable and cost-effective option for consumers as compared to the pay-per-view model. The risk for Alvarez by severing ties between himself and DAZN, which recently expanded into over two-hundred new markets internationally in addition to it’s nine existing markets, which includes the United States is by going back to an inflated and increasingly declining pay-per-view model, there was the risk of significant backlash from consumers that have now been able to see a more reasonable subscription model, which offers significantly more content per Boxing card as compared to traditional cable/satellite television or pay-per-view at a fraction of the price. This along with the cable/satellite industry continuing to be in decline as more consumers opt for streaming options over traditional pay-TV service, it made little sense for Alvarez to limit his potential audience especially with the potential for his fights to be seen by more people globally as DAZN expands it’s reach than ever before.
Nevertheless, the stress of what has gone on for Alvarez this year including, but not limited to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic as well as the legal dispute over the last several months has had to have an effect on him. It is important to remember that although athletes are blessed with their athletic gifts, they like the rest of us, are still human and it would be quite unusual for anyone not to experience some effects from what has gone on, especially someone in Alvarez’ position.
It should also not be overlooked that this fight between Callum Smith and Saul Alvarez comes with a relatively short window for both fighters to prepare to do battle. Even though it was not uncommon to see the top stars in the sport fight frequently and have short periods of inactivity between bouts in previous eras, most elite level fighters today typically fight between once or twice a year and given not only the circumstances of the ongoing epidemic, the legal dispute Alvarez was involved in, and what had to be a difficult negotiation window in the midst of all of the above, one would be justified to question how much preparation both fighters have been able to do under the circumstances.
In his last fight in November of last year, Alvarez successfully moved up to the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division to dethrone three-time Light-Heavyweight world champion Sergey Kovalev to win the WBO Light-Heavyweight world championship. A world championship that Alvarez vacated soon afterward. Prior to the now resolved legal dispute between himself, his former promoter, and DAZN, Alvarez, who is still a unified world champion in the 160lb. Middleweight division appeared to be at a point in his career where he was only interested in marquee fights rather than solely focusing his attention on attempting to fully unify the Middleweight division. Some may recall Alvarez first foray into the digital subscription streaming medium when he kicked off his relationship with DAZN by scoring a forth record knockout over top Super-Middleweight contender Rocky Fielding in December 2018. The victory over Fielding earned him interim/regular champion status in the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) Super-Middleweight ratings, which in simple terms made him the mandatory challenger for the man he will face on December 19th Callum Smith.
Although there have been no visible effects from Alvarez moving up and down the weight scale depending on whatever opportunities are available to him at this point, the concern this observer has is that eventually the effects of moving up and down in weight will take a toll on Alvarez. Despite it being normal to see fighters move up in weight, there is a risk of something being taken out of fighters who have shown that they can compete effectively in multiple weight classes on a per fight basis. While this does not appear to be an issue for Alvarez at least as of yet, it is something that the thirty year-old might have to deal with eventually, especially if what he has been dealing with outside of the ring has been distracting.
As far as what Alvarez has to deal with in the Boxing ring, in Callum Smith, Alvarez will face the top Super-Middleweight in the world in the eyes of many. Smith, the current WBA Super-Middleweight world champion is unbeaten in twenty-seven professional bouts having scored knockouts in nineteen of those fights registering a career knockout percentage of nearly 71%. Among his accomplishments, Smith was also the winner of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) Super-Middleweight tournament in the series inaugural season in 2018 where he knocked out George Groves to win the tournament and along with it the WBA world championship in the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division. What should not be overlooked is this fight between Smith and Alvarez has a revenge element.
Some may recall Alvarez’ fight against Liam Smith in September 2016. Liam is the brother of Callum Smith and it was on that September evening that Alvarez scored a knockout win stopping Liam in nine rounds to win the WBO Jr. Middleweight world championship. While it can be a cliché when talking about fighting siblings to see an opportunity for revenge against a fighter who scored a victory over your brother, that is exactly the scenario that this fight presents. Though it is important to remember that Alvarez’ victory over Liam Smith came in a weight class fourteen pounds lighter and over four years removed from where this fight will take place.
It is of equal importance however, to also keep in mind that Alvarez implemented what proved to be a very effective strategy against Liam, that he may look to execute against the taller and longer Callum Smith. This observer is referring to the consistent body attack that ultimately broke the always “Game “ Liam down, which led to the late knockout win. Alvarez also implemented a similar strategy in his Super-Middleweight debut against Rocky Fielding in 2018.
From the opening bell of that fight Alvarez essentially pinned himself to Fielding and was almost non-stop with the body attack. Despite being significantly taller and longer than Alvarez, Fielding had no answer to keep Alvarez at distance and frankly gave an impression that he was simply glad to share the ring with a fighter who is a future Hall of Famer.
This will very likely be a different fight though like Fielding, Smith will have a significant height and reach advantage over Alvarez. At 6’3 and having a seventy-eight inch reach, Smith is the type of fighter who looks to keep opponents at distance and use those attributes to his advantage. In his fights against both George Groves and Hassan N’Dam, Smith also showed he has punching power and if he can find a way to keep the 5’8 Alvarez, who will also be giving up eight inches in reach to the champion, on the outside, this could be a far more difficult fight for Alvarez than some might anticipate.
While the strategy for Alvarez could be similar to those he was able to implement against Fielding and most recently against Sergey Kovalev, one should not have a complacent view and assume that this fight will have a similar look and outcome as those bouts. Although Alvarez did indeed score knockouts over both Fielding and Kovalev, some might say that the bout with Fielding was a case of a solid professional going against an elite level fighter without the skillset to compete effectively on the highest level of the sport. Kovalev meanwhile was able to have success against Alvarez before ultimately being stopped in the eleventh round.
Alvarez needs to find a way to get on the inside of Smith consistently early on and make him uncomfortable in order to have success in this fight. Whether or not he will be able to do that against an unbeaten and perhaps equally skilled world champion remains to be seen. In terms of the odds going into this fight, it is logical to assume Alvarez will have support as illustrated courtesy of Sports Betting Dime “The betting market has set Canelo as a -555 favorite (on average) against Callum Smith, with the Briton sporting an average moneyline of +356. The two-way odds (i.e. a draw equals no action) currently give Canelo a 79.5% chance to win with Smith getting the remaining 20.5%” To make sense of these moneyline odds, I recommend checking out this guide covering the best boxing betting practices, prior to betting on Smith vs. Alvarez.
While these odds will obviously change as it gets closer to fight time, what the odds illustrate is not only Alvarez’ current standing within the sport, but also his significant name recognition clout particularly amongst casual fans who may not have had an opportunity to see Callum Smith, who has fought in the United States on only two previous occasions, compete before, despite his unbeaten record, his success in the WBSS, which was largely blacked out here in the United States until the tournament signed a broadcast deal with DAZN, as well as his DAZN status as a world champion. What the odds cannot illustrate however, is what likely will be an evenly matched encounter once the two fighters enter the ring to do battle.
Although much of the storyline going into this fight centers around what has gone on for Saul Alvarez outside the ring in recent months as well as the even bigger issue of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Boxing is still and will always be a sport of opportunity and Callum Smith has a significant opportunity to once again come to the United States to defend his world championship against arguably Boxing’s biggest star. If for whatever reason Alvarez is not focused on what will be standing across the ring on fight night, the ingredients are present for what could be an upset. One of many reasons why Boxing is not only great, but is truly the theater of the unexpected. We will see what happens when Alvarez challenges Smith for the WBA Super-Middleweight world championship on Saturday night.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
Smith vs. Alvarez takes place on Saturday, December 19th at the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX. The fight as well as its full undercard can be seen globally on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN beginning at 8PM ET/5PM PT (U.S. Time). For more information about DAZN including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices/platforms/Smart TVs, availability around the world, and to subscribe please visit: www.DAZN.com.
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