Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Thoughts On Smith-Alvarez


In previewing Smith-Alvarez, a significant portion concerned the circumstances of the well-publicized legal dispute that Saul “Canelo” Alvarez found himself in, in recent months both with now his former promoter Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions and digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN. While the circumstances including what was a relatively short period of negotiation to bring a fight between the number one Super-Middleweight in the world in the unbeaten WBA world champion Callum Smith and Alvarez, were as compelling and full of twists and turns as the simple prospect of two of the best fighters in the world facing each other, on December 19th with all legal issues resolved, with Alvarez’ relationship with DAZN beginning a new chapter, it was time for the two fighters to meet in the ring at the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX before a crowd of 12,000 socially distanced spectators due to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic.


The primary question this observer had in mind going into this fight beyond how each fighter would look as the period of time between when the fight was officially made and the actual bout itself was relatively short, was how the 5’8 Alvarez would deal with the 6’3 Smith. Although Alvarez has fought fighters that have had both a height and reach advantage over him in his career, one might argue that in this case, he was facing a fighter of equal skill level as well as someone who like Alvarez was in his athletic prime.


Although the physics of the fight favored Smith, the story of this encounter would center on Alvarez’ ability to use effective upper body movement to systematically walk the champion backwards, land the compact and crisp combinations that he is known for, make Smith miss, and counter punch effectively. One aspect that is a basic tactic in regard to a taller and longer fighter facing an opponent that is shorter physically is to see the taller fighter look to use their physical advantages by trying to keep the shorter fighter at distance where theoretically the shorter fighter will have difficulty being able to execute their offense.


In this fight, there were periods where Callum Smith was able to have success when the combat was being fought in the center of the ring where he was able to land his jab as well as occasional body shots and combinations. As the fight progressed however, Smith unable to tie Alvarez up as he came forward and was caught too frequently against the ropes. While it should not be overlooked that Saul Alvarez did a masterful job in utilizing head and upper body movement, which is very difficult to land punches consistently against, an aspect of a fight plan for a taller/longer fighter that was missing from Smith’s strategy was not only tying Alvarez up as he came on the inside, but also an inability by Smith to turn his body away from the ropes to allow himself an opportunity to manage distance between himself and his opponent. 


While this can indeed prove to be a task that is easier said than done, as was the case in this fight, it also seemed to this observer that Smith seemed willing to engage with Alvarez in the type of fight that would favor the challenger. A fight that was in close where the two fighters would exchange offense. Despite the fact that this bout was not a toe to toe battle, this was a tactical mistake by Smith in this observer’s view.


Smith seeming to not implement a more tactical strategy that would allow him to use his physical attributes to his advantage played into Alvarez’ approach. As the fight progressed, Alvarez continued to walk in and land increasingly hard blows to the head and body of the champion. A consistent pattern that continued for the rest of the bout as Alvarez out boxed and out worked his taller and longer foe to win a dominant twelve round unanimous decision, Smith’s WBA world championship as well as the vacant WBC world championship in the Super-Middleweight division as the World Boxing Council elected to sanction the fight for its world championship in the days prior to the bout.


Although this ended up being another demonstration of Saul Alvarez’ ever evolving skillset in an impressive performance against an elite Super-Middleweight in Callum Smith, many including this observer wonder if this victory will lead to the highly anticipated third encounter between Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. A potential third fight now has even greater implications as Alvarez has the unique distinction of being a unified world champion in two weight classes simultaneously as he also holds world titles in the 160lb. Middleweight division where Golovkin also holds status as a unified world champion.


While yours truly has long been vocal about my dislike for the flawed “Catchweight” concept in the sport of Boxing, I believe a scenario could be implemented where you could conceivably see Alvarez’ world championships in both the Middleweight and Super-Middleweight divisions as well as the unified portion of the World Middleweight championship that Gennady Golovkin currently holds put at stake in one fight.


A fight that frankly everyone in the sport as well as digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN wants to see. Although the relationship between Alvarez and DAZN has seen some bumps in the road recently, both appear to be embarking on a new chapter working together with the element of Alvarez being a promotional free agent. With Golovkin also under a broadcast agreement with the network, as well as DAZN continuing to expand globally, it is a fight that makes sense for all involved and perhaps one that might be easier to make now that Alvarez is a promotional free agent. For his part, Alvarez boldly stated after his victory over Callum Smith that he doesn’t run from any opponent so, we will have to wait and see what happens next.


One element that cannot be ignored and will not be by this observer was a development that occurred in the days leading up to Smith-Alvarez. I am referring to the decision by DAZN to make the fight as well as its full undercard available to cable/satellite providers on pay-per-view at the unfortunate standard inflated price point of $69.99. While some were critical of this decision and some incorrectly assumed that this was an indication that DAZN was abandoning its status as an alternative to the pay-per-view model, a model that this observer has long criticized, it was a decision aimed towards trying to attract new subscribers as with purchase, those that saw the card through cable/satellite received a redemption code allowing access to a four month subscription to DAZN’s streaming network. 


Even though it should also not be overlooked that the cable/satellite providers set those inflated price points, it may be an effective strategy by DAZN to attract new subscribers, despite the steady decline of the cable/satellite industry as more subscribers opt for streaming options over traditional pay-TV services. A decline that has only increased due to the COVID-19 epidemic and the economic impacts felt by many due to the ongoing crisis. 


Although many cynics continue to point out what they see as flaws in DAZN’s strategy by offering a more reasonably priced subscription approach, one that in time will offer even more value as the rights for various sports and leagues go on the open market for bidding globally in addition to the Boxing/combat sports centric offering currently available here in the United States, the network has shown a few things that even cynics that are objective would find difficult to argue against.


DAZN has provided Boxing fans with significantly more content on a consistent basis than one would see on a cable/satellite network or the pay-per-view model, often staging multiple cards in a thirty-day period when the schedule is active and this consistency was only interrupted for a period of time due to the circumstances of COVID-19. Perhaps more importantly, the network has shown recently that it can resolve disputes and in the case of Saul Alvarez, work out new agreements in an effort to keep providing the best value they can for their subscribers.


With Alvarez and the network now passed the bump in the road, Gennady Golovkin successfully defending his world championship over Kamil Szeremeta on the evening before Alvarez’ victory over Callum Smith, and DAZN’s increasing global expansion, the elements appear to be in place for what could be an exciting 2021 for Boxing. One can only hope not only for all the above, but for the world as a whole that the circumstances of COVID-19 improve and there will be nothing more standing in the way of progress for both Boxing as well as sports television consumption.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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