Monday, March 1, 2021

Putting Alvarez-Yildirim In Perspective


The fight between Unified WBA/WBC Super-Middleweight would champion Saul “Canelo “ Alvarez and WBC number one mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim was not one of those encounters that was meant to stir debate amongst Boxing fans, both the hardcore enthusiast as well as the casual observer, and Boxing experts. There was no such anticipation for a fight that would ultimately be known for as an event rather than what too place inside the ring. In many ways however, the event of Alvarez-Yildirim that brought Boxing back to Miami, FL on February 27th was a throwback to an era of yesteryear. 


An era where the top fighters in the sport fought frequently against fighters that ranged from fringe contenders to mandatory challengers in between fights that were thought of as marquee bouts between the best of the best the sport of Boxing has to offer. While obviously as the top fighters in the sport began earning millions of dollars per fight regardless of who their opposition might be, the concept of fighting regularly between two to four times per year, or even more in previous eras became less and less frequent to the point where a common belief amongst some is that fighters who are given the label as being a top or elite-level pugilist is only expected because of their position in the sport as well as their economic value and success, to compete between once or twice in a calendar year.


Although some may view this as an accepted standard within the sport when it is able to operate under normal circumstances, the ongoing circumstances of the global COVID-19 epidemic has made for an environment both within Boxing as well as in general that is anything, but “Normal.” Many rightfully regard Saul Alvarez as Boxing’s current top draw.


What are the qualifications of being a top draw in the sport? An ability to garner support amongst Boxing fans of seemingly every description, the ability to gain fans support both in terms of their passion for the sport as well as their willingness to pay to see you compete regularly and follow you throughout your career. Finally, the qualification in a business sense drawing fans to venues where you compete in mass as well as ratings, buys, and subscriptions to the television networks that broadcast your fights.


In seemingly every one of these categories, Alvarez fits the criteria. Over the last few years, Alvarez, who was Boxing’s top pay-per-view draw even as the medium of pay-per-view has steadily declined, has in many ways led the charge for Boxing to embrace the movement to subscription-based streaming platforms after initially signing a lucrative broadcast agreement with digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN in 2018. While the ongoing relationship between Alvarez and DAZN including a well publicized dispute that led to the end of their initial agreement has been one that has been well documented by this observer here on The Boxing Truth®️ both the fighter and network have been able to continue working together, which has been a benefit for Alvarez, DAZN, as well as Boxing fans.


How has it been beneficial for all involved? Soon after working out their differences, Alvarez was back in the ring challenging then undefeated WBA Super-Middleweight world champion Callum Smith for his crown and the vacant WBC Super-Middleweight world championship last December. For a network that is attempting to break a lot of norms, it benefited DAZN by showing it can resolve disputes and maintain relationships with fighters as they continue to build their global brand and as far as Boxing is concerned be a viable alternative to the overpriced and undervalued model of pay-per-view. Along with establishing a promotional relationship with Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, Alvarez has begun to venture out on his own as a promoter after splitting with longtime promoter Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions.

After defeating Smith via twelve round unanimous decision, Alvarez signed a two fight deal with Hearn and the first fight of that deal was a mandatory defense against WBC number one contender Avni Yildirim. Under circumstances where fighters have willingly given up world championships either because their television broadcaster did not see the value in the fight, which has unfortunately been a somewhat regular occurrence for traditional television networks involved in the sport, a fighter’s promoter having a different agenda, or simply the fighter not wanting to fulfill their contractual obligations, Alvarez not only chose to fulfill that obligation, but also chose to do so in a quick timeframe by today’s standards, returning to the ring only two months after winning the Super-Middleweight world championship.


This is where the term “Throwback “ comes into the equation. Depending on one’s age, some might remember that it was not uncommon to see Boxing’s top stars from Willie Pep, to Joe Louis, to Sugar Ray Robinson, to Muhammad Ali, to Roberto Duran to Sugar Ray Leonard, to Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Pernell Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya, and so on in previous eras compete regularly both to stay active as well as fulfill their obligations as world champions in the sport between lucrative fights of significant public interest. While this is largely an “Old School” approach as this observer has often said, it is refreshing to see the approach used in the modern era of the sport. 


Despite this fight really serving two purposes for Alvarez, the fight against Yildirim was met with much criticism. While most criticism came from the casual fan and those who voice their views via social media platforms, the basis of some of the criticism stemmed from Yildirim being deemed as the WBC’s top contender, despite being inactive for over two years and coming into the fight off of a loss in his second previous attempt at a world championship. While the political landscape of the sport is far from perfect and cannot easily be explained, I saw this fight for what anyone who is objective and understands the sport should have seen it as.


A world champion who spent much of the last year sidelined both due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis as well as the dispute with his former promoter and broadcaster, not wanting to go back to sitting on the sidelines after finally being able to get back in the ring two short months ago. An additional benefit beyond having the opportunity to keep what is known as “Ring Rust” off was to fulfill his mandatory defense obligation, which for world champions is an annual obligation. 


While there is always an element of the unknown as I said in previewing this fight, there was little doubt that Alvarez was the significant favorite going into the bout. The burden of proof was on Avni Yildirim to show that this was more than a “Stay Busy” bout and that he would make the most of what was his third chance at a world championship, a third chance some fighters are not fortunate enough to receive.


Even under the circumstances of an ongoing epidemic, this fight featured the normal pomp and circumstance normally associated with the top fighters in the sport in present times complete with a theatrical entrance for Alvarez. For the fifteen thousand spectators in attendance, such theatrics offered a glimpse of what the sport looks like when times are normal. Unfortunately for those who were expecting compelling action once the fight got underway, this is where that expectation proved to be unrealistic. 


In fairness, it is not necessarily uncommon to see a fight, particularly at the highest level of the sport begin with a somewhat conservative process often referred to as the “Feeling Out Process.” What was unusual however, was to see a commitment to such an approach from the challenger Yildirim, who is normally a fighter who looks to apply pressure. This time around, Yildirim was content to stick behind a high defensive guard and hardly threw any punches in the process. As I watched this fight, I felt that one reason for this was perhaps a healthy respect for Alvarez’ ability to counter punch as well as the accuracy in which Alvarez tends to land counter punches.


Although Yildirim had fought for a world championship twice before in his career, it is important to keep in mind the atmosphere that often comes with competing against a fighter of Alvarez’ standing in the sport. While this does not always occur, there are times where a fighter who is not used to such an atmosphere can be hesitant to let their hands go. There is also the possibility that a fighter can freeze and not be as willing to engage as they might otherwise be under circumstances of not fighting in what is known as “The Big Fight Atmosphere.”


In this observer’s view, this appeared to be a combination of both as Yildirim did not offer much resistance. Alvarez meanwhile took advantage of openings that were made available to him, which was highlighted by consistent work to Yildirim’s body. This ended up settling the stage for Alvarez to seize the opportunity to bring the fight to what many felt would be the logical conclusion. With minute into the third round, Alvarez landed a perfectly timed jab followed by a straight right hand, known in combat sports as a one, two combination, through Yildirim’s defensive guard sending him down to the canvas. Although Yildirim appeared to laugh this off upon getting up from the knockdown and would go on to finish the round, the fight would come to an end after round three. 


Yildirim’s training Joel Diaz told his fighter that he would give him one more round and if he didn’t show him something he would stop the fight. While it is somewhat unclear as to what was said between fighter and trainer following Diaz’ edict to his fighter, ultimately the fight was stopped securing a first successful title defense of the unified WBA/WBC Super-Middleweight world championship for Alvarez.


Ultimately the end of this fight was anti-climatic, but regardless of the criticism some directed towards Alvarez for this fight being made, it did accomplish what was intended for the champion, his co-promoter Eddie Hearn, and even DAZN. Allowing Alvarez to remain active, fulfill his obligation as far as the WBC is concerned, and provide a night of Boxing for DAZN and its global subscriber base. It also served as a prelude to the next marquee bout in the career of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez as it was announced that he will face undefeated two-division world champion Billy Joe Saunders on May 8th at a venue to be announced that will be broadcast by DAZN. 


Saunders, who like Alvarez has held world championships in the Middleweight and Super-Middleweight divisions will put his WBO world championship in the Super-Middleweight division on the line in what will be a unification bout where Alvarez’ WBA and WBC crowns will also be on the line. Beyond an intriguing styles clash that will be examined by yours truly in upcoming material as we get closer to the date of the announced showdown, it should not be overlooked that this fight will be three months from Alvarez’ victory over Yildirim. 


Although this observer does not want to come down too hard on those whether they be a casual fan, or simply those that like to vent their frustration on social media platforms whether justified in their criticism or not, I do want to ask this simple question. When was the last time an elite-level fighter who can make millions of dollars each time they enter the ring has fought three times in a six month span regardless of the perceived quality of opposition? While I can answer this question, I will leave it for the reader to answer.


As a final thought that the reader may also want to ponder as they think of their answer to my question. Prior to DAZN’s entry into the United States market in 2018, promoter Eddie Hearn, who has served as one of the network’s principal promoters said that one of the benefits beyond pushing the sport into a more reasonably priced subscription-based model over the pay-per-view or even cable network model is that as a digital broadcaster, it would allow for more cards to be staged on a regular basis and not put a fighter or promoter in a position where they would have to work in a timeframe of a network or pay-per-view distributor’s available dates. Thus allowing fighters the option to compete more frequently,


While DAZN has also taken a step to reach non-subscribers by putting simulcasts of a select number of recent cards including Alvarez-Yildirim on pay-per-view and offering those non-subscribers the option to have a free trial of their network, why should a fighter be criticized for taking advantage of the opportunity made available to him to fight as much as he can? It just so happens that the fighter in this case is regarded as the top fighter in the sport. Increased activity will only benefit Alvarez and from a business perspective as the world looks to emerge at some point from the COVID-19 crisis, will benefit the sport of Boxing as a whole, and will benefit DAZN as it looks to continue its relationship with Alvarez, open up further relationships throughout the sport increases its global footprint in the world of sports television as a whole as it continues its growth.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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