Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Thoughts On Alvarez-Plant And What’s Next


Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has spent the last year of his career doing something extremely rare. While much had been publicized about the fall out with his former promoter Oscar De La Hoya and for a time global digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN, a situation this observer chronicled as it played out, inside the ring, Alvarez was attempting to fully unify the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division. While it is not uncommon to see fighters attempt similar feats throughout the sport, it is important to keep in mind that Alvarez was not a recognized world champion in the weight class at this time last year but did hold an interim/regular championship designation in the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) Super-Middleweight ratings, which gave him a mandatory challenge of former world champion Callum Smith.


As most know, Alvarez began his march towards history by scoring a twelve round unanimous decision over Smith last December. A fight that saw him win the previously unbeaten Smith’s WBA crown, but also the vacant WBC world championship in the division giving him status as a unified world champion. Alvarez would then score a third round stoppage of WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim in February of this year. This would then lead to the next step on the unification path as he would score an eighth round stoppage of previously unbeaten WBO world champion Billy Joe Saunders in May of this year, which served as the set up for his bout with undefeated IBF world champion Caleb Plant on November 6th at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV. The round to becoming undisputed world champion’s final destination.


In previewing this bout, this observer talked about the various business elements that surrounded this fight, which unfortunately were more of the story going into the bout than the encounter itself, including, but not limited to the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC)’s insistence that this bout take place on their platform via pay-per-view as opposed to the digital subscription model, which Alvarez has been a focal point in driving home the value for consumers for the last three years. While this observer’s stance regarding the pay-per-view model and such tactics should be well known to readers as well as those who know me personally, which will be addressed further later in this column, the shame of such elements that overshadowed this fight is the obvious in that it took the focus away from the bout itself and the fact that it was to determine a true rarity in the sport. An Undisputed world champion, the first in the history of the Super-Middleweight division. What made this even more rare was the timeframe in which it took Alvarez to go from holding a mandatory challenger position in an organization’s ratings, to unified world champion, to now being one step away from being the one and only world champion.


For Caleb Plant, the focus on the business elements also took away from what was the biggest fight of his career in facing Boxing’s top drawing card in a fight where if he were successful, he would instantly become one of the biggest stars in the sport. As a world champion who had defended his crown four times against relatively non-descript opposition with the exception of former IBF world champion Caleb Truax, whom he defeated in his last bout going into this fight, this was the equivalent of having a chance to hit the lottery for Plant in addition to the career high payday of $10 Million he earned for facing Alvarez.


There are two sayings that yours truly firmly believes in however, as it relates to the sport of Boxing and all of combat sports that can be applied in regard to this fight. One is “Styles Make Fights” and the other “There are levels to the fight game.” Despite Caleb Plant’s solid Boxing and athletic ability, I felt as I said in previewing this fight that the story of the fight would be whether Plant would be able to use his attributes against a fighter of Alvarez’ caliber. Something that has proven to be easier said than done for even the highest level of competition Alvarez had faced in four different weight divisions.


It would prove to be as difficult for Plant. From the outset, Alvarez applied consistent pressure on Plant. This resulted in Plant backing up for the majority of the fight. Although Plant threw a consistent jab throughout and had sporadic success in landing counter punches, he simply could not land anything to stop Alvarez from coming forward. What was most noticeable in my eyes was that even though Alvarez had difficulty for a period of time landing his offense, he was the one that pressed the action and when he did land, he was landing the cleaner, more effective blows. This resulted in my scoring seven of the first eight rounds in Alvarez’ favor.


While it is indisputable that Plant was very defensively sound, he simply did not land enough offense consistently to win the rounds, in my opinion. The main attribute that Plant executed well in this fight beyond his jab was his movement. Despite being forced consistently to fight moving backward, there were periods throughout where his movement made it difficult for Alvarez to get his punches off. This did not result however, in Plant being able to land punches that were effective in the sense of being able to hurt or momentarily halt Alvarez’ from coming forward and with Alvarez forcing the combat, it was very difficult to score rounds in Plant’s favor.


While Alvarez was not overwhelming with his offense, He did succeed in making the most out of what punches he did throw and that may have made the difference in the eyes of some who felt that several of the rounds in this fight were close. From my perspective, I saw Alvarez implementing an attack to the body of Plant similar to that in which he has used against previous opponents. He did not land every time he went to Plant’s body, but you saw a consistent trend of body shots, which opened opportunities for Alvarez to land to the head of Plant particularly with his right hand. As the fight went on, you could also see this tactical approach gradually beginning to slow Plant’s movement down. An old adage that this observer believes in that can be interpreted in Boxing terms is if you hit a tree at its base enough times eventually the head will fall. 


In Boxing terms, some refer to the implantation of a consistent body attack as taking the air out of the tires, in other words, taking the ability of an opponent to use their legs/movement to evade away from them as a fight progresses. The stalking approach that Alvarez has implemented in recent fights including this one reminded yours truly of the approach that Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. used throughout his legendary career. One aspect that I saw in this particular fight that I felt worked well for Alvarez was that he would throw a left hook to Plant’s body and regardless of whether that punch landed, he would follow it with a left hook to the head in addition to finding a home for his right hands.


Although Chavez and Alvarez are not similar in terms of style in my view, the similar approach Alvarez has implemented recently in his career and did implement here against Plant had similar results to that which Chavez made his Hall of Fame career on. The gradual breaking down of an opponent in a systematic and calculated fashion. As I watched this fight during the first half of the bout, I began to sense that Alvarez might get to Plant around the seventh round based on what I saw from his approach. This did not occur, despite the pattern of the fight not changing in that Alvarez continued to walk Plant down. The one change in this pattern came in round seven where Alvarez chose to briefly lean against the ropes and motioned to Plant to come forward almost as if he were challenging the IBF world champion.  While this did not last a significant period of time, I felt Plant did enough in that round to win it on my unofficial scorecard. I also felt Plant did enough to win the ninth round of the bout.


It may have been a case of Alvarez not being as aggressive or effective in those two particular rounds and/or a case of him trying to pace himself, but nevertheless, despite Plant winning those two rounds clearly in my view, he could not change the pattern of the fight for long enough to have sustainable success. While my sense that Alvarez might get to Plant by the middle rounds did not occur, by the late rounds, I did wonder if Plant would be able to make it to the final bell.


This was due largely to his slowing down as the fight progressed as a result of Alvarez’ body attack. Caleb Plant deserves all the credit for being able to hang in against such an attack, which can be attributed to his solid defense throughout the fight. Even the best defense however, can at times break. Alvarez would find his breakthrough moment in the eleventh round. A left hook to the head of Plant set up a flush right uppercut to the head that sent Plant down for the first time in his career. Although this knockdown came from head shots, it was the accumulative effect of the body work Alvarez had done throughout the entire fight, which created this opening as Plant was not able to evade what Alvarez was throwing as had been the case periodically throughout the bout. The effects of the body work was also noticeable in Plant getting up from the knockdown on unsteady legs, but being allowed to continue. Sensing he had his opponent compromised, Alvarez went in for the finish pouncing on Plant with a series of unanswered blows that would ultimately send him down for a second time and result in the fight being stopped.


It was as impressive a victory for Alvarez as he could have envisioned going into this fight, but more importantly, it was also mission accomplished in being the first fighter in this observer’s memory to have won a world championship and gone on to successfully unify an entire division in the span of one year. When one considers the various political elements that be in the sport, which as I have said numerous times more often than not serve the interest of various entities that surround the business of Boxing as opposed to benefiting the sport, it is a significant accomplishment.  Now the question becomes what’s next?


This is where unfortunately, this observer must again bring up the various business aspects that surrounded this fight going in and where things might stand now coming out of Alvarez’ victory over Caleb Plant. First, Alvarez retains his position in holding the power in any negotiation involving his career, both due to his drawing power as well as the fact that he continues to win. What does this mean? Well, although this observer remains firm in his stance that the subscription-based model in which Alvarez has been able to market effectively over the last three years due to his association with DAZN is a better model both in terms of what is offered and in terms of value for the price for a subscription for consumers, the possibility definitely exists that Premier Boxing Champions, and it’s television partners Showtime/ViacomCBS and Fox Sports could make Alvarez an offer to continue to fight under their banner, which would unfortunately mean more pay-per-view offered to the consumer at inflated prices as both ViacomCBS and Fox are reluctant to venture into the digital streaming market in terms of trying to compete with streaming networks like DAZN and ESPN+, despite the fact that ViacomCBS has invested significantly recently in acquiring sports rights for it’s digital subscription streaming network Paramount+ (Formerly CBS All Access.), which has including moving it’s weekly Inside The NFL series from Showtime to Paramount+.


While yours truly has said for a good while in conversation with those who know me, colleagues who also cover the sport, and those readers who reach out to me on social media platforms that ViacomCBS does have the platform through Paramount+ to move Showtime’s Boxing content including what would be pay-per-view offerings to that network and to do something along the lines of “Showtime Boxing on Paramount+”, which would then in addition to all the other sports content they are offering would put them in a better position to compete in the streaming realm with DAZN and ESPN+, it does not seem like that is their intention at this point. You would think however, given the network’s struggles recently with ratings for Boxing cards that air on the premium Showtime network as well as the average of 200,000 buys for many recent pay-per-view cards, which are normally priced at $70 or above that Showtime and maybe even those at the PBC would be looking for a viable alternative rather than trying to fight against the changing landscape of television.


Although the possibility also exists that Alvarez might be interested in a potential offer to fight on ESPN’s streaming network, yours truly believes the logical option would be for him to return to DAZN where prior to this fight, he has maintained a working relationship with the network, despite the bump in the road that occurred due largely to his split from his former promoter Oscar De La Hoya more so than issues with the network itself. In addition to continuing to fight on DAZN’s network for his previous three bouts prior to facing Plant, Alvarez has also enjoyed a working relationship with promoter Eddie Hearn, which in addition to those three bouts has seen Alvarez also in position as a co-promoter along with Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing on cards staged in Mexico. With one such card scheduled to take place in Mexico later in the month of November, it makes all the sense that Alvarez would want to continue that relationship, particularly if the pay-per-view returns on his fight with Caleb Plant do not deliver what is to be expected once he gets his portion of revenue.


As for what this means for Alvarez free agent status as far as promotional entities are concerned, there is certainly nothing saying that fighters who are currently aligned with the PBC, or with Bob Arum’s Top Rank, Inc., who has a broadcast agreement with ESPN, shouldn’t be able to fight on DAZN or other platforms if a lucrative opportunity presents itself.  The primary thing Alvarez has demonstrated clearly was that he wanted to make history by becoming the first Undisputed Super-Middleweight world champion by facing Caleb Plant. Although clearly the PBC felt they had more leverage, despite what they might admit publicly due to the fact that Plant was the only world champion left standing in the division that Alvarez had not beaten, Alvarez chose to take a risk by returning to pay-per-view in order for that fight to happen, when theoretically, Plant may have made more money by facing Alvarez under the DAZN banner than the estimated $10 million he received. While this is as much an indictment on the business practices in the sport that more often than not put their interest ahead of the fighters interests, Alvarez still did what he needed to do to make the fight happen and accomplished his goal.


Will other fighters who have seen their careers primarily relegated to fighting under the PBC banner due to the PBC’s unwillingness to work with outside promoters and networks on a consistent basis follow Alvarez’ example by being willing to face fighters regardless of promotional /network ties? This observer believes it would be in those fighters best interest to do so even though that may not be what the PBC or it’s TV partners necessarily want to hear. It is important to keep in mind that a lot of the reason why many people did not give Caleb Plant much of a chance against Alvarez was due to the fact that he has fought exclusively within the PBC realm, and as such, despite being a world champion who had four successful title defenses going into the fight with Alvarez, had a lower profile as compared to that of his opponent and was not particularly known amongst the casual fan. While it should not be overlooked that some cards in which Plant has headlined that were broadcasts on the main Fox network in the United States did much higher numbers than anything on pay-per-view, he was not facing opponents who were known to the casual observer and that I believe hurt him in terms of his name recognition going into this fight. Although the fighter cannot be blamed for that, it points out an obvious flaw in the thinking some promoters and apparently the PBC seem to have that certain fights have to take place under their banner and on their terms, which is one reason, perhaps the primary reason why the business of Boxing more often than not stands in the way of significant progress for the sport.


Despite losing to Alvarez, Caleb Plant certainly has nothing to be ashamed of and showed his mettle in defeat. It would be nice however, to see opportunities be opened for him beyond the PBC realm that will allow him to increase his profile going forward beyond being known as the opponent in which Saul Alvarez defeated to become an undisputed champion. Plant does have the skills where he could certainly be in line to fight for a world championship again either at Super-Middleweight or potentially the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division. It may only be a question of whether or not he will be allowed to fight a fighter or world champion if the opportunity presents itself if it is not under the PBC banner.


As for Alvarez, he has fought more frequently than any fighter on the elite level of the sport recently. While he definitely deserves a rest before resuming his career, there is one fight out there that frankly needs to happen. This fight would be the long awaited third encounter with Gennady Golovkin in which Alvarez has both a disputed draw and victory over in two fights in 2017 and 2018 respectively where they fought for Golovkin’s unified Middleweight world championship.


Golovkin has gone on to regain unified world champion status in the 160lb. Middleweight division and will be facing WBA world champion Ryota Murata in Tokyo, Japan in December. If Golovkin, the current IBF/IBO Middleweight world champion should defeat Murata, it would make sense for him to move up eight pounds to challenge Alvarez for his undisputed world championship given both have a working relationship with DAZN and it is a fight where honestly there is unfinished business and one that the public has been demanding. Although the possibility also exists that Golovkin could attempt to fully unify the Middleweight division, something he appeared to be close to doing before he faced Alvarez, at almost forty years old, a third encounter with Alvarez is something that will not be available forever and is the most lucrative option on the table for Golovkin should he beat Murata. From a business perspective, it would also be a win for DAZN that has faced some struggles and criticism from some whether fairly or unfairly in not delivering a fight like this to it’s network, which has been an alternative to the pay-per-view model, seeing as the first two times Alvarez and Golovkin fought, each bout did over a million buys on pay-per-view, proving to be a rare exception over the last decade and a half by producing a significantly higher buy number than the norm. A fight like this for the network would also likely boost subscriber numbers in the sense of bringing new eyes to the network as well as seeing some who may have unsubscribed return. If Golovkin gets by Murata, it makes sense that in May 2022, when Alvarez says he wants to return to the ring, the fighter standing across from him would be Gennady Golovkin.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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