We fightwriters sometimes err in focusing too much on the business side of things, I think. While we are focusing on the power plays, and rifts and cold wars and thaws and suits and behind the scenes machinations, the majestic acts of the supremely talented and yes, courageous, athletes sometimes get under-reported.
But other times, as, I think, now, we get it right when we’re training our eyes, ears and keyboards on the business side of the red-light district of the sports world. Here in our favorite section of real-estate, we find such a delightful and sometimes infuriating and repugnant batch of characters as we would in any red light district. This melange of the motley and magnificent lends itself to be studied, dissected, discussed more so than is so in any other sporting realm.
That focus on the behind the scenes business, and the characters involved was on my mind during the intimate media luncheon held on the 14th floor of the HBO offices on 42nd St. in NYC, on Tuesday. Specifically, my thoughts were running to not as much the fighter who was there holding court, answering queries from the informed and aggressive media corps present, Canelo Alvarez, but the promoter who’d walked arm in arm with him from Showtime, where he’d been doing his thing for his last five fights, Oscar De La Hoya.
De La Hoya, I told you a few times since he’d exited rehab, and got back in the game which had long been his life, maybe too much so, maybe in a way that distracted him from other matters, of family, of emotional wellness, is not to be underestimated. Don’t assume, I wrote a few times, that because he’s admitted to various indiscretions, that some of the same attributes that served him well as a Hall of Fame fighter, a champion in six weight classes, a fighter who gravitated toward the sternest challenges, and not toward the most exploitable loopholes, that De La Hoya won’t be able to right his personal ship.
It looked to me like he was a proud captain of that vessel, as he sat next to Alvarez (44-1-1, with 31 KOs), the 24-year-old Mexican who is positioning himself as the present and future leader of the sport, after signing a new deal with HBO, terms not disclosed.
Right away, I put it to Oscar, before we got to Alvarez, who will glove up on HBO regular Dec. 6, likely against Joshua Clottey. What does this deal signify? Is it intended as an alert, a strong signal to Bob, to Floyd, to Richard, to Al, whoever…I’m a player, I’m THE player, I’m in the top slot as promoter as I was as a fighter?
The 42-in-February- year-old drew guffaws when he admitted that he decided to never fight again, just that very morning, after he ripped off a shirt, flexed in the mirror, and the mirror told him no mas. He said that the promotional sphere was to be his next chapter, and answered with savvy that people frankly haven’t been giving him credit for having.
“Just like the focus was always at hand when my job was fighting, if I was fighting Fernando Vargas, I wasn’t focusing on my next fight, who I lost or beat prior to that fight, I was focusing on the job at hand. With Canelo, I kept my eye on the ball, on the prize, the job at hand. What the fighter was asking me, what the best move would be for the future of Canelo Alvarez. I wasn’t listening to third parties, I wasn’t paying attention to anything that was going on outside of Canelo. Which made it easier for me to take care of business. I didn’t do it for no other reason but to look out for his best interest.”
Smart take. Do I fully believe the guy? No. He’s a competitor. Beyond that smile, toothy, A-grade on its best day, he can and has and did act in a manner which, I think, can hang with a Bob Arum, or a Don King. He told us that, and surprised many folks, when he sifted offers, and spurned the one from Stephen Espinoza, and took the one from KenHershman. How that plays out, we shall see, in the next few months, and into next year, when more players, the Roc Nations, and the Haymon Boxing’s seek to deepen their imprint on the fight game.
Oscar, smartly planting seeds and watering them, came back to that POV, that he’s there to serve the fighters, get the best deals for them, and nothing else. “Fighters don’t work for me, I work for the fighter,” he said.
Being a good fightwriter, hell, being a good writer in lots of areas, it helps if you can read between the lines. Is it possible that a message is being sent right there, a presentation of compare and contrast, was being thrown out there? Absolutely…pray tell, can you think of anyone who, conversely, people postulate might be working to their own benefit, and not fashioning deals which serve the best long term interests of people who they advise? I bet you can; but savvy Oscar was not going to burst a relationship bubble by going there. Yes, he can indeed get er done in the smoke filled back-rooms, as well as center ring, or so it seems.
Alvarez too got peppered. He will likely be fighting Joshua Clottey, a not untalented but infrequently active boxer, on Dec. 6. The Mexican too was in message mode; Oscar spoke up for him and declared him the current leader and the future driver of the sport, and Canelo concurred. No, he didn’t mean to pick a fight with Floyd Mayweather when he said he would be the man to own those all-important dates for Mexican boxers, Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day. No offense to Floyd, he implied, but bottom line…those dates are mine. We can play chicken if you want, he seemed to say, but I ain’t budging.
A fight with Miguel Cotto in maybe May seems like a nice option, and oh yes, in the not too distant future, a crack at middleweight star Gennady Golovkin is on his to do list, maybe in a year, or two.
Maybe my main takeaway on Alvarez was: he doesn’t see himself as a second fiddle guy. This guy plays lead guitar, he’s got the groupies who buy the PPVs, and he ain’t no warmup act.
Indeed, he did want to separate himself from the pack, give himself room to breathe and grow away from Mayweather, he said. “My goal in boxing is to be number one,” Alvarez said.
Oscar, once again seeming to say it without saying it, as a smart politician does, as it leaves him wiggle room should events warrant, basically said that Canelo is Golden Boy’s number one focus, and no, I don’t think we see Golden Boy doing promoter work for a Mayweather fight in the near future.
And on the subject of Mayweather, Canelo gave his longest answer to any query when I asked him if he didn’t think he needed to beat the man, to be the man. Does he want to get another crack at Floyd, and beat him, so he can physically usurp him from his throne? “No,” he said, as GBP VP Eric Gomez translated. “That’s not important.” Floyd avoids risk to such a degree, and fights hard maybe ten percent of a round, that his fights are too boring, Canelo said. No need to engage in such a dreary waltz, he said.
Oscar again sent a signal, lol, which he says he didn’t send, when speaking about his ex pal Richard Schaefer. They had been in mediation talks, and it was progressing, the ex fighter said. “But we hit a wall,” he said. “We were making progress and then hit a wall.” Lawsuit against Schaefer is still in play. Message: I finish my fights…
Later, I gave Oscar another in to make a loud stamping sound. Does it look to him like Haymon Boxing is readying to become another sort of entity, one that will be in direct competition with Golden Boy, and the Roc Nations, and such. Oh, Oscar did a bit of Alpha Promoter Male posturing when he said he didn’t see Roc Nation as an entity to threaten a Golden Boy, as music is their thing, and boxing hasn’t been. No, the Cali-based dealmaker said, he isn’t thinking about what shape the Haymon squad may take in 2015, he’s just focused on making the most compelling bouts now. Again, it was the smart politician answer. Fully truthful? Impossible to say, but the one Hillary Clinton would have given…
After the peppering session, Oscar seemed jazzed. “I liked that,” he said, grinning widely, pointing at me, indicating that he liked parrying some solid launches. Message: he’s all in, this is not a job for him, he’s in his element. He said he’s readying a re-launch of his personal brand, and will be firming up many charitable endeavors moving forward.
My last read of the whole deal, Canelo to HBO, and him and Oscar at HBO: if he continues to work towards having the fights fans want get made, then I’m in step with Oscar. That’s what I want, I’m a fan first, who happens to write about this addictive sphere we all adore and loathe.
Your thoughts, my informed and passionate friends. Talk to me…
Follow Woods on Twitter. https://twitter.com/Woodsy1069