By Arne K. Lang
The Sept. 17 Golden Boy Promotions card featuring Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Liam “Beefy” Smith, a title defense for Liverpool’s Smith, is seemingly a promotion in need of a strong undercard. Canelo has fans in Mexican precincts that will pay top dollar to see him fight Joe Blow, but this bout won’t generate good PPV sales outside those precincts unless it is packaged in an attractive box. The view from here is that Liam Smith (pictured dropping Newark’s John Thompson) is a strong opponent, but the oddsmakers don’t seem to think so and Canelo is facing a backlash after sidestepping Gennady Golovkin.
The original co-feature had Luis Ortiz (25-0, 22 KOs) defending his WBA interim heavyweight title against Russia’s Alexander Ustinov (33-1, 24 KOs). In fact, this match was made before Golden Boy picked Liam Smith to be Canelo’s next opponent.
Ortiz vs. Ustinov would have attracted considerable buzz, notwithstanding the fact that both fighters are in their late 30’s and that Ortiz, a 6’4”, 240-pound southpaw, would have been chalked a substantial favorite. There is a school of thought that Ortiz is the best heavyweight out there and Ustinov, the larger man, would have provided a good measuring stick.
Ortiz-Ustinov fell apart when the Cuban defector demanded more money. Golden Boy then turned their gaze toward Billy Joe Saunders, the WBO middleweight champion.
The undefeated (23-0) Saunders is an interesting fellow. The 2008 Olympian, a member of England’s Irish Traveler community, is reportedly the great-grandson of Absolom Beeney, England’s most famous gypsy bare-knuckle fighter. In common with his Irish Traveler compatriot Tyson Fury, Saunders is a bit of a loose cannon, but in a way that endears him to many casual fight fans. He’s good copy, and good copy sells tickets.
Ortiz vs. Ustinov and Saunders vs. TBA were fights that had meaning in the larger scheme of things. According to the WBA, the Ortiz-Ustinov winner would be next in line to meet the lineal heavyweight champion, either Tyson Fury or Wladimir Klitschko depending on the outcome of their forthcoming rematch.
If Canelo and Saunders had won their respective bouts, they would fight each other next, likely in December. This would be Canelo’s first fight as a true middleweight and, if all went according to plan, his final stepping-stone to a mega-fight with GGG. But like Luis Ortiz before him, Billy Joe spurned Golden Boy’s offer.
What we now have as the “co-feature” is a 12-round middleweight contest between Gabriel Rosado (23-9, 1 ND, 13 KOs) and Willie Monroe Jr. (20-2, 6 KOs). This bout, says a Golden Boy tub-thumper, “is a sure-fire action fight that features two of boxing’s most resilient fighters who have taken on the top fighters in their division on their rise to stardom, garnering praise and respect from boxing fans.”
Yes, this does have the earmarks of a competitive, fan-friendly fight. But the Golden Boy PR guy used the term “stardom” very loosely. Rosado is better than his record, but he went through a stretch when he lost five in a row with one of those defeats refashioned into a “no contest” when his opponent tested positive for a banned substance. As for Monroe, his great uncle Willie “The Worm” Monroe was one of only three men to defeat Marvin Hagler, but this Willie is no Willie the Worm. Monroe recently agreed in principle to a bout with Avtandil Khurtsidze, but then his management reneged, a prudent decision.
What we have here is a good 10-round fight that has been elevated into a 12-rounder simply because protocol dictates having at least one other 12-rounder beyond the main event on a PPV show. As for what awaits the winner, Golden Boy is candid: “a final run of the middleweight ladder.”
The other fights slated for the TV portion of the show are a 10-round featherweight contest between Joseph Diaz Jr. (21-0, 12 KOs) and Andrew Cancio (17-3-2, 13 KOs) and a 10-round contest in the super bantamweight division between Diego De La Hoya (15-0, 9 KOs) and Orlando Del Valle (22-2, 16 KOs). These two fights, says Golden Boy, will deliver non-stop action.
In truth, Cancio is no match for JoJo Diaz, the baby-faced former Olympian who is broadening his fan base by learning to speak Spanish. And although Diaz is very good, this contest has limited appeal outside the Southern California market. As for Diego De La Hoya, he appears to be well-matched against Puerto Rico’s Del Valle, but one wonders if he would be getting international TV exposure this early in his career if he wasn’t Oscar De La Hoya’s first cousin.
We suspect that Golden Boy will be pressured to spruce up this show by bumping one of the announced undercard fights off TV in favor of a more compelling match-up. Either HBO or Jerry Jones, the emperor of fantabulous AT&T Stadium, will step forth and insist upon more bang for their buck. Time will tell.