Once Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez was signed, the marketing began with an eleven-city, nine-day kick-off media tour. Promoter Richard Schaefer proclaimed that the tour was “like Beatlemania.” Independent media reports noted that the crowds at many of the tour stops were smaller than the numbers inserted in press releases and later repeated by trusting writers.
Tickets were priced at $2,000, $1,500, $1,000, $600 and $350. Golden Boy announced that they had sold out within hours of going on sale. Left unsaid was the fact that, pursuant to contract, virtually all of the tickets had been presold to casinos, Team Mayweather, and Golden Boy itself. Only a handful of seats were available at list price to the general public.
That created a blue-chip market for ticket scalping. David Greisman subsequently reported, “Five days after tickets went on sale and four days after they supposedly sold out, Ticketmaster’s resale website had 378 seats available that ranged from $995 for the farthest row up in the MGM Grand Garden Arena to $26,156 for a seat three rows back at ringside. Of course, if you wanted to settle for the row behind that one, that’s just $18,310. StubHub had 915 tickets available as of early Sunday evening, ranging from $1,098 for the final row of the arena to $29,999 for six rows back at ringside.”
Those numbers were an opening gambit, a concerted effort to set and maintain high ticket-resale prices for the thousands of tickets that would later enter the resale market. But as time went by, it became clear Mayweather-Alvarez was catching on. More resources were being poured into marketing “The One” (as the promotion was styled) than had been poured into any fight ever.
“Mayweather-Alvarez is being pushed like a blockbuster movie,” Tim Smith wrote. “The only thing missing is the action figures that come with a Happy Meal.”
“The purpose of the spectacle is saturation,” Bart Barry added. “Flashing images that say nothing so profoundly as, ‘This is important because everyone is watching it because it is important enough for everyone to watch.’”
The build-up had many of the characteristics of the lead-in to a national political convention. The fact that Mayweather was listed as one of the “executive producers” for Showtime’s All Access. promotional series was a pretty good clue as to the objectivity of its editorial content. But as in politics, the powers that be in boxing can’t always get out the vote on the day that matters most. The unanswered marketing question was how many people would buy the pay-per-view on fight night at a price of $64.95 ($74.95 for HDTV).
Fight week began with an unexpected twist. Oscar De La Hoya (president of Golden Boy Promotions) announced that he would not be attending the bout because he had voluntarily admitted himself to a treatment facility after suffering a relapse in his ongoing battle with substance abuse problems.
De La Hoya’s difficulties were common knowledge in boxing. Indeed, in September 2011, after Oscar had called for a rematch between Mayweather and Victor Ortiz, Leonard Ellerbe told Ben Thompson of FightHype.com, “Oscar must be having a relapse, and Victor must still be sloppy drunk from when I saw him last Sunday night in the lobby of the MGM Grand. They sound stupid, and it’s embarrassing to boxing that they would hold a conference call and look like a bunch of morons. It’s no secret that Oscar is insanely jealous of Floyd’s success. Floyd don’t have no drinking problem. Floyd don’t have no drug problem. Floyd don’t wear fishnets. And Floyd don’t have a number of kids out there that he doesn’t claim.”
Oscar’s decision to go into rehab for the second time in twenty-eight months was a sound one. But there was a school of thought that it had been timed to avoid his having to be in Las Vegas to witness Mayweather’s week of glory.
There was a time when people hung on De La Hoya’s every word. No more. His eyes are sad these days. It seems to tear at his gut that he was the most important building block in catapulting Floyd to superstardom. He dislikes Mayweather, has talked openly about wanting him to lose, and more often than not, predicts that Floyd’s opponent will beat him.
Insofar as Mayweather-Alvarez was concerned, Oscar had been largely reduced to a promotional prop. Mayweather was openly disdainful toward him.
“You might as well call me the Golden Boy,” Floyd said during the kick-off press tour for Mayweather-Alvarez. At the last tour stop, with Schaefer and De La Hoya sitting with him on the dais, Mayweather turned toward Richard and declared, “I’ve been working hand-in-hand with this man. I can’t really speak about Oscar. But one thing I can tell you, Richard Schaefer is Golden Boy.”
De La Hoya was hardly missed during fight week. That in itself was sad. Explaining Oscar’s absence on Tuesday, Schaefer told the media, “He called me on Monday afternoon and sounded terrible. He told me he needed help, that he can't go on. I put him in touch with the proper people, and they helped him get into a rehab facility for substance abuse. Obviously, the timing isn't good. But when you have an illness, it's not like you can choose the timing and say, ‘I'm not going to go today; I'm going to go next Monday.’ When you need help, you need help. And, of course, I'm supportive of that because health and life and family come before everything else.”
Had Schaefer known previously of Oscar’s relapse?
“I’m very busy,” Richard answered. "I’m nobody’s babysitter. It took me by surprise.”
There was a buzz in Las Vegas during fight week. The Money Team logo (TMT) was much in evidence.
Mayweather was forty minutes late for the final pre-fight press conference on Wednesday. One day later, he would blow off the Showtime fighter meeting without notice.
Alvarez is twenty-three years old and has been fighting professionally for eight years. At first glance, he gives the impression of someone who has not yet physically matured. He has red hair (hence the nickname, Canelo, which is Spanish for cinnamon) and a soft high-pitched voice. Walking through the casino during fight week, but for the entourage around him, he might have been mistaken for a bellhop or restaurant busboy.
Introducing Alvarez at the final pre-fight press conference, Schaefer declared, “Many can fight but few can inspire. Canelo inspires hope in millions of people.”
“I’ve visualized this fight for years,” Alvarez told the media. “I have my fans. I am their gamecock. Floyd has his fans. He is their gamecock.”
Among the thoughts that Mayweather offered were:
* “I’m the main man in boxing now. There’s only one man that counts and that’s Mayweather.”
* “Canelo is a main event fighter. I’m a pay-per-view fighter.”
* “He’s just another opponent to me; that’s all. He’s 42-and-0. He hasn’t faced forty-two Floyd Mayweathers or he’d be zero-and-42.”
* “This is not a fight. This is an event.”
Bottom line . . . Mayweather-Alvarez was catching on. The hype was translating into genuine excitement and financial reality. Events this big are rare in boxing.
In the six years since De La Hoya vs. Mayweather was contested, the number of homes in the United States addressable for pay-per-view has increased from sixty to ninety million. That meant the 2.45 million buy-mark set by Oscar and Floyd was not necessarily out of reach. By midweek, the projections were that Mayweather-Alvarez would generate in excess of two million pay-per-view buys. Schaefer was predicting a gross of $200,000,000: $140-to-160 million in domestic pay-per-view sales, a $20,000,000 live gate, $5-to-10 million in closed-circuit sales, $5-to-8 million in foreign sales, $5 million from sponsors, and low seven figures for merchandise.
Thursday brought more evidence that Mayweather-Alvarez had become a special promotion.
Even for the biggest fights, a lot of what happens in Las Vegas during fight week is cookie-cutter stuff. The press luncheon and final pre-fight press conference on Wednesday . . . Satellite-tour interviews and the undercard press conference on Thursday . . . The weigh-in on Friday. Very little is spontaneous or left to chance.
Normally, the MGM Grand Garden Arena is configured to accommodate 6,000 fans for a big-fight weigh-in. A platform is erected near one end of the arena facing the stands and the rest of the venue is blocked off by a black curtain.
The weigh-in for Mayweather-Alvarez was spectacularly different.
A huge stage with a giant backdrop was erected at one end of the arena, blocking off 4,000 seats. The other 12,000 seats were open to the public. That meant the promotion would, in effect, be setting up twice. After the weigh-in, the stage would be taken down and the arena reconfigured for the fight. There would be overtime costs for clean-up and reconstruction, not to mention audio-visual and other production expenses.
Schaefer estimated that the promotion spent close to $250,000 on the weigh-in.
“If you think big, big things will happen,” Richard said. “If you think little, little things will happen.”
The weigh-in was scheduled for 2:30 PM. By noon, all available seats were filled and the doors had been closed to the public. At the appointed hour, one Golden Boy fighter after another was announced to the crowd and brought to the stage.
Bernard Hopkins, Adrien Broner, Austin Trout, Abner Mares, Keith Thurman, Shane Mosley, Paulie Malignaggi, Leo Santa Cruz, Omar Figueroa, Alfredo Angulo, Peter Quillin, Devon Alexander, Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana, Cornelius Bundrage, Seth Mitchell, Danny Jacobs.
It was an impressive display of promotional might, not unlike the parading of ships in a military exercise. Despite the fact that Mayweather-Alvarez was a Showtime event, Andre Ward (who commentates for and fights on HBO) also appeared on the stage. That raised eyebrows, particularly since Ward isn’t promoted by Golden Boy at present.
“I was waiting for Mike Tyson to walk out next,” Schaefer joked. Then he added, “The weigh-in was about energizing the fans and promoting the pay-per-view. But it was also about sending a message. It was for the fighters to say ‘I am part of this group’ and for other fighters to say ‘I want to be part of this group.’”
Alvarez weighed in at the contract weight of 152 pounds; Mayweather at 150.5.
Meanwhile, the odds (which had opened at 5-to-2 in Mayweather’s favor) had remained constant throughout the build-up to the fight.
If Alvarez won, it would vault him to iconic status in Mexico. But that seemed unlikely. The case for a Canelo victory was based on speculation and hope. The case for a Mayweather triumph was based on past performances and cold hard facts.
Jimmy Tobin wrote, “Recognizing the danger Alvarez represents is easier than blueprinting how that danger produces a Mayweather loss. If Mayweather chooses you as an opponent, then he has determined you cannot beat him. He could be wrong, and the possibility of a misstep increases as he ages. But when Alvarez’s prospects are largely dependent on Mayweather turning in a career-worst performance, it is hard to anticipate a cliff-hanger. We are getting exactly what we asked for. But what we asked for doesn’t appear particularly competitive.”
Having an adoring fan base is different from having the skills necessary to win a particular fight. Indeed, it was not unreasonable to suggest that Mayweather had chosen to confront Alvarez now, not because he wanted to fight the 23-year-old challenger before Canelo peaked, but because he wanted to fight him before someone else removed the “O” from Canelo’s record. A loss would mean that Mayweather-Alvarez was no longer a mega-fight.
EPSN has a ten-man panel that ranks fighters periodically on a pound-for-pound basis. Each panelist lists his top ten P4P choices. Mayweather has been a runaway choice for the top slot for some time now. Alvarez has yet to receive a single top-ten vote.
Mayweather has better skills than Alvarez. He’s also more physically gifted. Contrasting their records three days before the fight, Floyd proclaimed, “I fought Ricky Hatton. I didn’t fight Hatton’s brother. I fought Miguel Cotto. I didn’t fight Cotto’s brother.”
Floyd Mayweather Sr was happy to be back in his son’s camp as head trainer for the second fight in a row after what he calls “my exile from my son.”
“Saturday is going to be a sad night in Mexicali,” Floyd Sr said.
That thought was echoed by Bernard Hopkins.
“To have any chance against Floyd,” Bernard explained one day before the fight, “you have to forget circling, moving, and counterpunching, and fight with him. In any fight, you want to take away from your opponent what the opponent does best. The first thing you have to take away from Floyd is his confidence. Whatever it costs, you have to find a way to hit him hard early and then do it again.”
“Every fighter has a shot to win,” Hopkins continued. “But some fighters’ shots are more realistic than others. Canelo’s shot isn’t very good. When you’re as good as Floyd is right now and you’re in that zone and you believe in yourself and you train as hard as you can, it’s hard to beat you. It’s Floyd’s fight to win or lose.”
On Saturday afternoon, the MGM Grand was a mob scene. People without tickets or the money to buy them were there simply to feel the action and perhaps catch a glimpse of a celebrity. It was hard to navigate through the hotel lobby, where the crush of humanity included more than a hundred people standing on line to get into a makeshift concession stand to buy T-shirts and other memorabilia.
The arena filled up earlier than it usually does for a big pay-per-view fight. Fans wanted to see the semi-final bout between Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse.
Mayweather makes his home in Las Vegas. This was his tenth fight in a row in Sin City. But when it was time for the main event, the crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Alvarez. They cheered wildly as Canelo entered the ring; then booed vociferously as Floyd was escorted through the ropes by Justin Bieber (who looked like a lapdog) and rapper Lil Wayne (shirtless with gray pants that fell below his lavender underwear). The operative words of Lil Wayne’s entrance music were difficult to discern but sounded like “Money Team” and “m--------r.”
Shortly after 9:30 PM, the millions of dollars in publicity, the eleven-city media tour, the endless promotional spots on multiple media platforms, and the stream of visitors to Las Vegas who would drop tens of millions of dollars at the gaming tables came together on a small square of powder-blue canvas that had been stretched taut across a platform of metal beams and wood boards.
Mayweather makes a show of his sports betting habit. But in the ring, he gambles as little as possible. One can, and should, appreciate the masterful nature of his performance against Alvarez. That said, Canelo looked ordinary and the bout was one-sided to the point where it lacked drama.
My notes from ringside read as follows:
Round 1: Tactical fight with little action . . . Works to Mayweather’s advantage.
Round 2: Canelo can’t hit Floyd and he’s applying zero pressure . . . Floyd is too quick and fast for him.
Round 3: Canelo can’t get off. He’s a workman. Floyd is a craftsman . . . This is target practice for Mayweather.
Round 4: More exchanges than before, but Floyd getting the better of them . . . This fight is over. Floyd has won the first four rounds. No way Canelo is winning six of the next eight or knocking Floyd out.
Round 5: Floyd doing exactly what he wants to do. Deciding when they will and won’t engage . . . Canelo looks befuddled and discouraged . . . Give Floyd credit. He’s a great fighter.
Round 6: Floyd in total control. His punches are coming in harder now . . . Canelo has the crowd on his side but not much else going for him.
Round 7: Total domination by Floyd . . . The crowd has been reduced to cheering when Canelo throws a big punch that comes within six inches of landing.
Round 8: Canelo’s best round so far. Doing some good body work. Floyd comes back harder up top, but at least Canelo hit him.
Round 9: Floyd running the table. He’s not a big puncher, but he’s a sharp puncher. Canelo totally ineffective.
Round 10: More of the same. Canelo has a mouse under his left eye and some other swelling on his face . . . This fight could have been at 160 pounds and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
Round 11: Floyd landing some nasty rights. If ever he were to go for a knockout to burnish his image, this would be the time.
Round 12: Floyd taking the round off. Playing total defense . . . This has been less sport than spectacle.
I scored the last round even. Floyd could have won it if he’d made an effort to. That made my score 120-109. Then Jimmy Lennon stunned the crowd with the announcement, “We have a majority decision.”
C.J. Ross’s scorecard was read first. 114-114, a draw. Suffice it to say that Ms. Ross should never judge again. Three days after the fight, she informed the Nevada State Athletic Commission that she was “taking some time off from boxing” and would not be available to judge fights in the near future. One hopes that she will be unavailable to judge fights in the longterm future as well.
Judges Dave Moretti (116-112) and Craig Metcalfe (117-111) restored some semblance of sanity to the proceedings by giving the nod to Mayweather. But their scorecards were closer than circumstances warranted.
Bobby Hunter of Fight Score Collector polled eighty-six members of the media after the fight. All eighty-six scored the bout for Mayweather with the average score being 119-109. That was consistent with the final CompuBox numbers that had Mayweather outlanding Alvarez in eleven of the twelve rounds with one round even for a 232-to-117 margin.
So what does it all mean for boxing?
For starters, let’s agree that a sport that generates $200,000,000 from a single fight-card is not a dying sport. But let’s also agree that trickle-down economics won’t make boxing healthy again anymore than it will support a robust national economy. Not enough money trickles down.
Showtime rolled the dice on Mayweather-Alvarez and won. But just as it was wrong to deride the economics of Showtime’s deal with Mayweather based on the first fight in the package (Mayweather-Guerrero), it would be wrong to say that the six-fight contract will be an unqualified success for the network.
Mayweather says that he plans to fight twice in 2014, with his next bout in May. Amir Khan has been prominently mentioned as an opponent. The assumption has been that Golden Boy would love it if Khan beat Devon Alexander in their tentatively-scheduled December 7th match-up at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The problem with that thinking is that Khan has looked vulnerable in recent outings and might not make it past Alexander. It wouldn’t be surprising if Khan-Alexander were cancelled and Golden Boy goes right to Mayweather-Khan at Wembley Stadium. The Brits won’t travel to Las Vegas in large numbers for Khan the way they did for Ricky Hatton. But they will travel to London.
Danny Garcia is a possible opponent. Now that Sergio Martinez’s body is failing him, Floyd might finally accept that challenge. If Manny Pacquiao looks exciting but vulnerable in his November 23rd outing against Brandon Rios, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we’ll see Mayweather-Pacquiao.
But boxing fans can be certain that Floyd won’t fight Gennady Golovkin at 154 pounds. Not even if HBO releases Golovkin from his obligation to the network in order to facilitate the fight.
“Boxing, unlike saner, better organized sports,” Hamilton Nolan notes, “is prone to leaving its fans wishing for matchups that never take place.”
Thus, the words of Richard Schaefer: “Floyd Mayweather is never going to run out of options and alternatives because, frankly, he can fight Joe Schmo and it’s going to be a big event.”
The “0” on Mayweather’s record is important to Floyd. If he retires undefeated, he can join Sven Ottke, Joe Calzaghe, and Rocky Marciano, none of whom are on history’s short list of boxing’s greatest fighters. Floyd would have been competitive with the best in any era. Whether he would have beaten the best is open to question.
Part One of “A Look Back at Mayweather-Alvarez” was previously posted at this link on The Sweet Science.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Straight Writes and Jabs: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.