Hype turned to rumor actually turned towards fact last week as Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promtions, told Dan Rafael of ESPN that he is negotiating to make a fight between welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (44-0) and unified WBC/WBA junior middleweight titlist Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (42-0-1). The date Schaefer is targeting is September 14, 2013, the weekend of Mexican Independence Day, and the venue would be the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Nevada. Mayweather has already announced his next fight would be on that day and at that location.
“I am working on the fight… I’m crunching the numbers. You should see my calculator — it’s red-hot. I am working on a lot of fights, but this is my No. 1 priority…” Schaefer told Rafael. “This is something I am pursuing, and I am having conversations with both sides… Canelo wants the fight, and Floyd has never turned down an opponent.”
Additionally, Stephen Espinoza, the head of Showtime Sports (the network that has five fights left on an exclusive deal with Mayweather and which has televised Canelo’s last two bouts), told Rafael this week that he was “cautiously optimistic” that the fight would be finalized.
There is a long way to go from a promoter “crunching the numbers” on his calculator to actually having a mega pay per view fight occur. Indeed, while boxing fans seem excited about a possible Mayweather-Alvarez match-up, there is an equal amount of doubt that the fight happens in September. Journalists such as Rafael and Steve Kim of Maxboxing have expressed doubt that the fight happens in September.
Intertwined with the question of whether the Mayweather-Alvarez fight happens in September is another question: is the fight as big as everyone thinks it is? Espinoza is on the record that he believes the fight is not only the biggest that can currently be made but “Breaking the pay-per-view record of Oscar De La Hoya and Mayweather would be our goal in that fight.” The May 2007 bout between De La Hoya and Mayweather was the last boxing event to substantially crack the mainstream: in the week leading up to the fight, the fighters were on the covers of both Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine and appeared on various television talk shows; the debut edition of HBO’s reality series “24/7″ which featured the fighters was a highly buzzed about show; the live gate was over $19,000,000 (approximately $10 million more than Mayweather’s recent bout with Robert Guerrero); the total gross revenue was reported to be $165,000,000; the fight broke the all-time record for pay per view sales with 2.5 million buys; and the fighter’s paydays were absurd, Mayweather got $25,000,000 and De La Hoya made $58,000,000. Suffice it to say, it will be an enormous challenge for Mayweather-Canelo to reach that class.
One of the top reasons for the success of De La Hoya-Mayweather was that De La Hoya was a no doubt cross-over superstar. He had been fighting on HBO since 1993 and had numerous successful pay per views including his 1999 fight with Felix Trinidad which sold 1.4 million pay per view buys. De La Hoya also regularly appeared on network television talk shows, had a Latin Grammy winning music album and was widely covered by mainstream newspapers and magazines. While Mayweather may not currently be as popular as De La Hoya was, he has a very large fanbase and a substantial “Q Rating.”
The man known as “Money” has been fighting on HBO since 1997 and has headlined 10 pay per views of varying degrees of success starting in 2005. He regularly appears on network television to give interviews, has an excellent presence on social media and has starred in numerous editions of reality shows to promote his fights. Mayweather’s “extra-curricular” activities also get a lot of media coverage and while you can debate the quality of his character, the old saying goes “there is no such thing as bad press.” Mayweather’s current status is certainly sufficient for him to be the “A Side” of a De La Hoya-Mayweather level event.
But is Canelo at a level where he can be the “B Side” to a 2.5 million buys event? The 22 year old is a popular figure in his native Mexico and is coming off a unification bout with Austin Trout where he drew 39,247 fans to the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. However, he does not speak English (or at least does not give interviews in English), has only been fighting on US television for less than three years (including two Showtime main events, three HBO main events, one HBO Latino main event and three pay per view undercard bouts) and is not known in the US mainstream (although he recently began appearing in Under Armour advertisements). Canelo has never been in the main event of a pay per view. He also does not seem to have an outgoing personality that will attract non-hardcore boxing fans to buy a pay per view. This is in direct contrast to when Mayweather was the “B Side” in his fight with De La Hoya where he had been fighting on television for ages, had already been involved in successful pay per views and used his outgoing personality to drive a reality television show and promote the fight.
Mayweather’s recent bout with Guerrero, which boxing insiders have speculated sold anywhere from 850,000 pay per view buys to 1,000,000 buys, proved that a significant “B Side” is needed to get to 1.25 million or 1.5 million buys, let alone 2.5 million buys. Indeed, Espinoza admitted this week that last week’s pay per view did not reach the numbers that prior Mayweather pay per views did because Guerrero “is not particularly well known.” It is not known if Canelo is that significant “B Side” and the evidence discussed above suggests that he may not currently be. If that is the case, then a September Mayweather-Canelo fight will not be as big as everyone thinks it will be.
Stated otherwise, a September Mayweather-Canelo fight may not be as big as it needs to be. Getting back to the original question of if the fight will happen in September, money will ultimately decide that question. According to the exclusive six fight contract Mayweather signed with Showtime, the network guarantees Mayweather a minimum payment of $32,000,000 per fight. That is a huge amount of money. According to Rafael and Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports, Mayweather’s guarantee (as well as other costs such as the over 50% of the gross sales which goes to the cable companies, advertising costs and purses for Mayweather’s opponent and undercard fighters) essentially means that a Mayweather pay per view must sell 1.1 to 1.2 million buys in order to break even. Espinoza disputes that claim but it is clear that Mayweather’s enormous guarantee means that pay per view sales must be enormous in order for the network to make a profit. Thus, Showtime has a strong incentive to make the biggest fight possible for September and it believes Mayweather-Canelo is that fight.
It would appear that Showtime’s incentive would be shared by Golden Boy Promotions. Because Golden Boy has been banned by HBO, all of its premium network fights are aired by Showtime. Thus, it should want to make its major television partner happy. Additionally, Canelo is the biggest star Golden Boy has under contract (Mayweather and Miguel Cotto work with them without a contract, you can question Bernard Hopkins’ actual star power and Adrien Broner is not yet a big draw) and he has said multiple times that he wants Mayweather next. If their star fighter wants the fight, they need to do what they can to make it happen. Of course, the big money to be made on a major pay per view event is also a huge incentive.
Canelo, however, may not have as strong an incentive. It is well known that Mayweather does not like the idea of his opponents getting anywhere near the pay he receives for the fights. One of the many reasons a fight with Manny Pacquiao never materialized is because Mayweather would never agree to a 50-50 split of profits nor would he agree to any arrangement where Pacquiao received a percentage as opposed to a flat fee. Mayweather’s recent opponents all accepted purses in the $2 to $3 million range (except for Cotto, a known draw, whose guarantee was $8 million) while he had guarantees of $25 million to $32 million. Canelo, a superstar in Mexico and someone who is establishing drawing power in the US, is not going to accept a $3 million guarantee. He could probably get that money fighting a lesser opponent as last year he received $2 million for his 5 round destruction of Josesito Lopez. Rather, for a Mayweather bout, Canelo now has the clout to demand a substantial guarantee and a percentage of the profits. That should infuriate Mayweather and could lead us to another Mayweather-Pacquiao situation. Further, Canelo’s monetary demands could lead to additional costs to Showtime which makes the pay per view an even riskier proposition for them.
Meanwhile, Mayweather has very little incentive to agree to face Canelo. His $32 million is guaranteed by his contract with Showtime. It has been reported that the contract also outlines approved opponents. While Canelo is one of those opponents, the list purportedly also includes Devon Alexander, Marcos Maidana and Danny Garcia. Those fighters are all smaller than Canelo and for various reasons, most likely present less risk of a loss to Mayweather. Those fighters also are not well known nor are they significant box office draws. Thus, those fighters are at a significant financial negotiating disadvantage vis a vis Canelo and are more likely to accept a $3 million purse. By fighting one of those fighters instead of Canelo, Floyd could have his cake and eat it too… an easier fight big money. It may even be the same money as a Canelo fight because Mayweather would command a bigger piece of a smaller pie. Showtime would have concern about selling such a fight but their contract with Mayweather gives them no leverage in this situation.
While money is the biggest factor in making a Mayweather-Canelo fight for September, there are other issues as well. Mayweather is the welterweight champion and while he has had two fights at 154 pounds, boxing insiders believe that Mayweather is not comfortable moving up to junior middleweight. Canelo simply cannot move down to welterweight. Two years ago Canelo could not make a 150 pound catchweight for a bout with Matthew Hatton and, at 22 years old, could still be growing which means a move to middleweight could be in the near future. The weight could be an issue that prevents the bout. A second issue is the effect a Canelo fight would have on Mayweather’s legacy. Some fans are saying Mayweather needs to fight Canelo to improve his standing in boxing history because Canelo is the biggest challenge he could face now. There is some truth to that although you could say Canelo is a 22 year old with no amateur background who has one win against a world class opponent in his weight class (Trout). The opposition argument is that a Canelo fight really does no more for his legacy than an Alexander, Maidana or Garcia bout would do. Rather, fights with Pacquiao or middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, both of which cannot be made, would do more for his legacy. If the man known as “Money” were to take these non-monetary issues into consideration, they could also prevent the fight from happening.
It says here that Mayweather-Canelo does not happen in September. Mayweather has no incentive to do so and Showtime has no leverage to make it happen. Canelo, while he would not make as big a payday, can still make career high money with another fight, potentially against Cotto. While Mayweather is adamant about fighting September 14, 2013, he also complained of a sore hand after the Guerrero fight and has not had such a quick return to the ring since 2001. My guess is that Canelo faces Cotto on September 14, 2013, either at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas or at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York and that Mayweather faces the winner of the Garcia-Lamont Peterson-Lucas Matthyse mini-tournament (the winner of this weekend’s Peterson-Matthyse fight is penciled in to face Garcia on September 7, 2013) at the MGM Grand in December.