Dollars and Daylights: Saul Alvarez vs. Amir Khan
Today, we welcome writer Jimmy Tobin of The Cruelest Sport with his thoughts on the aftermath of last weekend’s Saul Alvarez-Amir Khan middleweight championship main event.
Saul Alvarez flattened Amir Khan in six rounds at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday night. A single right hand, one launched, quite rightly, without regard for what might come in return, did the trick. With the win, Alvarez got back to harrowing welterweights as he did before Floyd Mayweather Jr. humbled him in 2013. Somehow the image of Khan, first crumpled then unfolded, impressed Alvarez’s adoring throng, a constituency devoted enough to ensure another welterweight (perhaps a Filipino one) will be challenge enough when Alvarez next defends his 155-pound middleweight championship for 60 of your dollars or millions of HBO’s.
The Khan farce is over, as is the promotion that did its best to rationalize it. For the Alvarez brain trust, and certainly for the fighter himself, it is the end of the latter, more than the former, that provides relief. Alvarez was always going to beat Khan – that is why the chinny welterweight was selected. Even still, Team Alvarez likely did not expect to spend so much of the promotion addressing another opponent. (No need to mention this opponent’s name. Alvarez did so explicitly in the aftermath of his win Saturday, which means said fighter should expect fight negotiations to proceed swiftly lest “Canelo” look a canard.)
Once one of the most ambitious fighters in boxing, Alvarez was praised for taking the types of risks a fighter of his popularity need never take. With Khan, however, Alvarez abused the practice of a soft first title defense and was excoriated for it. His handlers went on damage control.
First, there was trainer Eddy Reynoso, who suggested Alvarez-Khan took place one pound over the junior middleweight limit because Khan wanted to fight for the middleweight title. Very well, Khan wanted the fight at 155 pounds. In no way did his daring make him any more credible an opponent, nor would a pound change the outcome in any way. Moreover, the implication that Khan was responsible for the fight occurring at 155 pounds directly contradicts Alvarez’s own claim that he has no intention of fighting above or below the 155-pound division he birthed.
Perhaps the most precious instance of sophistry came courtesy of Golden Boy Promotions boss Oscar De La Hoya, who said Khan was both an underdog and a huge favorite. His explanation for this irreconcilable contradiction? According to De La Hoya, the initiated could recognize that, despite the odds, Khan represented a nearly insurmountable challenge to Alvarez. One-half expected De La Hoya to call Khan “El leon joven con hambre” (a hungry young lion). Oddsmakers then, who had Alvarez a (-330) favorite, must number among the uninitiated, while, for De La Hoya, Alvarez, in knocking stiff a fighter knocked stiff at lightweight, pulled off an upset.
Instead of spewing patent nonsense, Golden Boy Promotions partner Bernard Hopkins offered something of a red herring. He suggested that, rather than pursue the title for which he is the mandatory challenger, the aforementioned (unnamed) opponent should move up to super middleweight and fight light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev. So two fighters should change divisions to spare Alvarez a fight in his own – this from a fighter who left middleweight at 40 and, only after fighting the two biggest names in the division. Hopkins playing matchmaker for a fighter he does not promote is merely an attempt to insulate one he does. A transparent tactic, it amounts to Hopkins saying, “You are the future of our company, Saul, and, for the good of the future that man cannot figure in it.” That the people entrusted with steering him to success are willing to resort to such measures should tell Alvarez all he needs to know about their assessment of his abilities.
Still, beating Kovalev would certainly help this opponent make a name for himself, something Alvarez suggested need happen. Such shifting of the bar is a far cry from the tough talk Alvarez offered in the aftermath of decisioning Miguel Cotto and deboning Khan, when he was ready and willing to make the only fight that matters for him. Alas, consistency suffers when dollars and daylights hang in the balance.
The absurdity of Alvarez suggesting that his most obvious opponent need better distinguish himself is two-fold. First, said opponent holds two major titles, has sold out arenas in New York and Los Angeles and has endorsement deals with Apple, Samsung and Jordan Brand. Secondly, having reduced the middleweight division mostly to rubble and with much of the rest of it off limits for promotional reasons, this opponent would be hard-pressed to raise his profile against anybody but Alvarez. Ask the impossible of Canelo, since he seems to have asked it of you.
For Alvarez’s supporters and those who dislike his looming tormentor, there is an obvious response to the above criticism. First, this tormentor has himself voiced similar inconsistencies in speaking of greater challenges and has himself participated in a number of foregone conclusions. Point taken. However, focusing on the opponent does nothing to defend Alvarez. And that is telling, because, where Alvarez’s recent behavior is concerned, there is no good defense to offer. Oh, but Alvarez is a bona fide star, the “A-side” and whatnot? Point taken again. And yet how strange, how disappointing such talk sounds when issued in defense of a Mexican fighter. There is little legacy, little glory in negotiations not conducted by fists, little, if any, of the qualities that have long defined the Mexican boxing tradition. Disagree? Consider the reaction from Mexican fans were Miguel Cotto conducting himself as Alvarez has.
Defending mismatches, deflecting talk of better opponents, suggesting deserving challengers better prove themselves, hiding behind business logic – all this not only from Alvarez’ handlers, who can be expected to preserve their investment, but from the fighter and his fans alike. Perhaps the vacuum left by Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s first retirement will be filled sooner than expected.