CHANNEL ZERO: On Saul Alvarez-Alfredo Angulo

caneloalvarez

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Saul Alvarez returns to the ring on March 8 to kick-off the empire-building stage of his career when he faces Alfred Angulo in a pay-per-view bout that may be more interesting for its potential effect on the boxing industry than as a competitive matchup.

After facing two slick boxers with fast hands and nifty moves, Alvarez will be glad to see a bruiser like “El Perro” in the opposite corner, even if Angulo answers the bell like a man wrapped in a tunica molesta. Except for aggression and thumping power, Angulo brings little to a pay-per-view event at this stage of his career. Never the quickest fighter, Angulo now moves like he suffers from serious chilblains. Even worse, Angulo is coming off a loss—against Erislandy Lara—that saw him showered in boos at its conclusion and knee-jerk criticism in its aftermath. Only sadists—and second-rate BWAA members who buy Twitter followers—could have begrudged a mangled Angulo for yielding against Lara, but boxing is full of sadists, and, to an extent, they can sway public opinion with their QWERTY ravings. That night, Angulo suffered a hematoma the size of an ostrich egg, and even the pathological pain threshold of double-tough pugs has in-the-moment limits, something that must have surprised many who confuse prizefighting with video games, cartoons, pro wrestling, and Hollywood smash-ups.

In addition, Angulo has not looked good since July 2010, when he steamrolled Joachim Alcine in less than a round on HBO. Angulo was inactive for a year after that ferocious performance due to promotional hassles, and then suffered a gruesome beating at the hands of James Kirkland in a fight whose savage ending was worrisome. To make matters worse, Angulo found himself in an ICE detention center for nearly eight months. After being released, Angulo faced a couple of set-ups (including one against Jorge Silva that was no doubt tougher than Golden Boy Promotions expected), before pushing talented Erislandy Lara to the edge last year with relentless pressure. Sweeping left hooks dropped Lara heavily twice, but Angulo was unable to follow-up. In between his crude attacks, Angulo found himself lashed repeatedly from the perimeter, and a horrifying knot above his eye left him looking like an FX prop from C.H.U.D.

Indeed, over the last few years, Angulo has been to some dark places, and it remains to be seen if he has returned from them whole. Kirkland nearly beat him into an altered state, incarceration left him demoralized and rusty (In 2011, PBS spotlighted some of the conditions at ICE detention centers on an episode of Frontline.), and Lara disfigured him with repeated straight lefts. Angulo seems to be careening towards an exit ramp at 90 miles per hour with his hubcaps about to blow, and Alvarez will be the tow truck that drags him off to the scrap heap. If Alvarez can keep from being rattled early, he ought to be able to punish Angulo for as long as the fight lasts.

Still, whatever the merits of this bout—and an undercard full of recycled pros—you are going to have to pull out your wallet, purse, or murse to see two fighters bounce back from comprehensive defeats. In fact, a few months ago, Alvarez and Golden Boy Promotions announced that all three of his fights in 2014 will be on pay-per-view.

Yes, there are attractions whose box-office pull demand the pay-per-view route, but is Alvarez one of them? Although he was stymied by a world-class virtuoso in Mayweather, Alvarez is now in the strange position of somehow being able to capitalize on his failure. Fighters who make their reputations losing usually do so after competitive or courageous displays. Think of John Mugabi against Marvin Hagler or Razor Ruddock after his brawls with Mike Tyson. Against Floyd Mayweather last September, Alvarez was as ineffective as an infant with a tamper-proof bottle of aspirin. It was more derring-do-not than derring-do (at least if your name is not C.J. Ross), but, to paraphrase Calvin Coolidge, “The business of boxing is business.”

And part of that business seems to involve a return to the pay-per-view glut of a few years ago, when any number of mediocre cards threatened to undermine boxing on premium cable. In those days, even Vitali Klitschko headlined an HBO PPV card, an enormous flop against Danny Williams that sold only 120,000 units. Eventually, HBO realized that too many indiscriminate pay-per-views were crippling its brand and making it harder to fill out World Championship Boxing. With fighters like Leo Santa Cruz and Omar Figueroa as support for PPVs, Showtime will also have a thinner roster to draw from for its regular scheduling.

Because Alvarez is that unique boxing commodity—a two-market fighter—Showtime is willing to take the risk of alienating some of its subscribers in order to make quick-kill money. New subscribers, ratings, content for multiplex channels—none of that compares to the tangible payoff a distributor gets from producing a PPV. Unlike other programming on premium cable, boxing has limited possibilities for ancillary revenue—no DVD sales, no Netflix rentals, few syndication rights, etc. Enter pay-per-view productions and the expensive sleight-of-hand that comes with them. Now, there will be even more infomercials on Showtime dedicated to convincing its subscribers to lay out for off-network programming, a scam that ought to be reported to Rip-Off Report.com. Paying a monthly fee only to be bombarded by advertising disguised as documentaries is as maddening as dealing with the DMV. (Ironically, the network that produces 60 Minutes Sports had no problem ceding editorial control of some of its content to Floyd Mayweather, Jr.) Then, once the PPV fight is over, that means more time spent on a replay, followed by replays of the replay, etc. If that sounds vaguely sinister, remember, this is not only boxing, but cable television as well, two of the most underhanded businesses in America.

Alvarez has proven that his drawing power in Mexico is not only legitimate, but nothing short of astonishing. “The One” was the highest-rated television program in the history of Mexico, drawing over 22 million viewers. Even a significant drop-off in interest would do little to take away from the fact that Alvarez is the most popular fighter in North America. Foreign rights means Alvarez can take the risk in America as a pay-per-view fighter. But should Showtime?

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Topics: ALFREDO ANGULO, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Saul Alvarez, Showtime

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  • Al m. Oranaz

    better than floyd vs. khan.. i will watch canelo ppv but not floyd ppv this guy is not fighting solid fighters….

    • thenonpareil

      You might be right here, buddy!

  • Gopal Rao

    Tunica molesta – a shirt impregnated with flammable material, used in ancient Rome for burning someone, such as a convict, to death.

    Learn something new every day!

    • thenonpareil

      I aim to please!

  • Edwin Alvarenga

    I’m American, but my parents are Salvadoran. Not having any Salvadoran boxers to cheer for, I’ve never experienced that fervent nationalist fandom for a boxer of my country. I wish I could. While I’ve never experienced it, I get it. If you’re Mexican and like Canelo, fair enough.

    On the other hand, I can’t think of any good reason why any non-Mexican would be a big enough fan to buy the PPV. Canelo is a pretty boring fighter in my opinion. He’s never been in what I would say is a good fight. He’s passable enough for me to tune in live, but he’s never had a fight that worth rewatching. I would honestly rather watch Rigo ,and I’m no Rigo fan. He has some talent, but he’s hardly done anything significant enough to warrant any fandom outside of his Mexican base though.

    I like Angulo and his fights are usually pretty entertaining. People will say this will be a great fight because Angulo will bring it. This might be true, but Angulo does that with anyone. And Canelo himself has never been in a great fight himself. Would you be willing to pay $70 for a PPV to watch Angulo against any other opponent because hell make it good in a losing effort? What’s particularly special about Canelo that will make this particular losing effort worth paying for? I can’t think of anything.

    • thenonpareil

      Hi Edwin,

      I basically agree with what you say, especially this: Canelo is absolutely huge in Mexico and unless they were disillusioned about his loss to Mayweather, I think Mexican-Americans will turn up to see him fight Angulo.

      That’s an interesting point, about you not having experienced that nationalist feeling. Boxing is a sport where overidentification is intense, and the nationalist aspect is a big part of that. In general, I’m opposed to nationalist fervor; it’s a cheap emotion based on nothing but facticity, but boxing is the easiest sport to attach symbolism to, and it’s interesting to observe. I saw Tito Trinidad fight live at MSG 16, 17 years ago, and I was amazed at the sheer energy and passion so many whipped up based on nothing more than a common culture.

      I agree about Angulo, too: he will do his damnedest, but that’s not enough to get me interested. And, as you mentioned, Alvarez has not been very interesting himself lately. He proved nothing against Mayweather and to this day has only a close win over Austin Trout as a credit on his record. But he is a redhead!

  • Jimmy Tobin

    Hi CA, lots of thought provoking stuff here.

    I wonder if Alvarez isn’t being put on PPV as a sort of verification that he’s a PPV fighter. If GBP/SHO isn’t saying, “Check out Alvarez, our other PPV star – he’s a PPV star because we’re putting him on PPV!” After that, you just hope people expect a PPV every time they see Alvarez mentioned, and the hype sells itself. Promotion as circular logic, or something?

    I also wonder if we won’t see more PPV’s gifted to regular Showtime as the date approaches. Maybe not for Alvarez – who clearly puts butts in the seats, and on the couches – but for other potential PPV cards. Showtime did that with Broner-Maidana, and people loved them for it.

    Showtime seems to be angling for PPV life after Mayweather here, since you can’t not have guy worth paying to watch if the other guys have one. Alvarez is as strong a candidate as any. Does that mean Showtime should take the risk? I don’t know. Especially considering how easy it is the get streams of fights, etc. But then, you figure grown men still buy WWE PPV’s, so fuck it, why not try?

    The thing with “the wrasslin’” is that dudes watch that for the stories, not just the, uhh, entertainment, (no, seriously) and the “characters” can change without hurting the number of buys too much. If Angulo somehow beats Alvarez there’s no turning Alvarez heel, or rebranding him with a chick manager, or whatever the fuck they do in wrestling to bring a guy back. He might be popular, but two losses in a row can be damning in boxing. I’m not sure Alvarez is good enough as a fighter to be a PPV star in the States. I’m also not sure he has the opposition available. He needs some bigger names on his ledger before everybody will willingly plunk down $70 to watch him fight the Robert Guerrero’s of the world. But who are those names? Cotto maybe? Ortiz, somehow?

    Maybe Showtime will just pinch another developed attraction from HBO is Alvarez doesn’t pan out?

    Regardless, I hope Angulo at least acquits himself well if he can’t pull the upset. It is impossible to not pull for him. He’s burning up pretty quickly though, and I hope he can get another solid payday in before he becomes fodder.

    • thenonpareil

      Hi JT,

      Maybe putting Alvarez on PPV is some sort of way of proving Alvarez belongs on PPV…boxing is crazy enough to do that kind of thing. In fact, most of boxing seems predicated on “billing” stars: it’s something networks, fighters, promoters, and media-types love doing more than anything. Best this, P-4-P that, #1 in my Super Ratings Panel Board, prospect A, B, and C, etc. For the Omniscients, it allows them to talk about themselves more often–always a plus in their eyes–and for promoters it’s an easy marketing ploy to excite the gullible. Self-reflexivity is big in postmodern literature and in the people who cover/produce boxing.

      Maybe some future PPVs will revert to regular Showtime, depending on how Alvarez performs. Stephen Espinoza will be glad to produce real money for his network, but he knows mid-level PPVs will not be good for Showtime boxing. Say a guy like Leo Santa Cruz is set to fight three times this year. If he fights twice on PPV cards, then that means he will not be on Showtime more than once. It’s hard to maintain continuity that way. But pay-per-views make money for fighters and promoters (so long as a network produces them) and it will be even easier for Alvarez to make money because the Mexican market will bring in extra cash as well.

      I used to watch ‘rasslin as a kid–I even made a Larry Zbyszko reference a few weeks ago–but it seems like some of the bigger dumbbells who type about boxing follow it today, and I see a correlation between their love of ‘rasslin’ and being a dumbbell who types about boxing. To many, ‘rasslin’ and rap seem like their only frames of reference. If that makes sense? (Now I can add the “I’m a “Rasslin’ Fanatic Who Loves Boxin’ Too” to the many cliques who blacklist me, despise me, read me undercover, etc.)

      I like Angulo, and it’s possible one left hook can leave Canelo on his back listening to distant trumpets, but I’m not paying to see someone get lucky, which is what this fight amounts to.