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?