The odd lack of buzz around Saturdays middleweight unification fight is more at the feet of broadcaster DAZN than the matchup, which is one of the best that can be made today
Cinco de Mayo weekend has for years been the closest thing on the boxing calendar to Super Bowl Sunday, a destination weekend that serves as an annual showcase for the sport’s best. Ever since it was first co-opted by Julio César Chávez, the first Saturday in May has typically been reserved for boxing’s most popular fighter in (hopefully) one of the year’s biggest fights, nearly always in Las Vegas. Oscar De La Hoya took up the mantle in the early aughts before ceding it to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, who each took turns with it before sharing the date for their 2015 superfight.
Since then it’s belonged to Canelo Álvarez, the WBA and WBC middleweight champion whose nominal status as boxing’s biggest star was formalized in the fall when he signed a splashy five-year, 11-fight contract worth a minimum of $365m with DAZN, the upstart subscription streaming service that’s trying to disrupt to the pay-per-view model in a bid to become the Netflix of sports.
The second fight of Álvarez’s deal takes place on Saturday night when he faces Brooklyn’s Daniel Jacobs, who holds the IBF’s piece of the fractured middleweight championship, in a unification bout at the T-Mobile Arena. Both fighters made the contracted weight at Friday’s weigh-in, after which tempers flared during the traditional staredown.
“Emotions flying high. I ain’t never backed down from a challenge in my life,” Jacobs said. “I’m from Brownsville [in Brooklyn, New York]. I never did, and I never will. Listen, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. I feel like I’m the best middleweight in the world, and that motherfucker right there, he gonna get it. … Let’s do this Saturday night! Period! Bumping me with that big-ass head, it’s time to put on.”
Said Álvarez, through an interpreter: “I see fear, and that was fear right there what he did. For me and my people, my team and for my fans, it’s very important [to win]. This is the challenge we have, but I’m ready for it, and we’re going to win.”
A second weigh-in awaits on Saturday morning at 8am local time, stemming from a rehydration clause in the contract, where either Álvarez and Jacobs face a fine of $250,000 per each pound over 170lbs.
It must be said, given the normally rollicking tenor of the Cinco de Mayo backdrop, the atmosphere about town in the days before the fight has been conspicuously subdued. As of Friday night there were tickets available, even the $200 cheap seats normally gone within minutes of release, and reportedly plenty. There are no closed-circuit viewing parties at surrounding properties, which is practically unheard of for a fight of this magnitude. Turns out the lack of a major network pumping a fight non-stop makes a difference. (ESPN and Fox, no doubt wary of the new disruptor on the block, are not taking advertisement dollars for the fight.)
DAZN’s attempted blitz of the US market appears to have stalled as their limited viewership has forced them to already double their subscription rate while creating problems in landing venues for their events. But the decided lack of buzz around Saturday’s showdown belies the quality of the matchup, which is one of the better fights that can made today in any division.
Álvarez (51-1-2, 35 KOs), the lineal champion at 160lbs since outpointing Miguel Cotto four years ago, is correctly the favorite even if the nearly 5-1 odds in his favor speak more to his brand than his superior ringcraft, form and caliber of opposition. The red-headed puncher from Guadalajara is coming off a three-round destruction of poor Rocky Fielding, a mismatch-by-design that was more an infomercial for DAZN than legitimate world title contest. Before that, however, the Guadalajaran scored his career-best win over Gennady Golovkin in their second encounter after the first ended in a controversial split draw.
Jacobs (35-2, 29 KOs) was one of the hottest prospects in boxing when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a life-threatening form of bone cancer, in May 2011. After a series of procedures at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center to remove the quarter-sized tumor that had coiled around his spine and left him completely paralyzed below his waist, he began the long road back to the ring through outpatient physical rehabilitation.
Nineteen months later, the fighter once known as the Golden Child resumed his journey under a new moniker: the Miracle Man. A first-round knockout of Peter Quillin for the WBA middleweight title put a bow on the fairytale, but Jacobs’ controversial split-decision loss to Golovkin less than a year later propelled his career to new heights even in defeat. Still, a win over Álvarez would invite the mainstream fame that’s to date eluded him (even though his commercial for NewYork-Presbyterian that’s been in heavy rotation on local TV has raised his profile in the five boroughs).
A fluid boxer-puncher with power in both hands, the 5ft 11½in Jacobs is endowed with the ring intelligence to take full advantage of his three-and-a-half-inch edges in height and reach. That Jacobs is seems to be tailor-made for Canelo from a physical standpoint is promising enough, but a track record of always showing his best in his biggest fights makes him a live dog.
But for Álvarez, who’s still only 28, the sense persists among supporters and skeptics alike that we’ve yet to see his best. His unique and methodical blend of hand speed, punch variety and a slick defense that flows from deft footwork to superior upper body movement was clicking to perfection in the second Golovkin fight.
Watching with interest will be Golovkin, the recent DAZN signee who takes on the unheralded Steve Rolls in a stay-busy fight on 8 June with an eye on fighting Saturday’s winner in September: be it a rematch with Jacobs or a third installment with Canelo.
Read more: www.theguardian.com