HBO banking on Canelo Alvarez becoming boxing’s next superstar
NEW YORK – Oscar De La Hoya and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez are laying down the gauntlet for Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and they’re doing it with the backing of HBO.
That was the message that the head of Golden Boy Promotions and the boxer he described as “the present and the future of boxing” presented alongside HBO Sports President Ken Hershman in a lunchtime session with a small group of reporters on the 14th floor of HBO’s offices in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon.
In a wide ranging hour-long interview, Alvarez made it clear that he wants to take back Cinco de Mayo in May and Mexican Independence Day in September from Mayweather and reserve them as dates that he will fight on. De La Hoya also said that he will do whatever he needs to do to establish Alvarez as boxing’s next superstar. And HBO is banking on Alvarez following the same star track that De La Hoya established when was the network’s No. 1 cash cow in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“At 24 years old Canelo Alvarez has established himself as the future superstar of the sport,” Hershman said. “He’s come back to HBO because he wants to make history. For us it was not only refreshing, but also compelling to hear a fighter talk about not just making money, but making history.”
Ouch! A shot right over the bow of the good ship “USS Money Mayweather,” which people in the boxing business are beginning to perceive as taking on water. Mayweather has just two fights left on his six-fight deal with Showtime and he has vowed that he will not fight beyond that. If he holds to form and fights in May and September next year that means he will be out of the business before the end of 2015. And if one of those two fights isn’t against Manny Pacquiao, then he will go out with a whimper and not a roar.
Alvarez also took a shot at Mayweather.
“All his fights he doesn’t take a risk,” Alvarez said. “He fights 10 percent of every round and then uses his experience to survive. He’s not exciting.”
He said he’s not interested in doing a rematch with Mayweather at this point.
“It’s not important to me,” he said.
Instead Alvarez is concentrating on taking back the two Mexican holidays as the platforms for his matches.
“Those are Mexican dates,” Alvarez said. “People want to see a Mexican fighter on those dates. Oscar and Chavez started that tradition.”
Mark Taffet, HBO’s pay per view guru, said if a conflict arose where Mayweather and Alvarez decided to go head-to-head they would have discussions with the pay-per-view distributors to determine what course of action to take. No one involved would want to split the audience. There have been competing shows on the same date on the competing cable networks and even in the same town, but there hasn’t been competing pay-per-view shows.
“These things always seem to work themselves out,” Taffet said.
Of course a lot will depend on which boxer has the stronger show. Having to step aside for Mayweather is one of the reasons Alvarez decided he needed to leave Showtime.
Though he said Showtime made a strong offer to keep him, he felt the better deal was signing a long-term deal with HBO. Hershman would not release any specifics on the deal other than to say that Alvarez will fight on HBO Championship boxing and will not be exclusive to pay per view.
Alvarez’s next fight will be against Joshua Clottey on HBO on Dec. 6. The official announcement of the fight could come as early as Wednesday. It is not a pay-per-view worthy fight, but as homecoming’s go, it’s not bad. Alvarez will have an opportunity to tee-off on an opponent that won’t be as slippery as Mayweather or Erislandy Lara. The Clottey fight represents an opportunity for HBO to re-introduce Alvarez to its audience and showcase the new crown jewel of its boxing brand.
Alvarez fought seven times on HBO (and the network’s pay-per-view arm), the last time being against Shane Mosley in 2012, before former CEO Richard Schaefer took him and all the other boxers fighting under the company’s banner to Showtime after a dispute with Hershman.
At Showtime Alvarez was the B-side to a blockbuster match against Mayweather, which did 2.2 million pay per view buys and set a record for revenue in a boxing match ($150 million) and for the live gate for a fight in Las Vegas (just over $20 million).
Alvarez expressed a desire to be a pay-per-view boxer from that point forward and Showtime acquiesced. His next two fights – against Alfredo Angulo (360,000 buys) and Erislandy Lara (325,000 buys) – did modest numbers when compared to his match against Mayweather.
As Showtime turned its attention to Mayweather, Alvarez started looking around and convinced De La Hoya that his future was at HBO.
“I just feel a comfort level working at HBO,” Alvarez said. “I didn’t want to be second to anybody. I think HBO offered that. They’re going to focus on me.
“It was very important to me. My goal in boxing is to be No. 1. I want to be No. 1. That was a big factor in the decision.”
As Alvarez grows in stature and in size (weight classes), there are some compelling matches that can be made at HBO in the next year or two. The middleweight division has immediate bouts against Miguel Cotto and a future match against Gennady Golovkin. Both De La Hoya and Alvarez are keen to make those matches.
Alvarez said he is willing to fight three times a year in order to fulfill HBO’s goal of having him make matches on the premium network and not just load up on pay per views.
“Why not?” he said. “Boxing is my life.”
De La Hoya said it was easy working out the Alvarez deal with HBO, after laying the ground work for a thaw in the relationship by bringing IBF/WBA light heavyweight titleholder Bernard Hopkins back to the cable network for his upcoming match against hard-punching WBO beltholder Sergey Kovalez.
But he did leave behind some sore feelings at Showtime where his former attorney, Stephen Espinoza, is the head of sports programming. De La Hoya said Espinoza understands that it was just business and that he has to work on behalf of the boxers that he promotes.
“The fighters don’t work for me,” De La Hoya said. “I work for the fighters.”
Amir Khan, the British welterweight contender, is the only current Golden Boy Promotions boxer who has an exclusive deal with Showtime, according to De La Hoya. He said they are still interested in doing business with the network despite Alvarez’s defection to rival cable network HBO.
There was a palatable buzz of excitement at the HBO offices as Alvarez made the rounds. There was a meet and greet with some of the office workers, who were allowed to take their pictures with the photogenic redheaded Mexican boxing star.
Alvarez is working hard on mastering the English language to expand his appeal to the American boxing audience. It’s clear that HBO is dusting off their star-making machine for Alvarez. They did a good job with both De La Hoya and Mayweather. Now they’re working hand-in-hand with De La Hoya and going to go head-to-head with Mayweather to try to establish the next star. They will know just what they have by the end of 2016 after Mayweather waves goodbye to the sport.
Although De La Hoya described the most recent deals that he has done with HBO for Hopkins and Alvarez as not complicated, that might not be the case for making other fights in the future.
He is currently trying to negotiate a deal for a heavyweight title match between Deontay Wilder, whom he represents, and Bermane Stiverne, who is represented by promoter Don King. It hasn’t gone so well. De La Hoya said his conversations with King haven’t been fruitful.
“The first conversation I had with him I got in a few words and he kept saying, ‘Viva Mexico!’ He talked for 20 minutes before hanging up,” De La Hoya said.
After another failed conversation, De La Hoya turned things over to his right hand man, Eric Gomez, who didn’t get any much farther.
“Don kept asking me if Oscar liked guacamole,” Gomez said.
Perhaps King is stalling hoping to send the fight to a purse bid so that RocNation will jump in and overbid as it did when they made the jumped in to take the Peter Quillin-Matt Korabov middleweight title match for $1.9 million. The WBC purse bid is scheduled for Wednesday. De La Hoya said he hopes to have the deal worked out to avoid going to purse bid.
De La Hoya said he isn’t concerned with RocNation Sports being a serious competitor in the cutthroat world of boxing promotions.
“I really don’t worry about anybody other than Golden Boy Promotions,” De La Hoya said.
Of course De La Hoya will also have to do a delicate dance with boxing power broker Al Haymon, who has a considerable stable of boxers. As De La Hoya tries to be the Henry Kissinger of boxing, operating between Showtime and HBO, he will have to include Haymon in some of those talks.
Hershman said he hasn’t had any conversations with Haymon yet. But he said he is willing to speak to him about future fights on the network.
“We just have to have a lot of conversations and a lot of communications, because HBO’s principles have never changed and won’t be compromised,” Hershman said. “We will put fighters on, invest in fighters and embrace fighters and market and promote fighters as we do better than anybody else in the world as long as those fighters want to be here. If you’re here to pick up a paycheck and go someplace else, that’s not the business model that we’re open to. But we’re going to have a conversation with our suppliers about anything. We don’t foreclose anything.”