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This Saturday, the boxing world was ready and waiting to see a redo of last fall's epic clash between Ring Magazine middleweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and multiple middleweight belt holder Gennady Golovkin. When Alvarez popped for clenbuterol in two tests administered by the Volunteer Anti-Doping Agency, the fight seemed to be in jeopardy. When the Nevada Athletic Commission added Alvarez’s eligibility to an April 18 hearing after issuing a temporary suspension, many rightfully were concerned about the upcoming event. I was among a vocal contingent that firmly believed it was all smoke and mirrors and the show would go on, that the NAC would follow a long established protocol and look the other way while cashing a massive check. Leaving my bold prediction and hubris in the dust, Alvarez and his team decided to withdraw from the Cinco de Mayo date, leaving Golovkin with no opponent.
Typically, when faced with this situation, a fighter the caliber of “GGG” would simply sit out on that date and wait for the big money match to come to fruition. When the NAC issued a backdated six month suspension starting with the first test failure on February 17th test, and left the door open for the rematch to take place on Cinco de Mayo weekend, it seemed like standard procedure. While it was easy to take the initial reports that the Kazakhstani champion would still fight on May 5th with a grain of salt, additional information seemed to make it clear that he was dead serious. Numerous names were brought up with no success, for various reasons. Jermell Charlo, Erislandy Lara, Sergiy Derevyanchenko and Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan were among the names brought up to step in for the sidelined “Canelo.” So even if “GGG” and his team wanted to move forward, it didn’t look likely. After all, who other than someone with absolutely nothing to lose would choose to take on the heavy-hitting Golovkin with such short notice?
The question has been answered, with two-time light middleweight title challenger Vanes Martirosyan stepping up to fill the vacancy. Martirosyan, while undoubtedly a skilled fighter who has a respectable 36-3-1 record, is hardly the caliber of opponent for such a highly regarded fighter on a traditionally big calendar date for boxing. Since vacating his WBC Silver Light Middleweight title in 2012, Martirosyan has had mixed results, with all his career blemishes occurring afterward. He is also coming up in weight without any prior experience at 160 pounds. With losses to both Charlo and Lara, he clearly stands out as potentially the least competitive of the light middleweights who would be venturing into new territory. Perhaps this is a soft touch for “GGG,” but it is exactly what he needs.
Without a doubt, “Canelo’s” absence on May 5th is a substantial blow to the bottom line. Last year’s mega event brought in a $27 million live gate in addition to 1.3 million pay-per-view buys. According to Forbes, “Canelo” was guaranteed $5 million with “GGG” earning $3 million without accounting for the pay-per-view split. Estimates afterward are a little less clear, with GoldenBoy head Oscar De La Hoya reportedly stating that “Canelo” was expected to take home somewhere near $50 million while “GGG” was believed to take in just north of $30 million. While that is certainly not a marginal amount of money, the substantial gap shows what many expected: Alvarez and his team were able to dictate most of the terms for the first fight. Considering Alvarez in his previous fight drew in more eyeballs than the opponent and had a more established run on PPV, it makes sense. Couple that with the powerhouse that is GoldenBoy Promotions in comparison to Golovkin representative Tom Louffler’s K2 Promotions and it was inevitable.
Undoubtedly, the 36 year-old Golovkin would love to earn even more in a rematch with boxing’s biggest star. Booking a winnable substitute fight on the night that many fans would traditionally be watching “Canelo” is a wise move. Taking advantage of the audience that was ready to pay for watch the rematch while taking away the PPV price tag could give a serious boost to the ratings. Since the May 5th date was originally marked as a black hole for other combat sports, competition is light. The UFC is even taking a break from its relentless schedule as they most likely did not want to lose another viewership and media battle to Golovkin and Alvarez, as their Fight Night in Pittsburgh was swallowed whole by “Canelo vs. GGG” despite having a good rating for the main event. If you like fights there’s not much other game in town than Golovkin vs. Martirosyan. Plus, the point of entry is either an existing HBO or HBO Go subscription or a friend with one, instead of an additional $70 on added to the cable bill. Higher ratings means higher power in negotiations.
Additionally, “GGG” and his team are doing a great job of no-selling rebooking the Canelo rematch. Thursday, Yahoo! Sports reported that Golovkin was only “10%” certain that he’ll rematch Alvarez. Considering the money involved, and age almost certainly calling for an end to his career in the not-too-distant future, it’s hard to take that quote as concrete truth. Passing on a chance to improve on the controversial draw that ended their first bout would be giving up on his biggest payday to date. The performance-enhancing drug fiasco has cast a shadow of doubt over GoldenBoy’s golden boy. Astutely, Golovkin is using this as a string to pull. Recently, he and trainer Abel Sanchez took a thinly-veiled shot at Canelo in a Nike commercial. Eating a steak and speaking of the “secret ingredient” of hard work was a clever shout-out to the “contaminated beef” defense Alvarez has gone on record with. By playing coy and not guaranteeing he’ll be on board for a September rematch, he can regain some of the power he lost in previous contract talks.
Instead of settling with the terms of the originally slated rematch, “GGG’s” showcase on Saturday can open the door for increased power at the bargaining table for the September rescheduling. Subliminal insults on commercials for an internationally known brand, downplaying the desire to fight Canelo again, offering disappointed fight fans something to watch without the original paywall, and the promise of a violent showcase, is the perfect recipe to the building an even bigger event in the near future. All Golovkin has to do is deliver on that promise. Easier said than done, but there’s no reason to expect anything different.
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