Boxing is enjoying a successful upswing in 2017


Although the Canelo Alvarez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight last Saturday night was disappointing because Chavez did so little, there is no disputing the fact that boxing fans very much wanted to see the fight. And after years of asking for it, we finally got it.

The success — or failure — of boxing is not complicated. It is not rocket science. Give the people what they want. When fighters, promoters and television networks do that, fans respond.

There is a reason why Canelo-Chavez sold at least one million pay-per-view subscriptions on HBO PPV, according to Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya, although the more specific numbers are still being tallied. It is the first boxing pay-per-view to top one million since Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao in 2015.

There is a reason Canelo-Chavez drew a sold-out crowd of 20,510 to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, and all of the city’s closed circuit locations were also at capacity. The people got what they wanted.

After a woeful 2016 in boxing, the worst year in a long time, 2017 is the polar opposite. Throughout the first half of this year, fighters, promoters and networks have rolled out one attractive match after another, many of which boxing fans — long abused and taken for granted by the powers that be — had been calling for.

Thankfully, the good times do not seem to be letting up.

“I made this Canelo fight with Golovkin for the sport, for the fans. Yes, there’s a lot of money in this fight but I could have made four smaller fights with Canelo that are not as risky as the Golovkin fight. But I was a fighter myself. I understand what the fans want and therefore I made it happen.”

Oscar De La Hoya, Golden Boy Promotions CEO

As De La Hoya said from the podium at the news conference after Canelo-Chavez, “Boxing was in a hiatus, and now boxing is back, bigger and better than ever. You have your ups and downs in any sport, all of them. Boxing has had its ups and downs. It’s a roller coaster. Right now, we’re living a great moment for boxing, and we will for a long time.”

We already have had a slew of significant fights that fans demanded so far this year: the outstanding Badou Jack-James DeGale super middleweight unification bout; Leo Santa Cruz’s action-packed rematch with Carl Frampton in which Santa Cruz regained a featherweight title; Keith Thurman’s welterweight title unification victory against Danny Garcia; Gennady Golovkin’s nip-and-tuck win against Daniel Jacobs in an outstanding middleweight title fight; Tony Bellew’s knockout of David Haye in a dramatic heavyweight scrap; Anthony Joshua’s knockout of Wladimir Klitschko in their absolutely epic heavyweight championship fight, the best in nearly 20 years. And although Canelo’s rout of Chavez was even more one-sided that many thought it would be, it marked yet another hot fight the public wanted to see come to fruition.

When you give fans what they want they respond. Joshua-Klitschko shattered the pay-per-view buy record in the United Kingdom, according to Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, selling well over one million subscriptions and captivating the sports world. Oh, and by the way, you may have heard that the fight drew a sold-out, British boxing record crowd of 90,000 to Wembley Stadium for one of the incredible scenes in recent boxing history.

Thurman-Garcia, a heavily anticipated fight between in-their-prime undefeated titleholders, aired on CBS in primetime on March 4, and viewers responded big-time. The average viewership of the bout was 3.74 million viewers, up 19 percent over the June 2016 Thurman-Porter fight in the same time slot. Thurman-Garcia peaked at 5.1 million viewers, up 30 percent from the peak of Thurman-Porter.

Give the people what they want and they will respond.

And the beauty of 2017 is that it’s far from done. There are still three more tremendously significant fights on the calendar that fans have shown great interest in, with more surely to come:

  • On May 27 on Showtime, welterweight titlist Kell Brook will defend his belt against Errol Spence Jr. at Bramall Lane, an outdoor stadium in Brook’s hometown of Sheffield, England, where a huge crowd is expected.

  • On June 17 on HBO PPV, we’ll see the rematch between unified light heavyweight titleholder Andre Ward and former titleholder Sergey Kovalev at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The first fight in November was a tremendous battle between pound-for-pound elites and one of the best fights of 2016.

  • And, of course, on Sept. 16 on HBO PPV — site to be determined — we will see the big one: Canelo taking on unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin in the biggest fight in boxing. It’s the showdown we’ve all been clamoring for over the better part of the past two years. It will do huge, huge business, and most expect it to be a classic.

Canelo-GGG was announced moments after Canelo polished off Chavez, and the anticipation and excitement for the fight has been palpable since. My Twitter feed is chatting non-stop about the fight, and I have been fielding requests for radio interviews around the world about the fight, and the overall upswing in boxing, since it was announced — and the fight is still four months away.

“Good fights beget good fights. What is really key is fighters taking tough fights. The fans and networks will reward the fighters if they take a tough fight.”

Stephen Espinoza, Showtime Sports executive vice president

I asked De La Hoya this week what has changed and why boxing is so hot now compared to the recent doldrums?

“All these fighters are using the old model that Mayweather left behind where it’s all about money, and therefore no fights are getting done,” De La Hoya said. “It’s different now. I made this Canelo fight with Golovkin for the sport, for the fans. Yes, there’s a lot of money in this fight, but I could have made four smaller fights with Canelo that are not as risky as the Golovkin fight. But I was a fighter myself. I understand what the fans want, and therefore I made it happen. I understand the business, and most important, I understand what the fans want and need.

“This fight is the cherry on top of 2017. The year has shaped up to be really nice. Boxing fans can be very proud of what the fighters and promoters have done. I’m just happy I can deliver the biggest events of the year with Canelo. Everyone was trying to make a quick buck or an easy dollar. The difference now is they’re making money, we’re all making money, but we’re taking risks. With risk comes reward.”

Besides making the risky major fight such as Canelo-GGG, De La Hoya is also living up to his word and doing the same thing on his new ESPN series. The night before Canelo-Chavez, Golden Boy put on a tremendous card that featured upset knockouts in the top two fights as Yuriorkis Gamboa lost to Robinson Castellanos and Jesus Rojas knocked Abraham Lopez from the undefeated ranks.

“I promised exciting fights, upsets and that’s what we’re getting. There’s no stopping us,” De La Hoya said. “I’m not going to tell my (matchmakers) to take it easy. There’s too much action. I’m very, very bullish on growing the sport and keeping it alive and making it more exciting fights and building the next stars, the next champions on our ESPN series.”

Many of boxing’s top fights are airing on Showtime, where Stephen Espinoza, the network’s sports division boss, has made a huge commitment of resources to the sport. He has been behind Showtime’s excellent schedule, one that has done away in large measure with pay-per-view to focus on the live network offerings.

He said boxing is reaping the rewards of the time it took to set up the major fights coming our way.

“It took a good amount of time to set these fights up,” Espinoza said. “To get to a run like this, it takes 18 months. I don’t want to use the word marinate, but you have to sort of set the guys up, elevate them in the eyes of the public where doing a round-robin of major fights makes sense.”

He pointed to Frampton as one example. He fought on an afternoon card on Showtime’s sister network CBS in 2015, but it took time “to get to the point where it would make sense to do a Santa Cruz fight. It took some building.” But once those major fights begin to get made, Espinoza said there is a snowball effect.

“Once you make a couple of good fights, everybody jumps on board, and the fighters and managers and the promoters see we’re not doing easy fights,” he said. “I’ve heard it from fighters — ‘OK, now everyone is taking tough fights and the best are fighting the best,’ and there is the realization that we have a hypercompetitive TV sports market in the U.S., and if we’re not regularly putting on our best events, there is too much other stuff for people to watch.

“Good fights beget good fights. What is really key is fighters taking tough fights. The fans and networks will reward the fighters if they take a tough fight.”

Showtime has made the welterweight, featherweight and heavyweight divisions a priority. There are many quality matches to be made, and Espinoza has already helped put on many of them. He said he has no plans of letting up.

“It’s incumbent on all of us in the sport to keep the momentum going,” he said.

And to keep that momentum going everyone involved must remember just one thing: Give the people what they want, and they will respond.


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