As the Citation X jet streaked through the azure sky at more than 600 mph, Oscar De La Hoya reflected on his career as a boxer and his transition to full-time promoter.
As he spoke, the recently retired “Golden Boy” nibbled on French fries left over from a prefight stop at In-N-Out Burger. He didn’t have to worry about making weight anymore. Even so, De La Hoya admitted he still dreamed about “being in the ring, on the big stage, listening to the cheers of the crowd.”
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
TV: HBO PPV, 8 p.m. ET
• Middleweights: Gennady Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) vs. Canelo Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs), 12 rounds, for Golovkin’s unified world title
• Featherweights: Joseph Diaz (24-0, 13 KOs) vs. Rafael Rivera (25-0-2, 16 KOs), 12 rounds, world title eliminator
• Junior featherweights: Diego De La Hoya (19-0, 9 KOs) vs. Randy Caballero (24-0, 14 KOs), 10 rounds
• Lightweights: Ryan Martin (19-0, 11 KOs) vs. Francisco Rojo (20-2, 13 KOs), 10 rounds
Who wouldn’t? The taste of glory is sweet like no other. But as he winged his way to Tucson, Arizona, to attend a fight card he was promoting, De La Hoya knew he would never fight again. The beating he took from Manny Pacquiao only confirmed what Oscar already knew: He was shot. It was over.
When talk turned to the topic of prospects he’d like to add to the Golden Boy roster, De La Hoya’s eyes lit up and his normally circumspect style of conversation gave way to unguarded enthusiasm.
“There’s this Mexican kid who’s going to be great. Everybody loves him. He’s already selling out whenever he fights in Mexico. I can’t recall his real name, but he has red hair and they call him ‘Canelo.'”
That flight from Los Angles to Tucson took place in June 2009. By January 2010, De La Hoya not only knew that Canelo’s real name was Saul Alvarez, he’d reached a multifight deal to promote him. They’ve been together ever since.
Alvarez’s bout with middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin Saturday night in Las Vegas will be the most important fight of their partnership, and possibly its defining moment. But even before the opening bell rings at the T-Mobile Arena, De La Hoya has already won the biggest prize of his promotional career: Alvarez’s loyalty.
A compelling argument can be made that Alvarez has been the key factor in Golden Boy Promotions’ survival. When former CEO Richard Schaefer exited the company in June 2014, so did many of the best fighters Golden Boy had been promoting, including titleholders Deontay Wilder, Keith Thurman, Erislandy Lara and Errol Spence Jr., just to name a few.
Quicker than you can say lawsuit, Golden Boy was boxing’s Mother Hubbard, but thanks to Alvarez and a handful of others the cupboard wasn’t completely bare.
“Canelo had every reason to flee the burning building but he didn’t,” said two-division former champion Bernard Hopkins, a minority partner in Golden Boy who also remained loyal to De La Hoya. “Canelo was our lifeline that kept us in the business. He was the heart of Golden Boy, the pulse that kept it going.”
It would be naive to dismiss the common heritage Alvarez and De La Hoya share, a cultural bond that was surely a factor in the fighter’s decision to stay. Still, business is business, and it’s doubtful that Alvarez would have remained with Golden Boy if they hadn’t made so much money together.
“The beauty of this matchup is that both guys can hurt each other. With two punchers like GGG and Canelo you never know what round it might end. Whether there’s a rematch obviously depend on the outcome, but I feel strongly that there might be a trilogy brewing.”
Oscar De La Hoya
“I was very grateful and appreciative that Canelo was loyal,” De La Hoya said. “When it comes to fighters, loyalty is everything. He’s a young man but very mature when it comes to making the right decision. He knows all the work we have done to build the Canelo brand. He’s a smart guy.”
Canelo-GGG is boxing’s answer to Mayweather-McGregor
The repeated delays in making the Golovkin match understandably aggravated fans. The general opinion was that De La Hoya was protecting his meal ticket, which, of course, he was.
All the talk about Alvarez needing time to grow into a middleweight was a red herring, and everybody knew it. Thanks to the counterproductive day-before-the-fight weigh-in rule, Alvarez has already entered the ring above the middleweight limit on a number of occasions.
Fight negotiations are a cat-and-mouse game played by guys in suits looking to balance the risk-reward factor in their man’s favor. Stalling until you think your fighter has his best chance of winning is common practice, especially when the stakes are so high.
It’s part of a promoter’s job to know when to pull the trigger and when not to. You can’t hate De La Hoya for that, or Canelo for that matter. In boxing everybody is looking for an edge.
Certainly, sometimes the wait is so excruciatingly protracted the fight in question is no longer worth all the bother. The Floyd Mayweather-Pacquiao bout was like that, a monumental buzz killer that knocked boxing on its butt.
Compared with that marathon slog, the delay in making Golovkin-Alvarez was a jog around the park. Besides, the fight is happening Saturday and has a pretty good chance of being far superior to the Mayweather-Pacquiao downer. That’s what’s important now: the fight itself.
In some ways GGG-Canelo is boxing’s answer to Mayweather-Conor McGregor. De La Hoya was among the most vocal critics of the mixed-disciplines mismatch, accusing the participants of “disrespecting the sport of boxing.”
Boxing is quite capable of doing that all by itself, thank you very much, but Golovkin-Alvarez is an opportunity for the sport to shine. Not to outdo Mayweather-McGregor in terms of spectacle or PPV buys, but as a manifestation of how extraordinary boxing can be in its own right.
If ever the time was ripe, it is now. Boxing is currently moving away from PPV, but for that business model to succeed the fights have to be uniformly good across the board. Record-padding mismatches, stay-busy fights and name fighters versus no-hopers won’t do.
It’s the rush of excitement that people want, a euphoria that bubbles to the surface from some deep primal need. Violence is only one ingredient of this potent cocktail. Courage, resilience and the enduring desire to overcome are also laid bare in the ring, along with all the other qualities of the human spirit, both good and bad.
That’s what boxing is really selling.
Last week’s super flyweight triple-header at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, was a rousing example of this phenomenon. Talk about value for money. No fighter on the card earned more than six figures, some of them considerably less. But they gave us the sort of exhilarating night of boxing that hooks new fans and keeps them coming back for more.
Boxing needs Alvarez and Golovkin to do likewise.
“This is the kind of fight that elevates your game to a whole new level,” said De La Hoya. “We haven’t seen the best of GGG yet, and we haven’t seen the best of Canelo. But I believe we will see it come Sept. 16.”
There is a rematch clause in the contract if Golovkin wins, but not if Canelo prevails. Does this mean De La Hoya is hedging his bet or just being a savvy businessman? Sounds like a bit of both.
“The beauty of this matchup is that both guys can hurt each other,” De La Hoya said. “With two punchers like GGG and Canelo you never know what round it might end. Whether there’s a rematch obviously depends on the outcome, but I feel strongly that there might be a trilogy brewing.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to know where salesmanship ends and wishful thinking begins. But if Saturday’s fight is good enough to launch a trilogy, it will have accomplished its mission and justified the faith the fighter and the promoter have in each other.
The building is not on fire anymore, but when the bell rings Canelo is still the heart of Golden Boy Promotions, the pulse that keeps it going.