Monday, July 28, 2014

Golovkin: The Making Of An International Superstar

After Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao recede from their positions atop the boxing box office, Gennady Golovkin is uniquely situated to become one of the top-two faces of the sport (Canelo Alvarez being the other). With only a handful of appearances in the U.S. market, Golovkin has already become one of HBO's top fighters in terms of ratings. He has a large following in Europe, getting paid very good money to headline shows in Monaco. All of his fights are broadcast live in England and he retains a significant presence in Germany, where he resides (Golovkin is originally from Kazakhstan).
 
Behind Golovkin is Tom Loeffler, the managing director of K2 Promotions, an innovative thinker who helped make the Klitschko brothers international boxing stars. In particular, Loeffler has exhibited two winning attributes that will help Golovkin: he thinks big and he understands the sport's global marketplace. It was Loeffler who moved the Klitschkos into soccer/football stadiums and helped to garner massive TV commitments in Germany. He also wisely positioned the Klitschkos around Europe and America to expand their fanbases, staging fights not just in Germany, but in Switzerland, Russia, Poland, Los Angeles and New York.  

Keep in mind; the Klitschkos haven't necessarily been an easy sell from an entertainment standpoint. Although they amassed myriad highlight-reel knockouts, many of their fights featured scant action and/or predictable one-sided domination over lesser foes. Yet German television viewership for their bouts often eclipsed ten million per outing and millions more boxing fans watched the Klitschkos from around the globe. As Wladimir Klitschko winds down his successful career, he and Loeffler have helped to create the third biggest star in the sport and cultivated an enormous bloc of fight fans from Frankfurt to Moscow.  

With Golovkin, Loeffler has a fighter who stimulates the imagination of the North American boxing fan much more than the Klitschkos did. Golovkin is perhaps the best knockout artist in the sport, takes risks in the ring and has an overwhelming desire to please key boxing stakeholders, from fans to writers to network executives. He's shown a willingness to learn in the gym. His insistence on conducting interviews in English highlights his desire to cross over into the American boxing consciousness. In addition, he is searching for not just bigger fights but also greater challenges, a quality that is often lacking among modern boxers.
 
Golovkin’s rise to superstardom in the sport may be the ultimate case of serendipity. Just as he was establishing himself in America, HBO Boxing lost one of its meal tickets to Showtime (Mayweather) while another one got flattened in Vegas and hasn't fully recovered his professional momentum (Pacquiao). In addition, other network staples like Juan Manuel Marquez and Sergio Martinez have had significant periods of inactivity and are finishing up the backend of their respective careers. In short, there exists an enormous void for HBO's considerable star-making apparatus. Golovkin is the obvious candidate to receive HBO's marketing largesse – and the right one.

In the recent past, HBO's efforts to promote new stars have often failed by betting on the wrong guys, wasting considerable network resources on talented fighters (such as Jermain Taylor, Paul Williams and Andre Berto) who nevertheless failed to connect with the public at-large or others (James Kirkland, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.) who lacked the professionalism to build proper momentum in their careers. In those instances, HBO's marketing upstaged the actual performances of the fighters. Now with Golovkin, the network may finally have gotten its man. His power is undeniable. Despite speaking fractured English, his charisma is unmistakable. His desire to be great is not just talk but is reflected in his aggression, conditioning and the refinement of his technical craft.  

On Saturday, Golovkin drew over 8,500 fans to Madison Square Garden for a matchup with Daniel Geale, a capable, ex-unified world champion from Australia. Geale had only fought in America once before and entered the ring far from a household name. Saturday's fight had no ethnic fanbase to draw from in the New York City market yet Golovkin was still able to convince the general boxing fan at-large to pony up for Madison Square Garden prices during vacation season. Ticket buyers didn't leave the arena disappointed; with a pulverizing counter right hand in the third round, Geale was no more.  

After the fight, Loeffler talked about bringing Golovkin to Los Angeles to expand his footprint in the U.S., keeping his fighter active so he can remain sharp and seeking higher-profile matchups that will broaden his fighter's reach in the general sporting world. On the last front, Loeffler and Golovkin may need to exercise patience. Big names at middleweight from Felix Sturm to Peter Quillin to Marty Murray have already turned down opportunities to fight him. Sergio Martinez, often injured during Golovkin's recent run, has failed to get in the ring with him. New lineal middleweight champ Miguel Cotto has not expressed a desire to face him. Earlier this year, Chavez Jr. negotiated a way out of fighting him. And Golovkin's ferocious knockout of Geale certainly won't create a waiting list of willing, high-profile opponents. 

For now, Golovkin wants to remain at middleweight. Similar to past avoided greats at 160 lbs. like Marvin Hagler and Bernard Hopkins, Golovkin may have to bide his time until a big name wants to fight him. So it's very possible that boxing fans will get Sam Soliman or Sergio Mora for Golovkin's next fight instead of Cotto or Canelo. But in time, some big name will step up. If Golovkin continues to win and impress, the money will be there for any big fight that he desires; eventually, even Hagler got Duran and Hearns in the ring and Hopkins secured Trinidad and De La Hoya. Other boxers want glory as well and they may see Golovkin as a way of getting there.
 
To this point, Loeffler has made all of the right moves for Golovkin. He successfully convinced the biggest boxing network in the U.S. to take a chance on a scarcely known Kazakh fighter. He brought Golovkin to the media capital of the world and his fighter has captured the imagination of boxing fans. He has cultivated a great relationship with Southern California boxing writers, holding numerous open workouts during Golovkin's training camps at Big Bear; they have helped tell the fighter's story. Loeffler has made Golovkin a fixture at all sorts of entertainment and sporting events in the greater Los Angeles area helping to raise the fighter's profile. In addition, he has kept Golovkin active in Europe, stoking his fanbase in that crucial boxing constituency.

Golovkin and Loeffler's hard work is already paying off. HBO has recently signed an extension with the fighter, including commitments to televise his fights in Europe as well as future pay per view considerations. The network has a love affair with the Golovkin and many boxing fans share that sentiment. In addition, Loeffler has helped establish Golovkin as a major box office draw. There is still work to be done in this area but Loeffler has already created and executed a winning plan to grow Golovkin over the last two years; I have confidence that he will continue to be capable in the next phase of Golovkin's career.

All that's missing from Golovkin's rise to true superstardom are the right opponents. But those will come. In the meantime, Loeffler, HBO and Golovkin have built the vital infrastructure to create the next truly big attraction in the sport. For now, patience will be required, but if Golovkin's commitment to his craft remains, the sky may be the limit.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:

www.facebook.com/SaturdayNightBoxing

Friday, July 18, 2014

Top Rank and the Bad Sell

This week, Top Rank Promotions announced that Manny Pacquiao, its number-one boxing attraction, will face junior welterweight titleholder Chris Algieri in a pay per view matchup to take place on Nov. 22 in China. Let me not mince words: I hate that this fight is a pay per view. Algieri has no real following in boxing, is undersized, lacks power and has only one victory of note in his career, a highly disputed split decision victory over Ruslan Provodnikov. Were this matchup to air on HBO World Championship Boxing instead of as a pay per view, requiring no additional costs for boxing fans, it would have sat a little better with me. However, there were certainly more attractive opponents for Pacquiao than Algieri. Fighters like Robert Guerrero, Keith Thurman, Lucas Matthysse and Adrien Broner had no fights scheduled at the time of the Pacquiao-Algieri announcement. And even if fights were in the works for these boxers, the Pacquiao opportunity would certainly have generated more money for them than their other available options.
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum settled on Algieri for three reasons: 1. Juan Manuel Marquez didn't want to fight Pacquiao for a fifth time. 2. Arum has run out of other viable opponents within his own stable. 3. Arum refuses to work with fighters aligned with manager Al Haymon.
Thus, boxing fans will have to watch one of their favor fighters take on a lesser talent because of political considerations. If this were yesteryear, when boxers laced up the gloves four or five times annually, then a marking-time matchup like this would be more understandable. However, Pacquiao only fights twice a year and Algieri will be his second opponent in his last three whose skills on-paper will be far less than his (the other was Brandon Rios).
But who am I to tell Top Rank, probably the most financially successful boxing promotional company in the world, how to run its business? A Pacquiao fight will bring a huge site fee from the Cotai Arena in Macau. In addition, Top Rank has been playing a long game in Asia, staging several fights a year to build a nascent pay per view market in China, by far the largest population center in the world. So even if the Pacquiao-Algieri pay per view doesn't do that well in the North American market (which is the conventional wisdom), Top Rank will certainly make money on the fight and it will help the company further its strategic ends. 
A major part of Top Rank's current financial viability involves milking its primary cash cow by whatever means necessary. Through this process, the company continues to enrich itself by using dubious future Pacquiao fights to deceive boxing fans and the media. In this regard, I believe that Top Rank has operated in bad faith.
When Juan Manuel Marquez fought Mike Alvarado earlier this year, Carl Moretti, a VP at Top Rank, told the assembled media that the winner of the fight would face the victor of the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley rematch. Nevermind that contracts weren't signed or that the Marquez camp showed reticence in a fifth Pacquiao fight. Marquez refused an immediate rematch after the fourth matchup and his trainer, Nacho Beristain, was adamant about ending the series. Yet Top Rank still insisted that the two winners would face each other.
The media ran with it. That announcement drove more attention to the Marquez-Alvarado matchup. But it was all a canard. After Marquez's victory over Alvarado, the fifth fight, as many predicted, failed to materialize; boxing fans wound up being sold a bill of goods. And the major boxing media outlets, despite complicity promoting this potential fight, refused to hold Top Rank or itself accountable for Moretti's dubious claim.
Top Rank's pattern of bad-faith statements has been consistent throughout the last few years. During the lead-up to both Pacquiao-Rios and Pacquiao-Bradley II, Arum proclaimed that a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was still viable, despite years of failed negotiations and his past statements that he would no longer do business with former Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer and boxing manager Al Haymon. These suggestions by Arum were strategically made during the fight weeks, where large numbers of media members itch and scratch to fine compelling content to send back to their publications. On cue, many media members parroted this dubious whopper in their pre-fight stories.
In essence, Arum used the fiction of that mega-matchup to stoke interest for his less-appealing fights. Fine, that's a promoter's trick. However, at a certain point, these proclamations become nothing more than outright cynical untruths. Arum was exploiting sympathetic media members (either ill-informed ones or house organs) to generate revenue. After each of those fights, which resulted in Pacquiao victories, Arum made no serious attempt to reignite discussions with Mayweather, again, an easy example of the company operating in bad faith.
And it continues. Over the last few weeks, Top Rank has been very successful in stroking certain media members regarding the validity of the Algieri fight. Across social media, I have noticed a number of claims (many by those who should know better) that Algieri is the "best available" or the "most viable option" for Pacquiao. These proponents have fallen for Top Rank's spin hook, line and sinker.
Algieri only becomes viable because Top Rank refuses to do business with Golden Boy or Al Haymon (there was a recent purse bid fight between the companies but they didn't functionally work together). Again, too many boxing media members and fans have fallen victim to Top Rank's public relations or just reflexively tow the company line.
In the past, Arum and Schaefer stated that they wouldn't do business together. Fine, but Schaefer is now gone. In the lead up to Schaefer's departure, Arum told various media members that he was looking forward to working with Oscar de la Hoya and Golden Boy, yet, why weren't any Golden Boy boxers seriously considered for Pacquiao's next fight?
Friends of Top Rank would tell you that the answer is Al Haymon, whom Arum has disparaged for years (Haymon represents Matthysse, Broner, Guerrero, Thurman, etc.). Yes, Arum and Haymon rarely work together but let's look at the Pacquiao situation a little more closely: Arum holds the purse strings and the network (HBO) for the Pacquiao PPV. Arum could guarantee more money for a Pacquiao fight than anything Haymon's fighters would receive on a regular Showtime broadcast. In addition, Haymon has an obligation to his clients to offer them the most lucrative opportunities. He would be failing them as a manager if he refused to bring these types of offers to them. (Would Matthysse really turn down a figure like $2.5M?) But Arum didn't fully explore these options in good faith; thus, Algieri was selected because of expediency and his manageable financial demands.
Algieri himself is a fine enough boxer. I'm happy that he's getting the opportunity and hopefully he makes the best out of it. But as a boxing enthusiast who wants to see the best matched against top challenges, I am far from satisfied.
If Top Rank wants to devalue its Manny Pacquiao asset in the United States by having him fight overseas against lesser opposition, that's its business. But Top Rank is using bait-and-switch tactics for the sell, and that is detestable. That practice shows contempt for boxing fans and treats them with a lack of respect.
Although Top Rank will still clear money off of the Algieri fight, don't believe for a second that it wouldn't like to see 700,000 or so buys from the PPV; most likely, the company won't even approach that number. Part of the reason is the unattractiveness of the matchup, a problem created by Top Rank itself by selling more attractive options and then coming to the public with a lesser one (the bait-and-switch). Another factor is the company's refusal to explore the best possible opponents because of Arum's feelings regarding Haymon.
Today, the Top Rank brand is damaged in the U.S. market. Most African-American fighters of note have gone with Al Haymon and/or Golden Boy. Fans blame Arum as a major reason for Mayweather-Pacquiao not happening. The company has a lengthy history of placing bad undercards on its pay per views; this practice continues even as Golden Boy has put forth more attractive undercards. Top Rank's most recent two pay per views have disappointed. Arum (rightly or wrongly) is often associated with the old-line promoters who made their money by exploiting fighters  and operating outside of acceptable ethical boundaries. The company has engendered lots of ill will.
There have been a series of bad-faith decisions by Top Rank over several years (far predating the events of this article) that have slowly eroded its status in the U.S. However, its bad business practices continue. Disingenuous yarns still get spun to the media and fans. False hopes and promises remain part of its day-to-day operations. 
Arum can be a truly brilliant businessman but it's clear that his trademark cynicism has been adopted by his company’s intended consumers. Fans are now keener to the bad sell and if the company wants to remain a force in the U.S, it should start treating boxing fans with respect, instead of regarding them as stooges. Unless HBO Boxing wants to become a primary Asian broadcaster, Arum needs to continue to deliver at home. Repeatedly alienating his customers might not be the way to do it. Obviously, his American stable of fighters isn't what it was but can he still count on American boxing fans? Did it have to be this way?

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:

www.facebook.com/SaturdayNightBoxing

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pound-For-Pound Update 7-17-14

With Saul Alvarez's split decision win over Erislandy Lara on Saturday, he returns to the Saturday Night Boxing pound-for-pound list. By defeating Lara, he now has beaten three top junior middleweights. He reenters the Rankings at #17. Alvarez was last ranked in 2013 but was dropped after his wide decision loss to Floyd Mayweather. With Alvarez's addition to the Rankings, the previous #20 fighter, bantamweight Shinsuke Yamanaka, falls off the list. Below is the complete Saturday Night Boxing Top-20 Fighters list.
  1. Floyd Mayweather
  2. Andre Ward
  3. Wladimir Klitschko
  4. Manny Pacquiao
  5. Juan Manuel Marquez
  6. Tim Bradley
  7. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  8. Carl Froch
  9. Roman Gonzalez
  10. Bernard Hopkins
  11. Adonis Stevenson
  12. Miguel Cotto
  13. Danny Garcia
  14. Anselmo Moreno
  15. Nonito Donaire
  16. Juan Estrada
  17. Saul Alvarez
  18. Takashi Uchiyama
  19. Mikey Garcia
  20. Gennady Golovkin
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:

www.facebook.com/SaturdayNightBoxing

Monday, July 14, 2014

Opinions and Observations: Alvarez-Lara

So who really won on Saturday? Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Erislandy Lara essentially matched each other on punch volume (Lara had an ever-so-slight advantage). Alvarez had rounds where he couldn't connect; Lara had rounds where he wouldn't throw. In terms of landed blows, the match boiled down to Lara's straight left hands against Alvarez's left hooks to the body. There were some other punches mixed in on occasion – Lara’s jab and counter right hook, Alvarez's jab and right hands (as well as one uppercut of note) – but to my eyes each fighter was only consistently successful with one offering.
 
Judge Jerry Roth had it 115-113 for Lara. Dave Moretti had it 115-113 for Alvarez. Levi Martinez had it 117-111 for Alvarez. The media and fans seemed to be split as well. I had it 115-113 for Alvarez but a draw or a two-point Lara win were certainly reasonable tallies in my estimation.
 
There were slight points of differentiation that shaded my scorecard towards Alvarez. In many of the close rounds, I felt that Alvarez's body shots were more damaging than Lara's left hands. There also were a few rounds where I just couldn't give Lara the nod in that he didn't meet my minimum threshold for initiating offense. Lara was masterful at using his legs to evade incoming fire and reduce Alvarez's punch output, but too often he refused to let his hands go. It's the same trap that Bernard Hopkins fell into against faster opponents like Joe Calzaghe or Jermain Taylor. He did a great job neutralizing but he just didn't do enough on offense at certain points; there were opportunities missed.
 
In thinking about Saturday's fight, I believe that Alvarez took more risks and fought at a level closer to his best than Lara did. Perhaps Lara has a higher ceiling than Alvarez does. It looked like he had enough left in the tank to circle the ring for 20 rounds. But ultimately, boxing is not just about a collection of skills; it's a combination of athleticism and technical gifts coupled with intangible factors, such as the willingness to win, risk-taking, intelligence, self-belief, poise and the desire to be great.
 
Lara wants to have it both ways. He desires to be recognized as one of the elite talents in the sport without taking the chances necessary to attain greatness. He's had the opportunities, and he's squandered them. Yes, I thought he did enough to beat Vanes Martirosyan, but two of the judges didn't think so and his punch output in that fight was paltry. He was lucky to muster a draw against Carlos Molina.
 
There have been times, such as against Alfredo Angulo and Austin Trout, where Lara really planted his feet and threw devastating shots. Those were definitive victories for him. On Saturday, even when he was landing his left hand, he seemed to be throwing the shot at 70% of its full force. His offense often felt like intermittent rest stops along the highway.
 
What's so frustrating about Lara is that no one in the division can match his combination of speed and power; however, he can be so obtuse about the realities of boxing. He had faced judges' wrath before in boxing but there was no acknowledgement from him on Saturday that his past fighting style wasn't good enough. He retains a stubbornness that continues to hold back his career.
 
After the fight, he clearly believed that he had beaten Alvarez, yet he seemed to have had learned so little from his past experience. Professional boxing judges, especially those in a jurisdiction like Nevada, favor aggression. Defense and ring generalship are often downplayed. There he was, fighting in the biggest moment of his career, and he was unwilling to lay it on the line to secure the win. The bout was there for the taking but he didn't feel compelled to do more. Although we so often like arrogance in fighters, Lara's particular brand is not appealing. I'd advise him to make sure he gets the win first and then he can be as arrogant as he wants.
 
If I'm being particularly harsh on Lara it's because I believe that there was a large gap between his best and what he was on Saturday. Lara had several other gears he could have gone to yet he remained stuck in second. Lara is still a perfectly capable fighter who will beat many of the best junior middleweights in the world. But in his moment of glory, he was something far removed from his best because of his intransigence and arrogance, not on account of any deficiency in talent or skill.
 
At a certain point, truly great fighters, regardless of their athletic ability, have to adjust their styles when the situation calls for it. It's how Mayweather was able to beat Marcos Maidana and Pernell Whitaker defeated Diosbelys Hurtado. Even Roy Jones slugged it out to victory in the first fight over Antonio Tarver when his legs weren't truly there. Lara, in his athletic prime, won the battle of foot and hand speed on Saturday but he refused to make any adjustments that would have ensured victory. It was perhaps his most frustrating performance in an often baffling career. I hope that when he returns he will have finally learned something about how to win close fights at the sport's highest level.
 
As for Alvarez, I believe that he has matured a lot since his Mayweather wipeout in 2013. On Saturday, he was willing to miss and not wait for the perfect shot. His drop in accuracy didn't dissuade him from trying to win. He hit what was available, often Lara's arms and shoulders as he was moving away. Most importantly, he didn't let Lara's tricky style force him into despondency or mistakes. Although he tried for more, he realized that he could connect with his left hook to the body. And he dug those shots into Lara as hard as he possibly could. Those blows affected Lara throughout the fight and often stopped him in his tracks. Alvarez's power has really come into its own over the last two years. In my estimation, that facet of Canelo forced Lara to keep moving. Against a light puncher like Trout, Lara stayed in the pocket and flung hard shots. Facing Alvarez, Lara thought that the better strategy was to get on his bike. Again, this decision by Lara was telling as to the tenor of the fight.
 
There's a lot to like about Alvarez's progression in the professional ranks. Admittedly, I wasn't a huge fan of his during his initial forays on the world-level boxing scene. Served up a collection of undersized or older opponents, Alvarez's "development" could be mistaken as the latest boxing hype du jour, a Mexican Berto. Even his tentative performance against Austin Trout failed to impress me, although I do think he won that fight. To my eyes, Alvarez finally arrived during the Angulo fight. He now understood the big moment and boxed decisively against a good opponent. In his last two matches, he has fought with more confidence and maturity.
 
Having now defeated three top fighters at 154, Alvarez is much more than one of biggest superstars in the sport; he's also one of its better practitioners. There are still potential risks ahead. Matchups against Demetrius Andrade or the Charlo brothers would test his lack of foot speed and short reach. Miguel Cotto also looms and is now fighting more confidently than he has at any point in his career.
 
But Alvarez has continued to refine his mental approach in the ring. He no longer needs to be perfect. He has enough patience and the type of varied punch arsenal to overcome difficult opponents. He's beaten faster guys, taller ones, crafty southpaws, pressure fighters and runners. There is still much to learn but he seems intent on not just being a superstar but becoming one of the best in the sport. His choice of opponents suggests a complete confidence in his abilities and a lack of fear. Yet he acknowledges, as the greats do, that he can always get better. There doesn't seem to be any resting on laurels here. To Alvarez, he still hasn't reached his goals in the sport. I'd bet on his future.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:
www.facebook.com/SaturdayNightBoxing