In boxing, the least a farce can do is end quickly; the favorite going purposefully about his business, the underdog crumbling accordingly. Because there is little to learn from so frivolous a spectacle, and woe to the fighter who, permitted such an easy night’s work, teaches us anything. There is an indictment to glean in even his slightest trouble.
Saul Alvarez, 51-1-2 (35), had no such trouble with his Saturday night farce. In his first performance for subscription streaming service DAZN and his debut at Madison Square Garden, Alvarez butchered hapless Rocky Fielding. Fielding, selected for his thimbleful of the diluted alphabet title soup, for his inability to secure any greater portion than that, was dropped four times in three ridiculous rounds, confirming what everyone knew long before the opening bell: that he does not belong in a ring with Alvarez; nor Alvarez in a ring with him.
But Alvarez was pursuing a title in his third division, you say? Something that nemesis Gennady Golovkin never dared do. True, and Golovkin will rightly see his legacy suffer as a result, though Alvarez’s adoring throng would be wise not to persist in these comparisons, in this tacit worship on their part of a supposedly lesser god. As for the title Alvarez fought for Saturday? It was bogus. Fielding, who should not be begrudged his time as a “champion,” confirmed that. So did Callum Smith—owner of the WBA super-duper-DUPER title, and he who would not be named during the broadcast—when he demolished George Groves in September. Besides, the glory promised by the scale is borne of real challenges, not the illusion of them. And if you believe the preceding sentences too critical of one of the most beloved and well-marketed fighters on the planet, well, perhaps you don’t credit him enough?
Because Alvarez is a real fighter, which is why this was not a real fight. Rather, it was a showcase for a fighter only three months removed from his defining victory. An odd schedule, considering Canelo, who typically fights in May and September, hasn’t taken less than four months between fights since 2011. So why the hasty return?
In October, Alvarez signed the richest contract in sports history: a five-year, eleven-fight, $365 million deal with DAZN. What that did—besides ironically turning many of the people who criticized Floyd Mayweather’s finance-obsessed sycophants into the very thing they once derided—was free Alvarez from the pay-per-view model that he had almost single-handedly preserved in the U.S. Where he once saw his earnings determined in part by pay-per-view buys and ticket sales, and was thereby encouraged to—at least occasionally—face opponents dangerous enough to generate intrigue, Alvarez now has a base salary of approximately $33 million regardless of opponent.
Say what you will about his achievements, about his popularity, even his bearing, Alvarez has earned that contract mostly because DAZN was willing to offer it. For DAZN, which already has boxing’s premier attraction, U.K. heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, on its roster, the astronomical figure in the Alvarez deal was merely the price of doing business. Alvarez will court subscriptions from people who are more interested in Alvarez than they are boxing; those people will soon pay a monthly subscription fee rather than spend upwards of $150 combined on May and September pay-per-views. And those who already have a DAZN subscription are surely glad to know they no longer need to pay extra for the former pay-per-view fixture.
Just who Alvarez will fight, though, is an uncomfortable question. Once perhaps the most ambitious fighter in the sport, Alvarez has long since relinquished that title. Is that because he has largely sated through pain his need for challenges? If not through pain, then profit? Or is it because he has begun to think more soberly about the perils of the ring and their malignant lingering? These are answers only Alvarez knows, but when your first fight for DAZN is against the never-to-be-mentioned-again Rocky Fielding and your second fight will not, per your own words, be against either Golovkin or Danny Jacobs, you should expect little charity—previous accomplishments be damned. But what about the consecutive Golovkin fights, you say? An undeniable point. Alvarez indeed faced Golovkin twice and proved himself in that crucible. But that fight should have been made in May 2016. Instead, Alvarez fought Amir Khan, Liam Smith, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., first—and it is impossible to believe DAZN wants to see $120 million of its dollars so wastefully spent.
Like his promoter, Alvarez has mostly given the public the fights it desired; and for better and worse, like his promoter, he has delivered those fights on his terms. That there are reasons to doubt that pattern continues is not proof that it will, mind you, and even the staunchest critic of Alvarez is unlikely to wager that the Guadalajara fighter is going to fritter away what remains of his prime on challenges that are beneath him. Not eleven such challenges anyway. But how many is too many? Three? Four?
These are the thoughts that tumble before your mind when the action on your cell phone is blurred by the weight of your eyelids; when a man defending the title he is likely to have spent his entire career pursuing retreats to the ropes with his guard high and invites one of boxing’s most creative and ferocious body punchers to cut him down; when that same titlist responds to his destruction with punches smacking of desperation, even fear; when the victor struggles to pretend he found even a primal satisfaction in unmanning so middling a threat. When the present bores you, your mind turns to the future, and the hope that the future doesn’t have the same effect.