If there was anything more surprising than Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez closing 2020 by becoming a network and promotional free agent without having to endure a lengthy court battle, it might be that he chose to return Saturday for one fight with the broadcaster he just divorced.
Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KOs) will return in the main event (8 p.m. ET on DAZN, sign up now) inside the Alamodome in San Antonio when he challenges Callum Smith (27-0, 19 KOs) for the full WBA and the vacant WBC super middleweight titles. Alvarez, who also holds the WBA and lineal middleweight titles, previously captured the WBA “regular” title at 168 pounds but has yet to defend it.
In some ways, it’s par for the course for boxing in this already crazy year to see the 30-year-old Alvarez, now fully estranged from Golden Boy Promotions, create the Smith fight out of thin air on short notice in an odd reunion with DAZN. But it’s likely a tease towards Alvarez’s free-agent future in 2021 where he, as boxing’s pound-for-pound king and biggest star, calls his own shots on a fight-by-fight basis.
DAZN, which launched in the United States in 2018 by announcing it was killing the boxing pay-per-view structure in favor of a monthly streaming charge, originally signed Alvarez to a record $365 million contract for 10 fights. It was a deal DAZN was ultimately unable to honor in 2020 given the realities of the pandemic.
Despite guaranteeing Alvarez a purse of $35 million per fight, DAZN began offering just over half of that and regularly quibbled with the fighter and his promoter over which opponents the all-sports streaming app deemed to be on the “premiere” level.
“Thank God what’s done right can’t go wrong so we are here with DAZN fighting again,” Alvarez told “Morning Kombat” on Wednesday. “We prepared, we are ready and it was the best deal we were able to get and that’s why we are back here fighting with DAZN. We are free agents and we can work with whomever we want, as well, but we are back with DAZN.”
This weekend’s fight will be exclusively promoted by Smith’s team of Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Sport which, like Golden Boy, holds an exclusive deal with DAZN. CEO Oscar De La Hoya and his Golden Boy team, however, will have nothing to do with it.
As far as what next year will look like for Alvarez remains uncertain. Will he shop himself out to the highest bid from networks and promoters for each fight or will he do what many experts suggest is only a formality, which is sign a multi-fight deal with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, which can offer him the deepest pool of potential opponents at and around 168 pounds?
“Yes, this is definitely a complicated fight but we want to close 2020 with a great and grand finale. What’s next, I can’t say,” Alvarez said. “But in short term, we do want to fight at 168, unify [titles] and I can’t say what broadcasters and promoters we will use. We will see then.”
The good news for fans, along with Alvarez’s documented history of consistently accepting the most dangerous challenges, is that he can conceivably fight across three divisions including light heavyweight, where he won a world title by knocking out Sergey Kovalev in 2019 before immediately vacating it.
But should Alvarez stay true to his word and focus exclusively on 168 pounds, there are no shortage of big options available.
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PBC would make the most sense at super middleweight given its deep roster that includes IBF champion Caleb Plant and former WBC champions David Benavidez and Anthony Dirrell. The PBC also represents unbeaten WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo and just about every big name at 147 and 154 pounds, should fighters like Errol Spence Jr., Jarrett Hurd or Jermell Charlo look to move up.
Remaining friendly with DAZN could also be prosperous for Alvarez given its relationship with unbeaten WBO super middleweight titleholder Billy Joe Saunders, former middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs (whom Alvarez edged by close decision in their 2019 unification bout) and multi-fight rival Gennadiy Golovkin.
Shortly after Alvarez’s DAZN return against Smith was announced, news broke that GGG would return to the ring one night earlier in Florida to defend his IBF middleweight title against largely unknown Kamil Szeremeta.
Given Alvarez’s history with Golovkin, which features a pair of all-action PPV classics that ended in disputed decisions, more than a few close to boxing started wondering whether the two fighters were being set back up on a collision course for a trilogy bout that DAZN was ultimately unable to secure despite signing Golovkin to a $100 million deal largely for that purpose.
“Well, that is strange,” Alvarez said about fighting one night after Golovkin. “It is strange that he had to wait for Canelo to announce for him to do that. It has to be difficult for him to shadow Canelo, very difficult for him. We did have serious conversations in 2019 but unfortunately because of the pandemic [a trilogy bout] didn’t happen. So we will see, we will see what the future brings.”
The relationship between Alvarez and Golovkin began to sour shortly after a failed drug test for Alvarez in 2018, which delayed their much-anticipated rematch by four months and led to multiple allegations from GGG.
After winning the rematch by close decision, Alvarez began souring on the idea of ever fighting him again. But the soap opera only continued in 2019 when Alvarez, pressured by DAZN to make the fight happen, was told by Golovkin it would have to wait until he first granted Szeremta, his mandatory opponent, a seemingly unnecessary fight that was only further delayed by the pandemic.
“Nope, no, I don’t like talking about [Golovkin],” Alvarez said. “We have had our differences and he has spoken about me and it’s obvious because he wants to have a fight with me. I understand that and I understand that he wants to fight. But no, I don’t like to talk about people. I like to see people in the ring but we have had our differences. That’s understandable.”
While Alvarez seemed largely bored when asked about Golovkin this week, GGG took it to a greater extreme during the teleconference to promote the Szeremeta by reportedly having his team inform media members that questions about Alvarez were off limits.
One thing Alvarez is not focusing on as he continues free agency into 2021 and likely makes a return to traditional PPV is whether newcomers to the space — including the Youtube stars Jake and Logan Paul or even a returning Mike Tyson at age 54 — might serve as competition for him commercially.
“With the pandemic, people can watch things on television and do whatever they want or watch whatever they want but I’m very happy,” Alvarez said. “I’m very proud of Mike Tyson that he’s back and he’s a legend. He is looking very good and I’m just happy for him.”