Within 10 seconds of the opening bell, all of our questions about Saul "Canelo" Alvarez were answered in definitive fashion. As he rang a jab, left hook and straight right off the head of a game Alfredo Angulo, all doubts were washed away.
Yes, he was going to be too fast for his opponent. Too strong. Too good. A flurry of five punches made that crystal clear. From there, it was just a matter of waiting.
Almost 200 power punches and nine rounds later, referee Tony Weeks mercifully called a stop to the contest. The fight, except for a back-and-forth eighth round, was never particularly close, confirming Canelo's status as an up to 10-1 favorite at some sportsbooks.
And some fans, after the manufactured controversy over Weeks' humanity, were left with a question floating around their subconscious, a niggling doubt. Had they just been hoodwinked by Golden Boy and Showtime and tricked into paying $59.95 for a series of mismatches and warm-up bouts?
Did we get tuned up to watch, well, tune-ups?
The answer, unfortunately, is yes.
|Jorge Linares||-900||Decision (98-92, 100-90,100-90)|
|Leo Santa Cruz||-1400||Decision (119-109, 120-108, 120-108)|
|Canelo Alvarez||-800||TKO (Round 10)|
According to Bet Boxing, the favorites in each of the three final bouts were in against massively overmatched opponents. Action in the ring backed that up.
Jorge Linares won all 10 rounds against Nihito Arakawa in a completely one-sided affair. Leo Santa Cruz, a promising 25-year-old champion, also pitched a shutout, winning every three-minute stanza against his shopworn 32-year-old opponent Cristian Mijares.
It was a great performance by Santa Cruz. I thought his best yet. But this undercard has been the usual slate of wipeouts.— Scott (@scottchristBLH) March 9, 2014
Worse for longtime fans of the sweet science, if this show is even remotely successful, it could hearken back to the bad old days of HBO Boxing. The pay network, once the lone powerhouse in the world of boxing, spent years delivering premium content to customers.
The biggest fights, simply put, were on HBO. Thomas Hauser wrote in An Unforgiving Sport that a massive fight, like young Mike Tyson defending his championship against former standard-bearer Larry Holmes, drew more than half of HBO's subscriber base, becoming a true mainstream event.
In the 1990s, only 25 fights were deemed worthy of pay-per-view. The best of the best fought on television, for just the cost of your subscription.
Somewhere, that changed. By 2006, the network would present a whopping 10 major fights on pay-per-view. Instead of being the province of true superfights, every name fighter was making pay-per-view his home base. Bouts on HBO proper became warm-up matches or battles between fighters who were looking to make a name for themselves—not stars who were prepared and ready to shine.
Boxing was broken. And it wasn't until last year that HBO and its new rival Showtime righted the ship.
Both networks featured a slew of amazing fights. Pay-per-view, once again, was left only for fighters who had outgrown mere television, such as legitimate mega-stars like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Everyone else was on premium television—where they belonged.
"I think pay-per-view is certainly an effective tool, and we use it where necessary. But our focus has to be the HBO subscribers," HBO Boxing boss Ken Hershman told me earlier this year. "...Pay-per-view as a tool is there in the right circumstances. With fighters like Manny Pacquiao, where the economics dictate it, it's nice to have it. Our infrastructure is second to none, and we take advantage of it very well. But our focus is on HBO."
Unfortunately, Showtime and its promotional partners at Golden Boy have abandoned this winning model. Instead of building the sport in front of the largest potential audience, Showtime has succumbed to the irresistible lure of pay-per-view.
Coming off a loss to Mayweather, Canelo was nevertheless deemed too big for television.
I'm willing to concede there may be a case for Canelo as a star worthy of charging $59.95 for his services. He and Santa Cruz, in fact, make a pretty compelling package. But neither was remotely challenged on this night.
Fans might be willing to drop major bucks on a Mayweather squash match against Robert Guerrero. Canelo, however, will need to step it up in the competition department.
He may indeed end up being a long-running star on pay-per-view. Clearly, time will tell. But it won't be against overmatched opponents like Angulo. When Stephen Espinoza took over Showtime's boxing operation in 2012, he outlined a compelling strategy to take the network to the top.
"We had a clear, decisive strategy from the outset," he told me last year. At its core, it was a mission that could be described in just two words—no mismatches.
I hope he holds that mantra dear in the months to come—especially when it comes to pay-per-view.