Boxing is a star-powered sport. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
When a division has an established money-drawing star at the top and things are being put together as they should be, that division will be in good health. All the fights beneath the star’s reach– at all levels– will be more lucrative. Fans will be more intrigued by the contests leading up to the “big” ones, and, as a result, all the fighters moving up the proverbial ladder– again, at all levels– will have bigger and bigger names as they rise.
This is the time-honored tradition of boxing. Stardom (and the money it brings) is the glue that holds the fistic world together. And, honestly, it’s the best way to get what we, as fans, want from the sport.
Case in point, the super middleweights.
Before Saul “Canelo” Alvarez permanently stuck his orange, freckled flag into the 168 lb. soil, the division was solid, populated by some quality fighters, but going nowhere fast. Everything was just stagnant as the lack of real money created zero reason for movement. When the purse for fighting a top player in the division is just marginally better than one for facing a relative soft touch, there’s no real incentive to dive into the thick of things with a risky-as-fuck fight.
But when a fight against THE top dog can earn you three or four times (or more) your normal payday? Well, shit tends to get done.
And when that top dog is actually doing business the right way? Well, a stagnant talent pool becomes a screaming whirlpool of ego, hunger, pride, and ambition.
Canelo, by his very presence and his actual willingness to meet top challengers in quick succession– like facing the no. 1, no. 5, and alphabet soup-ranked challenger in six months’ time– is stirring the pot, big time. It’s making everything around him bigger and more compelling.
This past Saturday, IBF super middleweight champ Caleb Plant made the third defense of his title via one-sided shutout against former champ Caleb Truax. The bout had more prominence and generated more interest than it normally would have because of Canelo’s presence looming large in Plant’s future.
Former WBC super middleweight champ David Benavidez also generated way more buzz than normal, simply for signing on to fight Ronald Ellis in March. Again, this was because of Canelo’s presence in Benavidez’s possible future plans.
Even WBC middleweight champ Jermall Charlo got a recent bit of Canelo rub after he offered to move up for an Alvarez clash, but was intercepted by Benavidez, who vowed to knock him out.
Over the weekend, as Plant’s victory over Truax settled into the buzz already swirling over Benavidez-Ellis and, of course, Canelo vs. Avni Yildirim in February and vs. Billy Joe Saunders in a title unification in May, super middleweight talk was everywhere.
People rated Plant’s performance against Canelo’s and Benavidez’s recent performances. They opined on Plant’s chances versus Canelo and Benavidez. They opined on Canelo-Benavidez. They chatted up Plant and Saunders’ respective styles. Debate raged over whether everyone was avoiding the heat Benavidez could bring. They even talked about some of the unmentioned super middleweight talent like Daniel Jacobs, Fedor Chudinov, John Rider, David Lemieux, and a rebound-minded Callum Smith.
This is all good for the super middleweight division and, therefore, good for boxing.
And, best of all, Canelo seems to be doing all this right, turning over the top soil in the division like a farmer tilling the soil of a fertile garden. Turnover of top contenders is necessary to avoid the mass stagnation like in the Mayweather/Pacquiao-era welterweight division, where every top dog was pretty much sitting on their gloves, biding their time for a lottery payoff fight, and not wanting to risk much until they got that payoff.
Boxing business is fluid, though. Maybe in a year I’ll be complaining about Canelo NOT fighting enough of the top dogs at 168. Who knows? But, as of right now, this is the way a division should be run and this is the way a divisional king needs to be holding court. Canelo’s star power and ability to deliver proper big fight revenue is even keeping network politics to a minimum as everyone acknowledges that all roads lead to wherever Canelo is at– and the Guadalajara native seems intent on dealing with networks on a fight-by-fight basis for the time being.
Now, how do we go about building more stars who can follow Canelo’s lead? That’s the HUGE question for another day.
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