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Men’s Boxing The impact of Covid on boxing

THE impact of Covid on boxing is now starting to be felt, most prominently at the very apex rather than in the basement of the sport with the news that Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has launched legal proceedings against his promoter Golden Boy Promotions, headed up by Oscar De La Hoya, and his US broadcaster Dazn (Da Zone), for breach of the $365 million (£283.2m) 11-fight contract he signed in October 2018.

The lineal middleweight and four-weight world champion has been inactive since November 2019, when he went up two weights to defeat Sergey Kovalev and bag himself the WBO light heavyweight title, which he subsequently vacated, to go along with WBA and Ring Magazine middleweight belts. 

Prior to Covid the Mexican was scheduled to fight Britain’s WBO super middleweight champ Billy Joe Saunders in June in Las Vegas, but first the initial scheduled date in June was postponed in the midst of the pandemic and then the fight itself cancelled when Golden Boy and Da Zone tried to cut Saunders’s fee, citing Covid, in advance of a rescheduled date in September. There was also talk, albeit briefly, of Canelo possibly facing Liverpool’s WBA super middleweight champion Callum Smith as an alternative to Saunders, but here again things have stalled.

This civil suit will be an interesting test case by which to measure whether Covid-19 can be cited as reasonable grounds for boxing promoters and broadcasters to defend possible lawsuits by fighters aggrieved at being inactive and the terms of pre-Covid contracts not being honoured or met. 

What seems clear enough is that with the lack of gate revenue due to the absence of spectators at fights, and the impact of the virus on PPV buys due both to its wider economic impact and the lessening of interest in paying to watch fights at which there are no spectators and thus nothing like the same atmosphere and sense of spectacle, it would on one level seem reasonable to expect fighters such as Canelo to expect this kind of unprecedented interruption to their careers.

But clearly for him and his team both promoter and broadcaster have failed to sufficiently attempt to adapt to the situation and come up with a suitable alternative plan by which to keep him active, which is critical for a fighter operating at the elite level during a window of maximum earnings potential.

The question arises though of how much is enough when it comes to the kind of money Canelo has already made in what by any measure to date has been an illustrious career. When you consider that at the opposite end of the boxing spectrum you have countless journeymen, in many ways the lifeblood of the sport, for whom Covid has proved the difference between being able to pay the mortgage or rent and bills, and not being able to, sympathy for Canelo’s plight will be hard to come by in some quarters.

Local gyms have likewise been hit hard by lockdown and social distancing measures, throwing up the issue of the lack of equitable wealth distribution in a sport in which for every Canelo there are tens of thousands of fighters and gyms struggling to remain afloat.

Whatever happens with this lawsuit, there is no doubting that boxing, as with sport in general, will not be returning to normal anytime soon — indeed perhaps never, given the way this virus has already reconfigured our lives.

Speaking of Canelo, I recently returned to his 2013 clash with Floyd Mayweather Jnr. Going into the fight the Mexican was viewed by many as one of the most dangerous opponents Mayweather had ever been about to face in his long storied career, being touted as having a real chance of doing what no other fighter had ever done in ending the latter’s undefeated record. 

The fight itself saw Mayweather put on a clinic to the point where at points in the fight he made his likewise hitherto undefeated opponent look bang average. This seems a world away now, given how Canelo’s career has progressed in the years since, but it’s a metric of either how great Mayweather was in his prime, or how Canelo has improved since. Prior to Covid he was riding high as a veritable god in Mexico and one of the most popular fighters in the world — deservedly so with his fan-friendly, explosive style — but Covid is no respecter of gods, Mexican or otherwise.

Boxing too was riding high, enjoying a resurgence in popularity as a mass spectator sport. However in the process it was hard to argue with the claim that with the injection of new and huge money into the sport in recent years, it had lost something of its soul, embracing the values of the casino at the expense of sustainability and the heart which has allowed it to endure.

In other words, the gravy train could not go on, with Covid putting the brake on a sport which at the top end had become ever more detached from reality. On a certain level, then, Canelo’s lawsuit, claiming damages of around £217.4m, could be described as a case of a fighter refusing to accept the new normal midwifed into existence by a global pandemic. 

Taking a wider view, if boxing is to survive this period intact, and at all levels, its movers and shakers will need to get around a table soon on the understanding that this most individual of sports requires a collective solution. If those who’ve benefited most from boxing’s bonanza in recent times do not feel obliged to put something back in the interests of the sport in this unprecedented time of crisis, then when?

Alan Minter RIP
Sad news of the death of Britain’s Alan Minter at 69 to cancer has justifiably been met with an outpouring of tribute to one of the iconic names of British boxing from the 1970s and early ’80s. This was still a period in the sport’s history where title shots were not handed to fighters on a plate by one of the ever-growing sanctioning bodies, but instead were earned the long and hard way by muscle and mind.

The former British, European and world middleweight champion campaigned in an era when sports and celebrity had begun to mix, evidenced most prominently perhaps in the cultural icon status afforded George Best, with whom Minter enjoyed a drinking relationship, and in boxing the elevation of John Conteh to celebrity status beyond the environs of the sport in the 1970s and likewise Frank Bruno in the 1980s.

While Minter could not be placed in this category, he certainly made his mark in one of the toughest domestic and world periods in the history of middleweight boxing, reflected in the quality of opponent he defeated to become the undisputed champion, Vito Antuofermo in June 1980, and the quality of opponent he lost the title to just a few months later in the shape of Marvin Hagler.

Domestically, he participated in a thrilling trilogy of fights with his friend and fierce domestic rival Kevin Finnegan between 1975 and 1977, winning all three encounters.

Retiring after losing by TKO to Tony Sibson for an EBU title, in truth Minter had been retired two fights previously by Marvellous Marvin Hagler on an unforgettable and shameful night at the old Wembley Arena in London, which ended in an avalanche of bottles and cans being showered on the ring at the newly crowned world champion.

Minter’s legacy is that of a fighter who earned every penny he ever made in the ring, a man who wasn’t blessed with natural ability but who more than compensated with superb conditioning and adamantine determination.

They really don’t make them like that anymore.

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