There was no question that Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who faces Matthew Hatton this Saturday night for the vacant WBC junior middleweight title at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, is an immensely popular figure in Mexico, where he draws huge ratings on Televisa in front of sizable crowds. With his distinctive look and powerful left hook, he has become a matinee idol, south of the border. But the question was, coming into this promotion, just how well would he play in Peoria…well, really, Southern California, as a marquee attraction?
It seems like his popularity has translated across the border.
"I'm so happy about it because I have not seen here in Los Angeles a fight which is hotter than this one," said Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer on Thursday afternoon. "I mean, last weekend alone- a week before the fight- in one weekend, we sold 1,754 tickets. In one weekend! This thing is hot; its selling like there's no tomorrow and we were first thinking we were not going to open up all the seats but it looks like we'll have to open up all the seats now."
It was believed that Alvarez-Hatton- which is the main event on this weekend’s edition of “Boxing After Dark” on HBO- needed to draw around 8,000 for Golden Boy to break even. However, according to the “Swiss Banker,” it looks like they will far exceed 10,000 patrons on Saturday night. "That's not even a question," said Schaefer, confidently. "No, no, we're already there." (OK, now anytime a promoter tells you about brisk ticket sales, you have to take it with a whole carton of Morton Salt. But Schaefer does sound genuinely excited. Then again, the proof will be in the gate receipts of the commission.)
In the past, a fight like this from Golden Boy most likely would have landed in a Las Vegas ballroom (Schaefer says of this, “I just want to be clear; we never had any site deal, site fee, in Las Vegas and that is the truth. We basically get a four-wall deal in Las Vegas. We pay for everything.”) but with “Sin City” struggling and their tourism down, it's time to look beyond just Vegas or Atlantic City in staging fights. "Absolutely, there are some other markets. Gary Shaw got a lot of criticism for taking his last weekend’s fights to Nebraska but I have to really hand it to Gary and congratulate him,” said Schaefer. “He had like 6,800 paid people in Nebraska, OK? So, you know what? There are actually other markets and it takes maybe some balls or it takes some innovation to go to these secondary markets and put boxing there.
"What Gary did with Nebraska is certainly something other promoters should look at, to take big Showtime or HBO cards into these markets, which maybe don't have a baseball team or a basketball team or football team. Because if you're going to bring one of these major networks to town, you're going to be it and because you're going to be it, you're going to get all the media and the newspaper coverage because a major event is coming to town."
That being said, Schaefer says he has his eyes on several cities in Texas and Northern California that he believes can be fertile ground for the boxing business. More than ever, boxing needs performers like “Canelo” who can put asses into the seats and help promoters to cultivate untapped markets and new fans. Otherwise, it just continues to decline into being more and more of a niche sport.
Schaefer says of expanding their horizons, "I think we really need to look beyond Texas and California and some of those more well-known markets, just like Gary did with Nebraska." Schaefer says that he gathered a pair of Golden Boy execs, Robert Gasparri and David Itskowich, and formulated a plan to look at all the cities in the United States with sizable populations, who don't have major league sports franchises, that might be viable options to put their events.
As for Alvarez, this is his third outing on U.S. in the past year but his first as the main event. Last year, he played the supporting role in two pay-per-view cards in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
"I think when 'Canelo' signed a deal with us, we felt it was important to make a home for him. By the way, I think that's important for any fighter, to sorta get a market and you build up your popularity from there, then from there, you can grow it instead of just taking a fighter from one place to another without really building a home," explained Schaefer. "We saw- you were there- the reception 'Canelo' got at Staples Center last September (after knocking out Carlos Baldomir) and he really stole the show and he stole the hearts of all these fans, which during the main event, they were yelling his name. So we know by the fan reaction that Los Angeles is going to be ‘Canelo's’ home in the United States for which to build on."
This was a no-brainer, given Southern California's huge concentration of those who are of Mexican descent. In many respects, this region is just an extension of Mexico and given the unreliability and general lack of professionalism from Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (who ironically had to be pulled from his scheduled outing at the Honda Center in December), it is Alvarez who has seemingly gained the upper hand in winning this marketplace for now.
"When we got this date and Staples Center was not available, it sort of was like a blessing in disguise because what happened now, it allowed us to go to the Honda Center in Anaheim and capture another very rabid fan base, not just only with Hispanics, but with fight fans and sports fans, period,” Schaefer detailed. “They obviously have a big base their with a hockey team and with a baseball team and who knows? Maybe a basketball team, as well, very soon. So now, we've sort of captured both markets and I can see that maybe ‘Canelo's’ next fight could be in Las Vegas because we feel now that if he looks good and becomes a world champion and wins the fight, that we can start making some forays into Las Vegas, that could definitely be the next step.
"Because we feel that if he follows that spectacular performance in September against Carlos Baldomir with another equally impressive performance against Matthew Hatton, that he's going to have a built-in Southern California fan base, which will make their way up to Las Vegas, like when Oscar [De La Hoya] fought."
Post-De La Hoya, Golden Boy Promotions has hit a rather critical stage, with several defections to their stable, the need to groom a legitimate star and with Top Rank's desire to create a virtual monopoly, they need “Canelo” to hit it big. They have a nice stable of fighters but it's not clear if they have any true superstars that can really move the needle. With that in mind, the Golden Boy P.R. staff was in overdrive this past week, staging everything from autograph sessions, various media days, appearances at the Mighty Ducks game and a final press conference- which was well attended- with the likes of CNN, ESPN, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, La Opinion, Daily Mail, Univision, Fox Sports and AOL all in the house to grab a few minutes with Alvarez.
The work seems to have paid off.
"The buzz is amazing. I mean the fan turnout, you see kids- Oscar's telling me that there were kids with freckles pained on with red wigs- there were older women, younger women, fathers of all ages. It is just absolutely amazing support 'Canelo' is getting here," stated Schaefer. "We spent a lot of money, yes. We bought extensive advertising on major publications, on radio, online, newspapers, everywhere. So we spent a lot of money but it's really paying off."
It looks like either Montreal or Los Angeles will play host to the rematch between WBC light heavyweight titlist Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins. If it lands in L.A., it will be at an old-school venue…and I mean real old.
"The more I think about it, I really like the Los Angeles idea with the Sports Arena because it's historic. It would be the last fight before they tear down the building," said Schaefer, of the former home of the Lakers, Clippers and USC Trojans hoops squad, which once was a regular destination for big fights decades ago.
Now, it only has the ghost of Michael Cage and Benoit Benjamin.
I have to give my old buddy Gary Shaw credit; he found something in Grand Island, Nebraska, where the fight between Antonio DeMarco and Reyes Sanchez drew a sizable crowd. I'd give him a lot more credit if he would've actually done some actual promoting for this event (he didn't even show up to the fight, I've been told by several sources) and basically did nothing but collect his site fee and TV license fee (he never does a show without one) and watch the fight from home...Christy Martin has been scratched from next week’s show in Las Vegas underneath Miguel Cotto vs. Ricardo Mayorga. All indications are the NFL'er Tom Zbikowski will take her place on the pay-per-view bill...This week’s edition of “Solo Boxeo” on Telefutura has a main event of Vicente Escobedo vs. Walter Estrada (upset alert!) and features prospects Sharif Bogere, Randy Caballero, Michael Finney and Mikael Zewski on the undercard at the Fantasy Springs Casino...Schaefer says that, during discussions with Don King for a bout between Devon Alexander and Lucas Matthysse, a fight between IBF 154-pound titlist Cornelius Bundrage and Erislandy Lara has been kicked around to open up that HBO broadcast...So is Oregon going to be the next school to get the NCAA hatchet?....