Tuesday October 3, 2023

Tension, Money, and History Is in the Air at the Third Canelo-GGG Fight

  • We sat down with the two iconic fighters as their boxing trilogy comes to an end.
  • The executives making the match possible are beyond optimistic about the upside.
Canelo vs GGG 3
Ed Mulholland
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All it takes is a glimpse of Canelo Alvarez to send his fans into a frenzy.

From the hotel lobby to the makeshift media center next to the MGM Grand Garden Arena, this casino is packed with his admirers. Some hoist Mexican flags while snapping selfies in front of the life-size boxing ring steps away from the concierge’s desk. Others shout his name, hoping to get merch signed, as his enormous entourage shuffles him between press obligations.

This building has seen its fair share of historical moments.

  • Tupac Shakur famously roamed the grounds taking photos with fans after Mike Tyson’s first-round knockout of Bruce Seldon in September 1996, only to meet his untimely demise by gunfire on the Las Vegas streets hours later.
  • The following June, Tyson took a bite out of Evander Holyfield’s ear in the same venue.
  • Eighteen years later, Mayweather-Pacquiao drew 4.6 million pay-per-view purchases — a record for boxing matches to this day.

Setting the scene for Canelo vs. GGG 3, where the two have the opportunity to resolve what most consider unfinished business, inevitably adds a bit to the location’s lore.

The first fight between Canelo, 32, and Gennadiy Golovkin, 40, in 2017 ended in a draw. Alvarez narrowly won by majority decision at their rematch in 2018.

Four years later, these bitter rivals will meet in the ring again at the T-Mobile Arena half a mile down the road from the MGM Grand — with Canelo’s undisputed super middleweight title on the line. The conclusion of their boxing trilogy, streaming on DAZN and cable distributor iNDEMAND’s PPV.COM, is set to bring in substantial revenue, and maybe even a little closure.

Calculated Risk

“You need to take risks to make history,” Canelo says, sitting across the table from me in one of the MGM Grand’s clandestine side rooms. “I love the challenge.”

In this case, the challenge is delivering a decisive victory against “Triple G” and perhaps erasing the memory and lingering doubts that stem from the controversial results of his previous bouts with the Kazakhstan native — whom many believe past scorecards should have favored.

The payout for both stands to be massive, with Canelo reportedly set to take home $65 million between guarantees and a pay-per-view bonus — Golovkin isn’t too far behind at $43 million.

Let Canelo — who has a 57-2-2 record with 39 knockouts — tell it, we care more about the money than he does.

“I don’t look at that because I know the money is there,” he tells me, emphasizing that he only cares about “history and legacy,” and that the economics of the match are best left to the negotiations prior to it. “I’m just looking to win the fight. That’s the most important for me.”

That said, Canelo is a prolific entrepreneur and investor who does appear to have his eyes on life after boxing.

  • He owns several businesses, from his chain of Upper by Canelo Energy convenience stores in Mexico to his own boxing promotion company.
  • He told me that his favorite investments are in real estate, a field where he’s said he earns $20 million in passive income annually.

“I think you need to learn about everything, not just boxing and being a boxer,” he says. “You’re the guy who risks it all in the ring, right?”

One More Chance

“When you introduce yourself, just fist bump him, don’t shake his hand,” a handler tells me just before Golovkin enters the room for our conversation.

No one can blame Golovkin or his very large team for wanting to control every aspect of the environment given the delicate manner in which good fortune slipped through his hands during his previous battles with Canelo.

Like Canelo, Golovkin has never been knocked down in his career. If Saturday night goes his way, he’ll be the only boxer in the ring who can still lay claim to that fact.

“The mindset is already there,” he says, through the translator seated beside him. “I know what I need to do. I know my job. I’ve been doing this for a long period of time, I perfectly realize what it’s going to be, and I’m ready for it.”

  • But in some ways, Golovkin — whose record stands at 42-1-1 with 37 knockouts — gives off the impression that he’s simply grateful to be here.
  • In the same breath as his boasts, he told me that he’s just “happy to be in demand at my age in the sport of boxing.”

Endorsement deals with companies like Nike’s Jordan Brand and luxury watchmaker Hublot have brought him significant earnings over the years, and taught him a valuable lesson.

“Like in every business, nothing is impossible,” he says. “Everything is possible through negotiations.” Except maybe a friendship outside the ring with Canelo. They’ve been engaged in a war of words in the press all week and the last time Golovkin can recall a positive encounter with his rival was in a training camp “10 years ago.”

“There was some level of fun and mutual understanding back then, but not anymore.”

Money Talks

It’s not a reach to say that DAZN and famed promoter Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, each based in the United Kingdom, are the greatest facilitators of Canelo vs. GGG 3.

Both boxers were under exclusive contracts with HBO for the first two fights in the trilogy, but HBO abruptly exited the boxing business in September 2018 after more than 40 years as one of the sport’s leading broadcasters.

Within a month of HBO’s announcement, Canelo had signed an 11-fight, $365 million deal with then-new streaming service DAZN. Golovkin signed his own deal with DAZN — six fights for over $100 million — in 2019.

  • Financial disputes and COVID-related fight cancellations in 2020 led to Canelo suing DAZN and his longtime promoter, Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, for alleged breach of contract.
  • He was out of his deals with both by November of that year but stayed busy through 2021 via smaller one-fight and two-fight deals with Matchroom.

While all of this was going on, DAZN and Matchroom were already a few years into the monster eight-year, $1 billion joint venture centered around staging fights in the United States that they agreed to in 2018. They expanded on that in 2021 with a separate five-year deal that stole Matchroom away from Sky Sports and brought more of its events to DAZN.

When Canelo reunited with DAZN and Matchroom in February 2022 for a reported $160 million, the stage was set for his long overdue third faceoff with Triple G.

Fight Night

“I’m a massive admirer of anyone who can have the same drive and determination in a sport like this once they’ve made money, won belts, and created a legacy,” Hearn tells me in a wedding chapel in the MGM Grand that’s now operating as a command center for fight logistics.

“Canelo Alvarez used to sell ice pops on the streets of Guadalajara with nothing. He dreamed of becoming a champion, dreamed of making money, dreamed of the big house, dreamed of all that and achieved it all. But how do you stay hungry in a sport like boxing? How do you keep getting up at 6:00 in the morning and doing the long runs? How do you have the hard spars? How do you go to war and take punishment when you don’t need to take punishment?

“The answer is passion, and a love for what you do, and the ability to compete, and the love for winning. And that’s why I admire these guys.”

Of course, all of the love and respect in the world doesn’t replace the fact that entities like Matchroom and DAZN are looking to profit from Saturday night’s extravaganza.

For their part, DAZN seems pleased thus far.

“As an emotional and financial shareholder in DAZN, I’ve never felt more confident than I am now in the health and the financials of the business,” Joseph Markowski, DAZN’s North American CEO, says while we sit in the KA Theatre (normally reserved for Cirque du Soleil shows) waiting for the Canelo-GGG press conference to begin. “​​We believe the market is only just getting started. There’s a whole lot more value that OTT can bring to sports fans that linear television cannot. I don’t think we’ve seen the half of that.”

Hearn is similarly, if not more, optimistic about Matchroom’s outlook.

“We are the business that runs the shows off of P&L. We know where we stand at all times. We know our exposure. We know our breakeven points. We know our upsides. And that’s so important in any business, particularly in boxing, because boxing is the Wild West where people come in and lose millions on a show,” Hearn says. “We wouldn’t ever do that.”

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