The idea that boxing no longer sees men take big fights or that top level talent no longer face off is a myth. But the idea that everyone involved in the sport always operates with the best interest of the sport (and themselves) in mind is just as false. And we'll be reminded of both of those facts this Saturday night.
When Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. steps into the ring to face Sergio Martinez, he'll be following in the Mexican Independence Day weekend fight tradition of his father. The great Julio Cesar Chavez won his first ever world title on that holiday weekend back in 1984, stopping Mario Martinez in the 8th round of their super featherweight bout. The Mexican Independence Day weekend bout became a staple of Chavez Sr.'s career, so it's not exactly a shock to see Jr. attempting to follow in his father's legendary footsteps.
But, this wasn't really supposed to be Chavez's weekend this year.
The first serious talk of a September 15 card this year revolved around Saul "Canelo" Alvarez.
Canelo, fresh off a drubbing of the ghost of Shane Mosley on the Mayweather vs. Cotto undercard, was being put into a position to headline a Golden Boy promoted pay-per-view for the first time, all with a new deal between the fighter and Showtime, moving him off of long-time home, HBO. Finding an opponent for the bout would prove anything but easy, however.
The initial plans revolved around matching Canelo up with the dangerous but flawed James Kirkland. Kirkland's thudding power, youth and true contender status represented a legitimate test for Canelo, a fighter who can get touched a little bit by his opponents and who badly needed that level of step-up in competition. Kirkland was recovering from shoulder surgery which ended up blocking his taking the fight and Golden Boy moved along to Paul Williams, another fight which represented the toughest test of Canelo's young life.
Tragedy struck when Williams was in an accident on his motorcycle and suffered paralysis from the waist down. Tragedy doesn't stop the business though, and the hunt for an opponent for Canelo's first PPV headliner was back on, eventually settling back on Kirkland, whose shoulder was now okay. Except, then it wasn't, which may or may not have been because he couldn't get the level of pay that he wanted for the bout, so he pulled back out.
Finally, Golden Boy settled on an even bigger fight for Canelo. After Victor Ortiz's rematch with Andre Berto fell through following a failed Berto drug test, they had matched him up with Josesito Lopez in what appeared to amount to little more than a stay-busy fight. Ortiz, yet another man who represented the biggest test of Canelo's career and, almost certainly a fight of the year level clash, would be given the shot so long as he beat or even got a draw against Lopez.
Instead of Ortiz trouncing the lighter Lopez and moving on, as he was significantly favored to do, he engaged in a war which came to a halt when Victor was unable to continue due to a broken jaw. So Lopez, having pulled off the shocking upset, earned himself a shot at Canelo.
While this saga to find Canelo an opponent was taking place, Chavez was preparing for his bout with Andy Lee. Believed to be a stiff test and a fight Chavez could lose if he were not his best, it turned out to be a man-sized beating as Chavez looked better than he had in his entire career.
Immediately following the bout, an announcement was made by Top Rank Promotions that Chavez's next trip to the ring would be September 15 against Sergio Martinez on HBO pay-per-view. At the time of the announcement, the plan was still Canelo vs. Victor Ortiz as Ortiz had yet to lose to Lopez.
There were immediate shockwaves throughout boxing. Scott Christ at Bad Left Hook was one of the few people to bother to point out the reality that two boxing pay-per-views were not going to happen at the same time, on the same day. The cable and satellite providers would never allow it and it was just bad for business. He also was of the (rather sane) opinion that both events wouldn't take place on the same day as it made no real sense from a business perspective at the live gate, in terms of ratings or in terms of exposure for either fighter.
Lopez's defeat of Ortiz and subsequently being named as Canelo's opponent forced that fight off of pay-per-view as it was a bit below actual PPV quality for a main event. The fight was moved to Showtime with a very impressive undercard while Chavez vs. Martinez stayed on HBO pay-per-view.
But it still didn't make sense to keep both events on the same day, and both in Las Vegas no less. Every boxing fan was being forced to choose between the two huge young Mexican superstars. Chavez had the better opponent, but they took the date later than Golden Boy had taken the date for Canelo. One of them had to step aside, both for the good of the fans and the good of their own bottom line.
But the Top Rank versus Golden Boy and HBO versus Showtime rivalris which seem to amount to some sort of mutually assured destruction get in the way of common sense far too often. Hey, if Golden Boy can get 50,000 viewers who would have ordered the Chavez PPV to just watch the Canelo fight instead, that's over $2.5 million in pay-per-view sales that they took away from their competitor. And if Top Rank can put on the bigger fight and hurt Canelo at the gate and Showtime's ratings, then they get to view it as a win.
As boxing fans, we get excited at the idea of seeing Chavez step into a huge fight against a pound-for-pound level fighter. And most of us can understand that the plan wasn't for Canelo to fight a smaller Lopez and was, instead, for him to take a big step up in his career before injuries, tragedy and a huge upset earned Josesito his shot. And we can appreciate the idea of putting that fight on Showtime instead of pay-per-view and putting together a legitimate quality undercard to go with it.
But we get lost when it comes to the continued decision to counter-program and counter-promote. It happened last weekend with Andre Ward's HBO fight being countered by a good card on Showtime, it's happening this weekend with these two fights and HBO and Showtime have planned several other counter-programming efforts in the coming months. These business plans that seem more focused on "how can we hurt the other guy's business" than "how can we help our own" is simply a sign of the times in boxing.
Let me be clear though...boxing isn't dead, and boxing isn't dying. But it does have one hell of a problem with mental illness. And it could really use some people looking out for it's best interests.