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Canelo Move to HBO Changes Boxing Landscape

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So far in 2014 boxing has seen more impacting events happen outside the ring than in. Yesterday was no different, but the effect may be huge for the foreseeable future.

Yesterday  it was announced by Golden Boy Promotions president Oscar De La Hoya and HBO Sports president Ken Hershman via press conference that Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez was coming back to the network on a multi-fight contract. Alvarez is the second Golden Boy fighter, the first being Bernard Hopkins, to come back to HBO in more than a year. The network severed ties with the promoter as a punishment after Floyd Mayweather signed an exclusive six-fight deal with rival Showtime, given that his opponents were coming from Golden Boy.

Mending fences with HBO has been a priority for De La Hoya since he took over the reigns at Golden Boy after the resignation of long time CEO Richard Schaefer. Another priority has been working once again with rival Top Rank Promotions, De La Hoya’s promoter during his career. The refusal for the two biggest promoters in boxing to work together in making fights during Schaefer’s tenure has resulted in what is known as the sport’s ‘Cold War.’ The Mayweather contract and HBO’s banishment of Golden Boy further cemented the divide as boxing became HBO/Top Rank vs. Showtime/Golden Boy.

De La Hoya realized, even as he went back to rehab in 2013 to deal an addiction problem that has dogged him for years, that the situation could not be maintained long term even with Golden Boy enjoying great success at Showtime. The only question was how far would he go to have HBO open its doors to Golden Boy once again. De La Hoya’s appearance alongside Top Rank CEO Bob Arum on the September 16 episode of HBO’s The Fight Game show and yesterday’s announcement is a testament to how much he is trying to fix the relationship with HBO.

It’s one thing for Hopkins to come back to HBO as it was largely seen as a means to get Golden Boy removed as a defendant in a lawsuit. It’s another for Golden Boy to bring their most valuable asset in Alvarez to the table for a long term deal with the network.

Even with this reunion the boxing landscape is still being shaped by the “Cold War.’ If anything De la Hoya’s efforts are a realignment of the battle lines. The new sides are looking more likely to be one side Golden Boy, Top Rank, and HBO with the other being powerful advisor/manager Al Haymon and to an extent Showtime.

Haymon was an instrumental figure in having Mayweather go from HBO to Showtime. Since then he has supplied the network with a bulk of fighters. His largely unseen presence and the manner in which he has done business shows he is more than what his title says.  In many ways during his dealings with both HBO and Showtime Haymon hasn’t acted like a manager. Rather he has been like a promoter using the Schaefer-led Golden Boy and Mayweather Promotions as fronts. It has been these dealings that has caused HBO and Top Rank to largely stay away from Haymon.

Another concern among the boxing community being raised has been as to how much sway Haymon has when it comes to matchmaking. Whether on HBO or Showtime fighters in his stable largely have seen them face little risk with big paydays attached. Until recently it has also been rare for Haymon fighters to face each other in the ring. An example of this has been WBA/WBC light welterweight champion Danny Garcia and IBF champion Lamont Peterson not unifying their titles despite the fight being the most  logical one to make for each man.

De La Hoya has had to face all this immediately after Schaefer resigned from Golden Boy but with an added caveat. He discovered that a good amount of Haymon fighters regularly featured on Golden Boy cards did not have a promotional contract with the company. Schaefer allowed this environment to thrive as he and Haymon developed a close relationship. It can be argued that Schaefer failed in his duties with Golden Boy and will likely have to face those allegations in a civil courtroom soon.

Golden Boy’s improved relations with HBO will also make some fighters have to pick sides. Alvarez was not a concern for De La Hoya as he openly stated his loyalty to Golden Boy. However he did speak after yesterday’s conference about also bringing Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman, both of whom are managed by Haymon, back to HBO. Both fighters do have promotional contracts with Golden Boy but having the choice between the two networks will show how influential Haymon is with his stable.

As for Showtime, it has more flexibility on this front. While they have become reliant on Haymon to supply fighters and has denied HBO even small footage of their fights for promotions those are decisions that can be reversed. The network has benefitted from the ‘Cold War’ in 2013 to a point where it was largely considered to have surpassed their competition as the premier American cable destination for boxing. Haymon’s business style has sharply undone that trend this year. Add Golden Boy now shifting their top talent to HBO and Showtime has some decisions to make. It can improve its relationship with HBO and by extension Top Rank. It would be beneficial for all three as HBO does not have a dedicated program for boxing prospects like Showtime does in  ShoBox: The New Generation and Top Rank is in dire need of developing a rightful heir to Manny Pacquiao and not merely an opponent for him.

The shift is also extending to sanctioning bodies. World Boxing Organization president Paco Valcarcel has in recent days openly tweeted U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) and U.S. Senator John McCain (R, AZ) advocating amendments to the 1996 Professional Boxing Safety Act to put specific limits of what boxing advisors can do. This is a reaction to middleweight fighter Peter Quillin, a Haymon fighter, vacating the WBO title in the division rather than face mandatory challenger Matt Korobov. Quillin’s decision is viewed as one actually made by Haymon after Roc Nation, a new player in boxing headed by rapper Jay-Z, won a purse bid for the fight.

Boxing’s ‘Cold War’ will not go away overnight, almost nothing does. It is slowly thawing though. How far the thaw goes may leave Haymon as the odd man out, and it will be by design.

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