By Tyson Bruce
The bout between Floyd Mayweather vs. ‘Canelo’ Alvarez was, hastily, dubbed as the last great prize fight. While any true boxing fan knows that isn’t true, it does beg the question of who should be next for the pound for pound star. With two bouts next year in May and September on the books for Mayweather, the speculation has already reached a fever pitch among boxing fans about who’s next.
The batting roster for Mayweather opponents has rapidly been shrinking, as he has already beaten most of this generation’s top fighters, excluding a certain famous Philippine boxer. The next generation of boxing stars is starting to emerge and take over the sport. Top names such as Adrien Broner, Danny Garcia, and Keith Thurman are beginning to crawl to the top of their respected divisions, but it might be a little early, as evidenced by Alvarez’s recent failure to challenge someone as seasoned at Mayweather. Making the situation even more challenging is that boxing’s well documented “Cold War” between Top Rank/HBO and Golden Boy/Showtime prevents even more matches from being made.
The two names that seem to be at the top of the list for Mayweather’s bout in May is Junior Welterweight champion Danny Garcia and Great Britain’s Amir Khan. Although many fans have been vocal in their desire to see Mayweather move up to middleweight and challenge for a sixth world title, he has shown an understandable reluctance to do so. He’s a small welterweight and just fighting at 154 is a big enough physical hurtle for Mayweather, or so his representation would have us believe. It’s a shame because from a competitive standpoint Golovkin and Martinez, who it must be noted are affiliated with HBO, seem to present the most credible challenge to Mayweather.
Amir Khan is the opponent that seems to be gaining the most traction, at least from a media speculation point of view. The British press falsely printed that the fight was all but a sure thing, which was quickly shot down by Golden Boy and Mayweather’s team. However, Khan did cancel his scheduled bout with Devon Alexander, presumably to keep himself available in the Mayweather sweepstakes. Khan is being pitched as an opponent because of the potential money that his UK fan base will bring to the bout. This overlooks the fact that Khan has lost two of his last five bouts and looked anything but spectacular is his shaky victory over the aging Julio Diaz. A great deal of media and fan outrage over the possibility of that matchup reflects the fact that Khan has not really earned such a lucrative opportunity.
Khan has stated that his speed and mobility would present a very different look for Mayweather than his last several opponents, who were all considered offensive fighters. While this has a certain amount of truth to it, Khan has shown such a pronounced vulnerability in his career that the possibility of him unseating Mayweather almost seems laughable. Plus, it reinforces the notion that big fights are made purely from an economic standpoint, rather than earned through merit. It challenges the credibility of boxing because in other organized sports, such as the NBA or NHL the championship is always decided with the best playing against the best and not the most popular against the most popular. If anyone, at least among the ‘makeable’ opponents, has earned the right to fight Mayweather it’s Khan’s conqueror Danny Garcia.
Danny Garcia, it can be argued, is the most underrated and unappreciated champion in all of boxing. The reason is largely because on the surface he doesn’t appear to be excellent in any department. He doesn’t have Mayweather’s ridiculous speed and reflexes or Gennady Golovkin’s punching power, but what he does have is a winner’s mentality. That is to say, he has the mindset, confidence, and will power that all the great champions have. Garcia was a noted underdog in his two biggest victories against Amir Khan and Lucas Matthysee, but persevered just the same because he truly believes in his ability. That makes him a dangerous opponent for any fighter, including Mayweather.
The question of opponents really comes down to dollars and cents. Is Garcia a big enough name and personality to sell the fight? Will Amir Khan’s recent defeats and lack if credibility affect the box office numbers? As part of his record breaking deal with Showtime, Mayweather is to receive a guaranteed purse of 32 million, meaning the fight has to generate an incredible amount of money just to break even. This makes the selection of his opponents more difficult and important than perhaps any other fighter in history.
This dilemma has been perfectly illustrated in Mayweather’s first two bouts with Showtime, which had polarizing degrees of success and failure.
His bout against Robert Guerrero was by all accounts a financial disaster for the company. For the first time since his bout in 2008 against Ricky Hatton, when Mayweather was much less know to the general public, his bout with Guerrero did well under one millions buys. This goes to show that Mayweather cannot meet such lofty financial expectations with out a bankable B-side opponent. Aside from being completely unknown to mainstreams sports fans, Guerrero simply brought nothing to the promotion from an entertainment perspective. His fervent Evangelism and inability to speak Spanish caused a disconnection with Mexican-American fans, boxing’s largest and most reliable fan base.
Is it possible that Garcia, who is very quiet and humble, would bring the same promotional shortcomings? The outspoken and often bizarre antics of his father Angel would certainly help on the press tour and it must also be noted that Garcia has a much more accomplished resume than Guerrero. Garcia is a real champion and Showtime wouldn’t have to pad his accomplishments like they did with Guerrero, who they falsely labeled as a six-time world champion.
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on the other hand was a media darling, who brought with him his own legion of fans on both sides of the border. The press tours for the Mayweather bout were a spectacle and an event unto there own. It also illustrated just how much Alvarez was bringing to the bout, as he had as many if not more fans in the audience than Mayweather. Together they made an event that dominated the sports world and in the process shattered virtually every financial record that had ever been set.
Amir Khan, who has a noted fan base, is not the kind of nationalistic hero in England that Alvarez is in Mexico. This makes it hard to reconcile Khan as the opponent because he just doesn’t bring anything authentic to the dance card. Add that to the fact that Garcia knocked Khan into another dimension when they fought and it becomes impossible to justify Mayweather picking Khan as an opponent over Garcia.