UFC: Zuffa Boxing, DAZN and the Canelo/Kovalev Delay
By: Jesse Donathan
Rest assured, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The professional boxing landscape has recently looked offset and bewildered in the wake of what is increasingly shaping up to be a combat sports entertainment industry that is turning the page on how business is conducted in the modern era. With the highly unusual delay of the Canelo vs. Kovalev fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas at the hands of the UFC 244 main event as well as the recent KSI vs. Paul Logan II YouTube star spectacle, an overall picture is beginning to emerge on that suggests change is coming to the otherwise relatively steadfast traditional boxing hierarchy. With the emergence of social media, streaming services and the ever-looming presence of Zuffa Boxing and the UFC’s entry into the world of professional boxing, alliances are quickly shaping up in the way of UFC President Dana White reportedly meeting with boxing promoter Eddie Earn as UFC fighters and professional boxers are increasingly calling one another out.
Just this past week, former NFL standout Greg Hardy put Tyson Fury on notice while Fury himself was recently spotted training with UFC middleweight star Darren Till. Also waiting in the wings for a piece of the Tyson Fury sweepstakes is UFC titan Francis Ngannou, who has dreamed of a career in professional boxing since virtually the inception of his combat sports journey. This news of course, coming on the heels of the well-publicized beef between UFC president Dana White and boxing star Oscar De La Hoya means that the promotional and business aspects of the boxing/mixed martial arts crossover have been well in the making for some time now as the dollars and cents begin shape up in the combat sports entertainment industry.
Though not directly related to the UFC/Zuffa Boxing entry into professional boxing, the recent KSI versus Paul Logan II YouTube star headlining main event on a card promoted by Eddie Hearn, featuring legitimate, championship caliber boxers is a harbinger of things to come for many boxing fans who do not like the change in direction that the wind appears to be now taking. “White collar boxing is a slippery slope and has opened a very dangerous door,” writes four-time national amateur boxing champion Eric Kelly in his November 10, 2019 Twitter social media post. According to Kelly, “#KSI vs #PaulLogan is all the proof that you need. Being the main event on a card that features real professional boxers and world champions. Yet the boxers had to take a backseat to the YouTubers.”
Back in May of 2019, BoxingInsider.com published an article titled, “The Don King Effect – UFC’s Dana White and Zuffa Boxing to Promote Big Fights” where I predicted that the UFC was going to break into boxing in a big way moving forward into the future in 2020 and beyond. According to a November 7, 2019 Chael Sonnen YouTube video titled, “Could Jorge Masvidal vs Canelo Alvarez actually happen?” the former UFC middleweight title contender and current ESPN MMA analyst sat down in “The Bad Guy” studio to discuss what could possibly be on the horizon in the future concerning the professional boxing/mixed marital arts crossover.
“So Masvidal has something known as a hit list he put it out. There were three names on it, I can’t even remember two of them, but I want to get to the third because I remember this. He called out Canelo, Canelo Alvarez,” said Sonnen. “The sitting, reigning, multi-division world boxing champion. Canelo has only lost one fight ever, 21-years old, but he lost it, it was to a guy named Floyd Mayweather. And while he was dominated, it was his only loss and the guy was named Floyd Mayweather and Canelo was 21.”
In making sure his audience understood exactly what it was that he was trying to say, Sonnen went on to remark that, “I’m going to say that all for you a second time, so that you could put those pieces together. So, Canelo is a very special talent. And I’m condescending in case you don’t watch boxing and you didn’t know that,” said Sonnen.
According to Sonnen, “Masvidal is in a very unique position right now that I do not think he is aware of.” In summarizing the down to earth, regular kind of guy off the street attitude Masvidal seems to have, Sonnen went on to summarize exactly where Masvidal’s career stands at this point in time as “The Bad Guy” sees it. “I don’t think Masvidal realizes that anything is different in his life or career,” said Sonnen. “He woke up last week, trying to make weight knowing he was going to have to go out there and put it on the line against somebody for 25-minutes. Do the best that he could, walk away and live with the result. That’s what he got out there and did and I think he is waking up today in the exact same position,” theorized Sonnen.
“But he is wrong. He is wrong,” argued Chael. “The landscape of Jorge Masvidal has changed tremendously. He, I believe, is officially the number one contender. Would that be true? That if he wants to fight the winner of Kamaru/Colby that he will be given that opportunity. Would that be true? I think you guys would agree with me,” offered the ESPN MMA analyst. “But he doesn’t have to go fight the winner of Kamaru/Colby, he has a title,” said Sonnen. “Mission accomplished!” he added.
Stepping into Masvidal’s shoes, it’s all seems pretty simple and straight forward from “The Bad Guys” perspective. “Got in the sport, went up to that division, took big risks to win a belt; he has the belt,” said Sonnen. “He can now go after big fights and there is something about him versus Canelo that just works, it just does,” Sonnen confided.
“And as soon as he (Masvidal) said it, I said, ‘Oh, my goodness,’” explained Sonnen who no doubt knows few things are left to chance, but rather design.
“Now I am not predicting for you guys that you’re going to see that fight, the logistics of how are we going to do it and where are we going to do it are going to be tough,” Sonnen explained. “When Masvidal fights in the UFC and Canelo is exclusive on DAZN, but Dana worked that out with Showtime once before, he can work it out again,” said Sonnen. Which perhaps may go a long way in explaining the unusual delay of the Canelo/Kovalev main event this past Saturday night?
As originally reported in a November 7, 2019 BoxingInsider.com article titled, “DAZN’s Stands Defiant in Face of Canelo-Kovalev Criticism,” author Sean Crose writes, “After it delayed last Saturday’s Canelo-Kovalev match for 90 minutes in order to appeal to MMA fans who were watching a card of their own, I decided to reach out to DAZN for an explanation,” writes Crose. According to the veteran BoxingInsider.com reporter, he received a response the following Tuesday, though unfortunately none of his questions were answered directly as he was instead referred to comments DAZN representative Joe Markowski had previously made to ESPN reporter Steve Kim, who, as Crose noted, works for ESPN who coincidentally enough broadcasted last weekend’s UFC 244 event.
The report went on to note that, “The quotes, such as they are, make it clear DAZN is happy it delayed the fight for an hour and a half on Saturday. What’s more, Markowski added absolutely nothing conciliatory towards those who paid for what was literally poor customer service,” said Crose. According to BoxingInsider.com report, “Sure enough, my question to DAZN about how some perceived their weekend strategy went unanswered. Which brings us to a simple fact – DAZN is not only disinterested in individual consumer satisfaction, it isn’t afraid of that disinterest being public knowledge.”
Searching for a possible explanation to the sudden change of direction, Crose, who is the author of the acclaimed historical fiction novel titled, “the Regulator,” went on to postulate that, “Perhaps the streaming service received such a windfall from all those MMA fans this past weekend that it no longer feels it needs to play nice. Or perhaps it’s just an operation straight out of a Dickens’ novel. Either way, its coldness is notable,” writes Crose.
According to a November 6, 2019 Luke Thomas YouTube video titled, “UFC 244 vs. Canelo-Kovalev: Was DAZN Right?” the Sirius XM radio host weighed in on the issue, stating that, “I’ve noticed a lot of different takes on this. Basically, it goes one of two ways. One way is that you’re in favor of this. And the argument would be, wow, as a service to the fan, you got to watch the UFC 244 PPV and then, when that was over, you got to flip right over and then catch Canelo doing pretty incredible things,” said Thomas.
“Alright, and that was one argument essentially for it. And the other side, is that, well I don’t know how much of a cross over audience there actually is,” explained Thomas. “And more to the point, if you want to make your product look Busch league, boy, this is a great way to do it,” notes Thomas.
According to Luke, “MMA and boxing have always had a natural tension, and more to that point, when you look at the actual dollar figures that boxers make right, the 35-million that Canelo has made, the 40-million, I think 42-million guaranteed that Floyd got to fight Canelo or the 300-million that Mayweather got to fight McGregor, right, it’s always had this status as not merely the more lucrative sport for it’s a-list stars, its always had a bit of a big brother vibe to MMA,” explained Thomas.
Continuing, Thomas went on to expound that, “Like we respect the hustle to a degree of the MMA fighters, you are seeing some people open their doors more, the Freddy Roaches, the Teddy Atlas’s, that kind of thing, but its always had a bit of a big brother vibe to UFC,” said Thomas. “I think this was startling to boxing fans because this was the first time where that relationship got completely inverted. It was the first time where boxing could not look at itself in the face and say we are the big brother on this night,” explained the former United States Marine.
“And that’s important, because not only was this fight with Canelo and Kovalev not the big brother scenario, I mean it wasn’t the big brother when you had their top star. It wasn’t Danny Garcia versus Thurman II or something like that. This was Canelo Alvarez, the biggest star in combat sports. The biggest star in boxing, active, jumping up two weight classes man, and they made that one the second fiddle. I think that startled boxing fans,” noted Thomas.
In the after math of the Canelo Alvarez vs. Sergey Kovalev fight and its highly unusual delay at the hands of the UFC 244 main event at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as well as the recent KSI vs. Paul Logan II YouTube star spectacle an overall picture is beginning to emerge on the combat sports landscape that suggests the winds of change are in the air as the page is beginning to be turned in the otherwise steadfast, traditional professional boxing landscape.
With the emergence of streaming services, YouTube social media sensations and the ever-looming presence of Zuffa Boxing and the UFC’s entry into the realm of professional pugilism, alliances are quickly forming with some of the biggest movers and shakers in the combat sports entertainment industry. Though one can sense the offset fear and bewilderment from the professional boxing community, one can rest easy knowing that the more things change, the more they will inevitably remain the same.