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Deontay Wilder is a One-Man Rolling Tide in His Own Right

Bernard Fernandez

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Deontay Wilder

As a first-semester freshman at Shelton Community College in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Deontay Wilder had the same dream that many boys and young men in that state have harbored almost since birth. Tall, lean and athletically gifted, he would earn an associate degree at Shelton CC, then walk on at the University of Alabama where he could imagine himself starring for his beloved Crimson Tide as a wide receiver on the football team or a forward on the basketball squad. Maybe, he dared to believe, he could play and excel in both sports en route to being awarded the college degree his mother fervently hoped would be her son’s ticket to a better life.

But destiny had other plans for Wilder. His infant daughter, Naieya, was diagnosed with spina bifida, a congenital condition that affects the spine and usually is apparent at birth. Raised to believe that a real man is responsible for taking care of his children, Wilder dropped out of Shelton and took jobs that paid actual money, if not a whole lot of it, rather than hope to be drafted by the NFL or NBA, a long shot dependent, of course, on his even making one of Alabama’s varsity rosters and doing well enough to draw pro scouts’ attention.

It has been a meandering road for Wilder from former community college student to IHOP waiter to Red Lobster kitchen worker to Olympic bronze medalist in boxing and, since his unanimous decision over Bermane Stiverne on Jan. 16, 2015, WBC heavyweight champion. The kid who once fantasized about catching touchdown passes and sinking jump shots in the cauldron of Southeastern Conference competition is now 33 years old, a multimillionaire and emerging state treasure famous enough to have been asked by Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who has led the powerhouse Tide to five national titles in the last 11 years and is bearing down on a sixth this season with a top-rated, undefeated team, to occasionally deliver motivational speeches to the red-clad players to whose ranks Wilder once hoped to join.

It wouldn’t be all that surprising if Saban again brought Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) — who makes the eighth defense of his WBC title Saturday night against former champ Tyson Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles — to give another rah-rah pep talk to the Crimson Tide if they make it to the national championship game on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif. After all, Wilder has shone on a stage that stretches beyond the boundaries of his state or even his country. It has been said that the heavyweight champion of the world holds the most prestigious title any athlete can have, although the proliferation of sanctioning bodies and multiple claimants to that distinction have diluted its historical importance. But a victory over former lineal champ Fury, and especially if it comes in the form of another exclamation-point knockout, would do much to bolster Wilder’s contention that he truly is the best of the best, the “baddest man on the planet,” and worthy of being mentioned in the same breath with some of the greatest champions and hardest punchers ever to have graced the division.

“Alabama is the national champion,” noted Jay Deas, Wilder’s co-trainer and the man who introduced him to all the possibilities that a foray into boxing might offer someone with his signature skill. “Deontay is a world champion.”

And not just some itinerant holder of an alphabet title whose place in boxing history is written in pencil and not indelible ink. To Wilder’s way of thinking, it is the awesome power he brings to his work – primarily packed in an overhand right that can instantly turn an opponent into a twitching heap of humanity  – that stamps him as a special fighter, worthy of taking his eventual place in the pantheon of such big-man blasters as Mike Tyson, Sonny Liston, Joe Louis, George Foreman, Rocky Marciano, Earnie Shavers, Jack Dempsey, Joe Frazier and Lennox Lewis. Put it this way: Wilder has no intention of letting the outcome of his high-visibility pairing with Fury rest in the hands of the judges.

“I say I’m the best. I say I hit the hardest. I say I’m the baddest man on the planet, and I believe every word that I say,” the confident-to-the-point-of-cockiness Wilder said of the great equalizer he possesses and will neutralize anything Fury might have going for him because, well, when hasn’t it? “I’m all about devastating knockouts. That’s what I do.  (Fury) knows he’s going to get knocked out. So he can whoop and he can holler, he can build himself up. But he’d better meditate on this situation because he’s going to feel pain that he never felt before.”

High-volume knockout heavyweights come in all shapes and sizes, and the power source from which they draw is not always readily evident to the untrained eye. Some fighters have ripped physiques that look more appropriate for contestants in a Mr. Universe contest, but they don’t hit especially hard, the impressively muscled Shavers being a notable exception. Foreman and Liston had thicker bodies and huge fists capable of almost casually dispensing blunt-force trauma. Tyson, Frazier and Marciano were stumpy, short-armed guys who could knock a brick building down with a single shot. And Wilder? Well, he’s 6-foot-7, with a stretched-out weight distribution that suggests an Olympic swimming champion more than a fighter capable of knocking larger men silly. To some – like, for instance, Fury, who at 6-foot-9 and 260 or so pounds is anything but lean – the WBC champ looks almost gaunt.

“How am I going to let this little, skinny spaghetti hoot beat me?” Fury asked, rhetorically.

Wilder doesn’t necessarily dispute the notion that he is pretty much a lightweight for a heavyweight in an era where more and more of the sport’s big boys are beginning to resemble the Alabama defensive ends that he could never have been unless he wolfed down maybe six or seven carb-loaded meals a day. A bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, hence his nickname of the “Bronze Bomber,” the closest physical approximation to Wilder might be the welterweight version of Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns, who also had a spindly build but a sledgehammer of a right hand.

“I don’t care how big he is,” Wilder said of the taller (by two inches), much heftier Fury. “I done fought big fighters. Everybody I’ve fought has outweighed me. (Actually, it’s only 35 of 40.) But when you possess my kind of power, you don’t worry about a lot of things, man. I got the killer instinct. I got the most feared, the most dangerous killer instinct in the boxing game. It’s natural. It’s born.”

It is axiomatic that big hitters are born, not made, which might not be entirely accurate when you consider that the very young Tommy Hearns, who found his way into the late, great Emanuel Steward’s Kronk Gym in Detroit, didn’t have much pop until he learned some of the finer points of power punching, like hip rotation and turning your fist over at the moment of impact. But Wilder was basically a grown man of 20 when he checked out Deas’ gym in Tuscaloosa and learned, as Deas soon did, that the tall, skinny guy had a gift that might translate into something of value greater than a weekly $400 check from Red Lobster.

After taking a bronze in Beijing as a relative neophyte (he had an OK but hardly extraordinary 30-5 amateur record), the still-learning Wilder turned pro at 23 with a second-round knockout of Ethan Cox on Nov. 15, 2008, in Nashville, Tenn. Wilder weighed a career-low 207¼ pounds for his debut and, in what would become something of an oddity, actually outweighed Cox by 6½ pounds. Over the course of his 10-year pro career, Wilder – who has come in for three fights at a career-high of 229 pounds – has averaged 220.2 pounds per bout to 242.9 for the guys he’s been blasting out, although that gap might not be quite so wide were it not for the two chubbos who made the scales groan at 398 and 352½, respectively, that a still-rough-around-the-edges Wilder got out of there in the first round.

Only one opponent – then-WBC champ Stiverne, whom Wilder dethroned – has gone the distance with the “Bronze Bomber,” but Stiverne was decked three times in losing a one-round quickie on Nov. 4, 2017, meaning that the heavyweight champion with the highest career knockout percentage has kayoed every man he has been paired with as a pro. True, Wilder’s victims haven’t all been top-shelf, but that hasn’t been for a lack of trying. Fury’s scoffing putdown that 35 of Wilder’s 40 victories have come against “total tomato cans who can’t fight back” notwithstanding, Deas correctly points out that Wilder was poised to go to Moscow to fight the very formidable Russian Alexander Povetkin, a bout that went by the wayside when Povetkin tested positive for a banned substance, and he was insistent on proceeding with a twice-postponed matchup with the even more formidable Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz after Ortiz twice tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Wilder, who was in trouble himself in the seventh round, won that slugfest on a 10th-round KO on March 3.

“Deontay and Tyson Fury both let their representatives know this was the fight they wanted, this was the fight the public wanted,” Deas said in holding the bout up as proof that his guy was willing to fight anyone, at any time and any place. “It’s a huge fight between undefeated fighters. Both guys should be commended for stepping up and giving the fans a fight they really want to see.

“But that’s Deontay Wilder. He will be involved in the two biggest heavyweight fights of 2018, having fought Ortiz and Fury. Nobody can match that resume. Joshua fighting (Joseph) Parker and Povetkin just doesn’t stack up. And if – when – Deontay beats Fury, I think he deserves to be recognized as Fighter of the Year.”

It is reasonable to believe Wilder will be one of two finalists for all the Fighter of the Year awards on the strength of wins over Ortiz and Fury, if he survives the upcoming test, arguably the biggest challenge of his career to date. His primary rival as the top fighter of 2018 would be undisputed cruiserweight ruler Oleksandr Usyk, who also has had a very commendable year with victories over quality opponents Mairis Breidis, Murat Gassiev and Tony Bellew.

But, as the recent mid-term U.S. elections should have demonstrated, the only sure thing in boxing, as in politics, is that there are no sure things. It’s wonderful to have confidence in yourself, but Wilder’s pronouncements of virtual invincibility call to mind Mike Tyson’s mistaken belief that he, too, was too good to ever lose to anyone inside a roped-off swatch of canvas. That idea went by the boards, of course, when Tyson was felled by 42-1 longshot Buster Douglas in Tokyo.

Reminded that Fury has always had a difficult style to decipher, Fury said with a vintage Mike Tyson-level of imperiousness, “I will figure him out. I don’t know when it’s coming, but when it does come, it’s good night, baby. I’m a true champion. A true champion knows how to adjust to anybody, any style. Fury has a lot of great attributes, but I’m the best in the world. And I’m going to prove it again. My confidence is over the roof.”

Whoever survives Saturday night’s fight likely moves on to a clear-the-decks showdown with WBA/WBO/IBF heavyweight champ Antony Joshua in 2019. But that won’t just be a fight to determine the best heavyweight of the here and now; to the winner likely goes the opportunity to sit at a table reserved only for the bluest-blooded members of heavyweight royalty. It’s a highly exclusive club, and Wilder is impatient to receive his invitation.

“I’ve worked my ass off to get to this very point in my life,” he said. “And now I’m here.”

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Canelo Finally Ready to Take Manhattan; More Bites of the Big Apple to Follow?

Bernard Fernandez

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Canelo Takes on Manhattan

You know the words to the song, written by Paul Anka and most memorably sung by Frank Sinatra. It’s a paean to America’s glitziest, grittiest, most self-absorbed metropolis, whose citizens have come to believe the city is and always will be the center of the known universe. Everywhere else is, well, Hicksville.

If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere

It’s up to you, New York, New York

Canelo Alvarez, the WBO/WBA/WBC middleweight champion, is only 28 years of age, but the proud son of Guadalajara, Mexico, has been fighting professionally since he was 15. Arguably the most popular and marketable fighter in the world, he has been a creature of habit, fighting almost exclusively in places where his worshiping fans are plentiful and his star power has been allowed to flourish almost unabated. Of his 54 ring appearances as a pro, boxing’s red-haired rock star has logged 34 fights in Mexico, 11 in Las Vegas, three in California and three in Texas. The furthest east Alvarez has come to ply his trade in the United States is a single bout in Miami, certain sections of which admittedly might seem like New York with palm trees.

But now Canelo says he is ready – eager, even – to finally make his mark in America’s toughest town, and specifically in the famous arena, Madison Square Garden, which fancies itself the “Mecca of boxing.” It is a not-undeserved sobriquet when you consider the roster of ring legends who have toiled at the Garden in any of its four incarnations.

Hey, if the historic building in midtown Manhattan, and the three preceding venues bearing its name, were good enough for Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Jake LaMotta, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson and Canelo’s promoter, Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya, then it’s good enough for someone who considers himself to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world today.

But Saturday night’s matchup of Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KOs) — who will be moving up a weight class to challenge WBA super middleweight champion Rocky Fielding (27-1, 15 KOs) of England in a bout which will streamed internationally via DAZN — is not so much a one-off event as the first of many planned Garden parties in which Canelo will be the headliner.

“You know, Canelo’s always wanted to fight in New York,” said Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy. “It seems like the last three years he’s been talking to Oscar and myself about fighting in New York and, obviously, at the Garden. He’s a big fan of Muhammad Ali and idolized Muhammad Ali.

“And to fight at the Mecca of boxing where all the greats have fought … Oscar fought there as well. It’s something (Alvarez) always wanted to do. So we’re extremely excited that we were able to squeeze in one more fight in December after having such a tough rematch in September with (Gennady) Golovkin.”

So what about that, Canelo?

“I would like it to be the first of many fights there,” Alvarez replied when asked about the hints he is dropping about possibly making MSG his new pugilistic home instead of Vegas. “To fight in New York is another landmark in my career and is another important story in my career. I want it to be the first of many more.”

All well and good, although Fielding, virtually anonymous on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, has no chance of playing the role of Frazier to Canelo’s Ali, or vice versa, even if he somehow captures lightning in a bottle. This also is the Briton’s first fight in New York, and who can blame him for daring to dream that pulling off the upset will make him a superstar in his own right?

“This is what I’m in boxing for,” Fielding, 31, said of the longshot opportunity he hopes to capitalize on. “This is what I’ve been doing in boxing since I was nine, for these nights. To fight at Madison Square Garden against the biggest name in boxing is unbelievable.”

Fielding isn’t quite the no-hoper Buster Douglas appeared to be on Feb. 11, 1990, when, as a 42-1 underdog, he pulled off boxing’s biggest and most memorable upset with a 10th-round knockout of the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson in Tokyo. But Fielding is an 8-1 outsider for those willing to place a wager on him, and Canelo backers would have to bet $160 to make a 10-buck profit.

Any chance Fielding has of shocking the world lies in the fact that he is noticeably larger than Canelo, at 6-foot-1 to the celebrated challenger’s 5-8, and with a 75-inch reach to Canelo’s 70½-inch reach. That, and the fact Alvarez is moving up to an unfamiliar weight class, is enough to fuel Team Rocky’s belief that they can spoil the star attraction’s New York debut.

“We’re going to ask (Alvarez) questions,” said Jamie Moore, Fielding’s trainer. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions regarding him moving up to super middleweight. The height and reach advantages that Rocky’s got is huge. How is he going to cope with those problems? When they come face to face in the middle of the ring, Rocky’s going to be huge, an absolutely huge specimen compared to Canelo.”

But there is another saying that seemingly applies here, and that is that it’s the size of the fight in the dog, not the size of the dog in the fight, that matters. And the talent gap between Canelo and this Rocky, who is not likely to ever be compared to Marciano, Graziano or Balboa, is of much more consequence that a couple of inches and pounds.

The incentives for Alvarez taking this fight are many. If – when – he wins and becomes a world champion at super middle, he joins fellow Mexican greats Julio Cesar Chavez, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Jorge Arce as three-division champions. OK, so Alvarez has already announced he will be moving back down to middleweight. That itch he wants to scratch as a three-division titlist, even if only temporarily, is satisfied, as is his desire to make more dough before the end of the year and to show New York what he’s all about. Who knows, maybe he’ll even find time get in a little Christmas shopping at some of Manhattan’s trendier boutiques.

If there is a drawback to Canelo’s Manhattan adventure, other than the almost-unthinkable possibility of a loss, it’s that New York fight fans, whose reputation as a tough lot is deserved, are not disposed to be warmly receptive to an uninspired performance as those who lavished so much love on him in the Nevada desert, Mexico and Texas. Canelo might be cherished elsewhere, but from the opening bell he is going to have to prove himself anew to a rowdy crowd that is as apt to boo as to cheer.

So it’s up to Canelo to make New York as much his as it was for Sinatra. He theorized about the unlikely possibility of a rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr. (“If that fight were to happen again, I would defeat him, no problem”) and the presumably more realistic chances of a third go at Golovkin (“If we made two, I’ll make a third one”). There are other attractive matchups that could bring him back to the Garden, if his fascination with the place is as genuine as he now claims and Golden Boy accedes to his wishes.

“We’re open to doing more fights in New York. No problem,” Gomez said. “Everything seems to be going smooth. Ticket sales are great. We’re expecting a sellout. If everything goes as planned, why not?”

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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How Oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro Became a Sidebar in the Buster Douglas Story

Arne K. Lang

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Buster Douglas, Vaccaro

When Jimmy Vaccaro, a close friend of long standing, set odds on the Tyson-Douglas fight, he never imagined that he would become a central figure in the story about the greatest upset in boxing, arguably the most famous upset in all of sports. At some point during the course of the betting, the odds favoring Tyson hit 42 to 1 and that became the title of the newest ESPN “30 for 30” documentary which premiered on Tuesday, Dec. 11.

A little background. Vaccaro grew up in blue-collar Trafford, Pennsylvania, a small town about 20 miles from Pittsburgh. An older brother, John Paul “Sonny” Vaccaro, went on to become the most powerful man in basketball by virtue of his relationships with players, coaches, and shoe companies. He is credited with hatching Nike’s “Air Jordan” empire. (Sonny was the subject of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary in 2016.)

In 1975, Jimmy Vaccaro arrived in Las Vegas and found work as a 21-dealer at the Royal Inn, a small casino that sat just off the Strip. The pay for a break-in dealer was $16.50 a shift.

Nevada had recently passed legislation that allowed sports betting to co-exist under the same roof with other forms of gambling. During the previous 25 years, sports betting was quarantined in little mom-and-pop bookie joints. When the Royal Inn put in a sports book, Vaccaro moved over to that department.

In November of 1989, after stops at several other books, Steve Wynn hired Vaccaro to open a sportsbook inside his newest property, the Mirage. Situated in the center of the Las Vegas Strip, the Mirage, with its artificial volcano outside the front entrance, was instantly the most “must-see” attraction in town.

At the Mirage, Vaccaro was the only department head among those that interacted with hotel guests who wasn’t made to wear a suit and tie. Sometimes he showed up for work in jeans. He was a “suit” by virtue of being a department head (a derogatory term in Las Vegas, similar in some respects to bean counter), but by all accounts he didn’t own an actual suit. Concordantly, his style of bookmaking, unrestrained by Wynn, could be described as freewheeling.

In bookmaking, unlike pari-mutuel horse racing, odds are posted on an event and then adjusted, if necessary, to stimulate more betting on the side that is under-bet. A perfectly balanced book — where there is an identical amount of money on each side — is an ideal construct, an abstraction, but bookmakers strive to achieve this by adjusting the odds to where they get two-way action and thereby stand to make roughly the same profit regardless of the outcome.

At the Mirage, Vaccaro often didn’t wait for the money to show to adjust a betting line. If he had a “dead number” – for example, a pointspread on a football game that wasn’t attracting any good-sized wagers – he would adjust it in hopes of stimulating activity. He did this on slow days, or during slow periods of a day, simply as an antidote to boredom.

On one particularly slow day, basically just for the fun of it, Vaccaro decided to post a line on the Tyson-Douglas fight. Tyson would obviously be such a heavy favorite that the proposition would attract little betting, likely just a few peanuts from the suckers in the “bet a toothpick to win a lumberyard” crowd, but, what the heck, there was nothing wrong with a little window dressing. None of the other books in Nevada had it and most hadn’t even bothered to offer odds on how long the fight would last. The wise-guys figured that Tyson would blow Douglas away within the first three rounds.

Then something incredible happened. The seemingly invincible Iron Mike Tyson lost. Buster knocked him out in the 10th round. In short order, Vaccaro was summoned to appear on “Good Morning America.”

Window dressing at the Mirage wasn’t like window dressing at other properties. At other properties, a proposition designed as a conversation piece would be attached to a very low limit. The primary intent was free publicity. But the Mirage attracted a fair number of so-called whales, men (mostly from Asia) who would bet more in a short fling at baccarat than an average workingman would earn in an entire year. If inclined to bet on a sporting event, a whale could get down pretty much whatever he wanted. The sky was the limit.

Vaccaro has said that he took a $160,000 wager on Mike Tyson at 40/1 odds, a wager that would have won $4,000. That’s plausible given the clientele of the Mirage, but it’s a figure that I have always taken with a grain of salt. I say this because my friend Jimmy Vaccaro has tossed out different numbers over the years when asked about the betting.

According to various newspaper reports and what appears in certain books, the betting line opened at 27/1 (the consensus) or 35/1. It crested at 42/1 (the consensus) or 48/1.

Many years ago, Vaccaro told me for a book that I was writing that he accepted a $56,000 wager on Tyson at 28/1, a $64,000 wager at 32/1, and a $143,000 wager at 39/1. He would subsequently provide different figures (close, but different) to Las Vegas Review-Journal sportswriter Stephen Nover and others.

What is almost certainly true is that the odds hit 42/1 as they bounced around and that’s as good a number as any to illuminate the magnitude of Buster’s upset.

Nowadays, when so much betting is done online, one often sees fights where the odds are higher than 42/1. But usually these lines are just for show. Getting down a serious wager on the underdog is out of the question, although an exception would likely be made for a valued client who spreads his action around. In the old days, there were so-called newspaper lines, lines provided to newspapers for information purposes. If one wanted to bet into this line, he would likely be told, and gruffly, to go down to the newspaper office and talk to the sports editor. Good luck with that.

Odds play an important role in sports because they cut to the chase, knifing through the ballyhoo to inform us whether a match is likely to be competitive. And, as mentioned, they serve the purpose of quantifying the bigness of an upset. Before the Tyson-Douglas fight, the biggest upset in heavyweight boxing in recent times came when Leon Spinks upset Muhammad Ali in their first meeting. Ali was widely quoted as a 9/1 favorite.

Odds bedevil sportswriters, however, because they are not static and often vary from place to place. When a sportswriter weaves odds into his story, he is taking a snapshot of something that is fluid. It’s sort of like citing the distance from the shoreline to the lifeguard station at a beach. (As an aside, I would advise readers to be cautious of recycling odds that appear in old books. Most boxing historians have treated the odds very loosely and some have invented odds to imbue a storied fight with a higher shock quotient for dramatic effect.)

During my lifetime, there have been at least four instances where a baseball team available at 100/1 in April went on to win the World Series. The Leicester City soccer club overcame considerably higher odds to win the 2016 Premier League title. So, from a numbers standpoint, Buster Douglas’s upset was hardly the biggest upset in sports.

But there are upsets and then there are quantifiably lesser upsets that register much higher on the shock meter. I once met a person who told me that when he read in his Sunday morning newspaper that Mike Tyson had lost, the world stood still, as it did when JFK was assassinated and when OJ was acquitted. For some people, talk about the Tyson-Douglas fight brings back a flood of memories even if they never saw the fight.

By the way, Jimmy Vaccaro, who is prominently featured in “42 to 1,” is currently on the payroll at the South Point, a locals-oriented casino that is a good drive from the Strip, although it sits on the same boulevard. His main responsibility, so far as anyone can tell, is to hang around the sports book, one of the busiest in the city. His boss, South Point owner Michael Gaughan, once famously said, “I don’t know exactly what it is that Jimmy does around here.”

He’s still the most quotable sports betting personality in town, and as down-to-earth as ever, about what one would expect from a fellow whose father spent 42 years working in a Pennsylvania steel mill.

There are rumors that Vaccaro will be heading back to Pennsylvania before the Super Bowl and the odds of that happening, unfortunately, are a lot lower than 42/1. He’s the last of an era and the town would miss him.

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The Avila Perspective: Canelo in Manhattan and other Boxing Notes

David A. Avila

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Canelo

Amber alert. If you spot a muscular redhead walking through the streets of New York City don’t be surprised. It’s probably Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

Once upon a time it was strange to see Mexicans in Manhattan, but today in the 21st century, plenty of Mexicans live in the city in areas like Hell’s Kitchen.

It figures that’s where the Mexicans would live.

Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KOs) moves up a weight division to challenge England’s Rocky Fielding (27-1, 15 KOs) for the WBA super middleweight title at Madison Square Garden. DAZN will stream the world title fight and entire card free for new users.

The great experiment begins.

Fresh off his $300 million signed contract Alvarez makes his DAZN debut in New York City, an area famous for its ability to attract boxing connoisseurs. Few areas in the USA have boxing fans like those crowds attending big fights at the Garden.

“It fills me with a lot of pride because I know great fighters have fought there, like Muhammad Ali,” said Alvarez. “But to be the main event there at MSG, and if I’m not mistaken, the first Mexican there in a long time, it fills me with pride.”

Also filling up the boxing ring will be the much taller WBA champion Fielding who has a distinct height advantage. When they stood next to each other, the British fighter towered over Alvarez like the Chrysler Building overlooking the tallest tree in Central Park.

“It’s a massive fight for me at Madison Square Garden and a big challenge in Canelo Alvarez,” said Fielding, 31, who sports a five-inch height asset over Mexico’s Alvarez.

Fielding won the super middleweight title this past July when he knocked out undefeated Tyrone Zeuge in Offenburg, Germany. Knockouts have been a best friend for the Englishman in half of his last six fights.

Canelo will be carrying the load for the boxing card that features several other notable Golden Boy Promotions fighters. DAZN hopes that his star power can transfer from television to streaming.

Star power. It’s a crazy asset that can’t always be measured but in the case of Canelo he was able to attract around 1 million pay-per-views on several occasions.

From Morongo to MSG

Ten years ago an 18-year-old Canelo made his American debut at Morongo Casino, a venue that holds about 400 people. Max. I remember it well.

Located in the desert, few would have predicted that freckled face welterweight would become one of boxing’s biggest draws. Well, here he is poised to make an entrance like one of those divas on Broadway. What’s the male equivalent?

Canelo looks to become a three-division world champ of Mexican heritage. It’s a list rife with hall of fame names like Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and of course Julio Cesar Chavez. That’s lofty company.

“Canelo is going to make history that night and be one on the shortlist of Mexicans to be a three-division world champion,” said Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy Promotions.

“It’s very important to be in that list of about ten Mexicans to become three-division world champions, so very important to enter history. That’s why I’m here taking on this important fight, and it’s important that we win this title,” said Alvarez, 28, who lives in Guadalajara.

Facing someone as tall as Fielding does have its drawbacks, but the Mexican redhead has tangled with opponents equally as tall and heavy.

Does anyone remember Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

Back on June 2017, the battle of Mexicans saw Alvarez destroy Chavez Jr. over 12 one-sided rounds with his speed, skills and relentless attack. Can Fielding find a flaw in Canelo’s armor?

“I believe what we worked on and what I can do can cause a lot of damage and a lot of — a lot more than what people are thinking,” said Fielding.

It’s an intriguing matchup designed to entice New York area fans to watch the Mexican fighter perform just months after he toppled Gennady “GGG” Golovkin from the middleweight throne and handed him his first professional loss. In a nip and tuck display of trench warfare, Canelo traded hellacious blows with Triple G and emerged the victor by majority decision.

Golovkin’s team had dared the Mexican to fight Mexican style and he obliged and overcame the Kazakh assassin’s best blows.

Mexican style has its detriments too. Those who use the offensive go-for-broke fighting method can also be the victim. It’s a 50/50 style meant to display a kill or be killed attitude that goes back to the Mexican Revolution when Pancho Villa’s army would descend on machine gun nests on horseback or on foot and overrun them with brute force. It was kill or be killed. That’s Mexican style.

Will Canelo resort to Mexican style or will he utilize the boxing skills that have made him one of the top pound for pound fighters in the world?

On Saturday fans in New York will see firsthand and those watching on DAZN will too.

HBO Farewell

Last weekend the final boxing show by HBO featured top female fighters Cecilia Braekhus and Claressa Shields in separate world title fights at the StubHub Center on a cold night.

About 900 fans scattered around the outdoor arena to watch the event that pit Braekhus against Aleksandra Lopes in a welterweight match. It was not very interesting.

In the middleweight match Shields fought Belgium’s Femke Hermans in another very one-sided fight.

The challengers both looked to survive and were severely overmatched. Punches were seldom thrown by the challengers. It was pitiful.

HBO did not offer much money for the event and thus the opponents willing to fight for the agreed purses gave lukewarm performances.

Had a budget of at least $400,000 for each fight been offered, both title fights could have easily brought worthy opponents for Braekhus like Layla McCarter who was present for the boxing card or Kali Reis who fought the welterweight champion last May.

But HBO left the cupboard bare and offered crumbs on its final boxing show.

Shields and Braekhus would have been better off fighting each other. Perhaps that fight is in the future.

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