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Why HBO Loves Canelo Alvarez

Kelsey McCarson

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Canelo Alvarez is the real deal. The 24-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico is poised to carry boxing into the post-Mayweather, post-Pacquiao era as a crossover star with mainstream appeal. He’s a good fighter who is consistently improving. He’s always in shape. He has a large and rabid fan base. He is willing to fight all-comers. He is promoted by one of the top promoters in the sport, and he is perhaps the most intriguing fighter on HBO’s stellar roster.  

“It’s undeniable that Canelo Alvarez is a superstar,” said Ken Hershman, president of HBO Sports. “He’s going to carry the sport for a long time.”

Hershman has been with HBO Sports since 2012.  After spending 20 years at Showtime, he took over as HBO Sports president from the departing Ross Greenburg. Under his regime, HBO Boxing lost both Alvarez and longtime HBO fighter Floyd Mayweather to rival network Showtime. But after losing Mayweather, the preeminent star in the sport, HBO set about building a new roster of next generation stars. In 2014, HBO pilfered Alvarez back from Showtime to go alongside Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev as HBO’s lead boxing stars.

Hershman said bringing Alvarez back into the fold was a no-brainer.

“He has a great personality. He’s great looking. His fan base is terrific and fanatical. I’ve been to so many boxing events with big crowds and exciting events, but you feel a different energy around his fan base. They’re actually wearing ‘Canelo’ garb. They’re into this kid in big way, and he responded.”

Alvarez’s first fight back on HBO airwaves was a destructive three-round knockout of James Kirkland on May 9 in Houston. Over 30,000 fight fans packed Minute Maid Park to see Alvarez do this thing, many wearing shirts, hats and bandanas adorned with his name. These were not items they bought at the arena that night. They were brought from home and had clearly been worn many times before.

Canelo vs. Kirkland was the most watched live cable TV fight since 2006. “His performance [against Kirkland] was thrilling,” said Hershman. “He wants the biggest challenges out there. He doesn’t say ‘no’ to any fight.”

Alvarez is easy to like. He has consistently fought excellent competition. In 2013, he won a close but unanimous decision over the crafty Austin Trout to set up a lucrative bout with Mayweather. Alvarez wasn’t quite polished enough yet to give the world’s best fighter much trouble. He lost a majority decision that probably should have been much wider. But since then, he’s won three straight, two by knockout. He took care of Alfredo Angulo in March 2014. He risked his future by forcing a fight against Erislandy Lara later that year and won a split decision in a dangerous fight even his promoters didn’t want him to take.

Now coming off his impressive win over Kirkland, it appears Alvarez is set to face WBC and lineal middleweight champion Miguel Cotto later this year.

“He’s going to take on Miguel Cotto hopefully in the fall. It will be the biggest PPV event of the fall. He’s going to carry this sport and be a lead star for HBO for many years to come.”

Hershman said it was a great time to be in the Canelo Alvarez business. He said Alvarez is the total package, and it’s hard to find anything about his assessment to dispute. Moreover, Alvarez has perhaps the biggest and best built-in fan base behind him the sport has to offer.

“The Mexican fan base for boxing is extraordinary, and it’s a fast-growing part of the population here [in the United States]. That’s a great sign for the sport and for Canelo Alvarez.”

With HBO firmly behind him, as well as Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions, it’s hard to see how everyone else in boxing won’t eventually end up loving him, too. Alvarez is a legit talent. He’s hardworking. He wants to fight the best competition available. He is not interested in protecting his record. And with Cotto and Golovkin fights on the horizon, he will have the opportunity to prove himself the elite talent he and his handlers believe him to be.

The best part about Alvarez is simply this: Even if he’s not an elite talent—even if he loses to Cotto, or beats Cotto but loses to Golovkin the next year—Alvarez is the kind of fighter who will not duck top level foes. He seeks the biggest and best fights, and competes in a thrilling style. So the absolute worst case scenario for Alvarez is that he gives us good fights against good opponents to keep us occupied until boxing’s next big superstar comes along the way to sweep us of our feet.

That’s ultimately why HBO loves Alvarez so much, and why you probably should, too.

Kelsey McCarson contributes to Bleacher Report, The Sweet Science and Boxing Channel.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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