Last Saturday night, when it was finally deemed that Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’s fallen opponent, Amir Khan, was okay (or as okay as possible in the circumstances), HBO’s Max Kellerman crept into the ring and began his post-fight interview, in that serious way that only Kellerman can.
“…let’s start at the beginning; did he surprise you with his speed, early?”
Canelo’s response? I couldn’t make it out. It was spoken with the fluidity that you would expect from a 25 year old Mexican, speaking his mother tongue.
His translator would tell us that Canelo said something about it being a fast fight, but the champion knew he would get close and his chance to knock him out would present itself. He may have said that. But for the majority of people watching in the US, the UK and other major markets, he could have said anything.
Let’s be honest, unless you spoke fluid Spanish, you stopped listening the second you realised he would once again answer in his own language. Even if your Spanish is of a decent level, could you really make out what he was saying? What with the speed in which he spoke, the crowd noise and the translator edging him out?
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is the future of boxing; the heir apparent to Floyd Mayweather Junior. He has said as much – through a translator – and so has his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya. And they’ve said it a lot.
Floyd himself became King of the pay-per-view after de-throning De La Hoya, via a split decision in 2007.
There is no one thing that makes you the fighter people are most willing to shell out money on. But there are pre-requisites: Talent; definitely. An ability to connect with the paying public; undoubtedly. Being easy on the eye, a one-punch knockout artist or a good orator are useful traits, but not essential.
The pre and post-fight press conferences are usually written media affairs. You read about what the boxers have said. But the post-fight, in-the-ring interview is a visual and aural affair.
It’s warts and all. Emotion. Adrenaline. Sometimes, even honesty.
This is where a fighter connects with his audience, in the arena and at home. This is where he pays respect to his opponent, where he thanks the fans and talks about the next obstacle in his march to global domination.
This is where Cassius Clay proclaimed “I shook up the world”, in the aftermath of his victory over Sonny Liston in 1964. “Sacudí para arriba el mundo” wouldn’t have had the same legacy-making impact on the American public.
Canelo’s place in the hearts of the Mexican people is well established, and this should not be forgotten. He is not held in such regard just because he is a good fighter and he happens to be Mexican. It is because of the man he is.
But the US is where he fights. It’s where the money is.
Around 2008, Manny Pacquiao really started to work on his English. He wanted to become a PPV superstar and realised he needed to be able to connect with US fans.
He never, ever mastered it. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But English speaking fans appreciated the effort and were able to get to know the man that little bit more. Fast forward eight years and that same broken English would leave a permanent stain on the Filipino’s legacy, but that’s hardly my point!
When Alvarez fought Miguel Cotto last year, they delivered an estimated 900,000 PPV buys. It was considered a decent return and was the first time in a long time that a fighter not called Mayweather or Pacquiao had garnered such interest.
However, the (as yet unconfirmed) low take up for the Amir Khan fight – as little as 350,000 buys, according to some sources – shows that Canelo can’t bring the audience alone. Canelo/Cotto was a clash of two big names. Canelo/Khan wasn’t.
Alvarez is not bringing the buyers to watch any old rubbish. Not the way that Mayweather did against Robert Guerrero (est. 1million buys) or even against the long faded Andre Berto (est. 500,000 buys). It should be noted that Amir Khan is generally considered to be a class or two above both of those.
If Alvarez really wants to reach the top of the money tree, he has got to realise that making someone part with $70 takes more than eye catching knockouts. It takes personality.
He doesn’t have to be Mr Nice Guy. Mayweather proved that. But he has to be Mr Somebody.
Alvarez’s next opponent shouldn’t be (the multilingual) Gennady Golovkin, it should be the English language.
…and then it should be Golovkin.