De la Hoya: Canelo Alvarez is the only superstar in boxing; everybody else is almost irrelevant

By Paul Magno on October 13, 2017
De la Hoya: Canelo Alvarez is the only superstar in boxing; everybody else is almost irrelevant
Oscar’s seemingly ridiculous quote is actually kinda right on the money. (Adrian Rogo)

When push comes to shove, boxing is—and always has been—more about showbiz than sport…

Boxing has always been a star-driven sport, no matter how much we’d like to think that it’s all about the in-ring action, skill, and the nobility of battle. If this weren’t true, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara would be major superstars and last month’s Superfly triple-header on HBO would’ve done Mayweather-McGregor-level business.

The sport’s promoters would do well to remember that if they really want to help the sport and bring more mainstream attention (and mainstream money) to the business, they need to be in the business of building stars, first and foremost. A fight is just a fight—even if it’s a brilliantly brutal war—unless it takes place between two names that actually mean something to fans.

And that brings us to Oscar De la Hoya’s seemingly ridiculous quote that is actually kinda right on the money.

The former six-division world champ and owner/founder of Golden Boy Promotions had this to say in an article with the Los Angeles Times about his company’s attempts to sign Mikey Garcia:

“Why do you think Canelo Alvarez is the only superstar in boxing? He’s the only guy who can walk down streets and people will stop and recognize him,” De La Hoya said in support of the idea that Garcia needs a promoter to guide his career. “Everybody else is almost irrelevant.”

While one’s first instinct is to laugh this comment off (and much of what De la Hoya says in public is laughable), there’s actually some wisdom to be found in this off-putting bluster.

A fighter who lacks marketability, especially in this day and age of boxing as a niche sport, is marginalizing himself in all aspects of his career—from earning power to recognition of skills and/or accomplishments.

Rigondeaux and Lara aren’t major stars because they don’t have ring styles that jibe with the tastes of general boxing fandom and they don’t have the charisma or personalities to pique the interest of mainstream fans.

In many ways, the recently retired Andre Ward found himself limited by the same harsh reality. Ward and his fighting style were acquired tastes, generally appealing to the niche within the niche who appreciated the old school mauling style the Oakland native employed to great success.

Boxing is not like other sports in this regard. In football, the Super Bowl winner is accepted as the sport’s very best. The NFL’s best athletes are generally rewarded with pay and recognition directly related to their actual ability and/or level of accomplishment. In boxing, it’s only logical that Arturo Gatti would make twenty times more for his efforts than the much more accomplished and skilled Ricardo “Finito” Lopez would make for his. When push comes to shove, boxing is—and always has been—more about showbiz than sport.

In the here and now, De la Hoya is not too far off when he talks about Canelo Alvarez and how so many other fighters may as well be irrelevant. This is not a standing ovation for Oscar and his promotional skills, because Canelo was a star in Mexico and on his way to US stardom well before Golden Boy got him under contract. Plus, frankly, Oscar has not done so great in “making” stars beyond Canelo. But it’s correct to say that, without star power, fighters and what they may or may not have done in the ring, may as well be irrelevant in the big picture.

So, what does all this mean to boxing and to those who either actively work in the sport or support it as a hardcore, true blue fan?

More effort has to be made into making boxing stars whose names register with the mainstream sports fan (and non-sports fan, for that matter).

Those who shat on Mayweather-McGregor a few weeks ago missed the point and consistently miss the point when it comes to what boxing needs. The top priority for all of boxing, right now, needs to be the building of stars.

What does it say about the state of boxing when a UFC star can generate more mainstream boxing buzz than, pretty much, all of the sport’s pound-for-pound top ten, combined?

Boxing’s promoters need to get on the ball and start finding ways to get fighters and their unique stories into some place where more than just the die-hards can be exposed to them. And fans, too, need to be more pragmatic when it comes to what’s in the best interest of the sport.

Insisting on stubborn hardline “purity” by holding on to old and outdated boxing realities is keeping the sport stuck in one spot and utterly stagnant in terms of growth. Let there be multiple world champs—if it means we can generate more interest in bouts and get boxing into more venues around the globe. Ditch all the elitist attitude about “casuals” and the desperate clutching at “back then everything was better” nostalgia. Again, top priority should be all about bringing in new fans and getting boxing’s best into the public spotlight so that their fights mean something to those beyond the relative handful who are already loyal to the sport.

And then, when the fan base has been fortified, we can talk about the “purist” stuff like one champ per division and true world rankings. Until then, we have to ask ourselves whether we want to clutch desperately at the impossible illusion of a “pure” boxing sinking deeper and deeper into mainstream irrelevance or if we want to embrace the real world in an effort to bring new fans and new energy into the sport?

Those making their living from boxing, better take heed of the basic reality of boxing being a star-driven sport. Promotion is more than issuing a few press releases and arranging for some interviews with boxing media lap dogs. The goal should be to find a way to make boxing stars into real stars for the sport’s long-term health—not to survive in the short term by sucking every last penny from the pockets of those fans already loyal to the sport.

One last thing.

Sorry about the clickbait title to this article. But, without something to draw you in, maybe most of you would not have come in to read about a subject I feel to be extremely important.

And that’s kind of the point of this entire piece. Bring people in and then try to keep them in with quality product.

Maybe I failed in the second part of that proposition—that’s up to you to decide—but boxing wouldn’t fail in converting the casual-curious to loyal fans. Boxing can deliver; it just needs help in getting to the point where it can deliver to more and more people.

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  1. JamesSteele 08:12am, 10/19/2017

    Obviously based on Canelo losing convincingly to GGG you have to wonder what De la Hoya is smoking but he could make a case that all the other boxers (except for GGG who kicked Canelo’s ass) don’t command a mega PPV fight. In my opinion Joshua vs Wilder should rate a mega fight but for some reason the Heavyweights don’t anymore. The Vlad-Joshua fight was a very exciting great fight with Vlad one hard punch from kayo-ing Joshua in that nightmare round for the younger fighter but he made it through it and became the champ which was well deserved !

  2. Fan 10:57am, 10/15/2017

    Female Boxing should also be in stardom mix.

  3. Koolz 05:56pm, 10/14/2017

    Bah…I will tell you what is wrong with boxing today.

    It’s not about the best fighting the best it’s about that fighter winning and having to constantly win, and win by KO.

    If fighter loses one fight, oh they are faded, getting old, etc.

    This psychology is what is wrong with Boxing today.  If boxer loses, if these guys are still fighting the top guys, then they should still be ranked the best.

    The whole this fighter has to have an 0 is what has destroyed boxing it’s joke. 

    Also get rid of PPV that is also greedy pathetic corruption.

  4. Mortz 05:54pm, 10/14/2017

    WHAT? What were you smokin’ lately Oscar? Canelo lost in that controversial Golovkin fight where your boy ran all night long. Canelo was exposed and exploited by Mayweather in their one sided match where your boy looked amateur.

  5. Koolz 05:48pm, 10/14/2017

    Never forget 118-110

    yes one super fight away from being ATG.

  6. fan 10:33am, 10/14/2017

    Boxing should have is own superstar like The Rock or something like that. Not only a boxer but a promo guy all around the world.

  7. Kid Blast 10:19am, 10/14/2017

    Canelo is one super fight win away from being a Mexican ATG Deal with it.

  8. Carlos Slim Helu 07:04am, 10/14/2017

    Canelo is Mexican but doesn’t fight like a Mexican warrior….in fact in his last fight he was a poor man’s version of Floyd Mayweather….he is adored in Mexico because he looks like a friggin’ leprechaun….plain and simple! If he looked like the great Erik Morales he would still be a “tonto indio” according to the great Marco Antonio Barrera!

  9. Lucas McCain 06:10am, 10/14/2017

    Stars are crucial, but Oscar has always been a glib salesman (even when he was a fine fighter) and the glibness is what remains.  As for Paul on the “true game” days, I applaud the utopian vision he must bring to his gym, but a quick review of almost era since the first human main event, Cain vs Abel, shows a much darker picture of fixes, pay offs, and dirty deals.  “Many a tear has to fall,/ But it’s all / In the game.”  Alas.

  10. Richard 02:53am, 10/14/2017

    They don’t come any dumber than ODLH. Anthony Joshua put 90k butts in Wembley, delivered a terrific performance for his countrymen and Oscar thinks everyone is irrelevant but Canelo? Who, by the way is relevant only because he’s from boxing-crazed Mexico, not because Oscar is this great promoter.

  11. Paul 12:04am, 10/14/2017

    Canelo is not that good, he fights in one way always in front of you. He lost to GGG and anybody that knows boxing and watched that fight new it was a setup for another fight. And that woman judge should never be able to judge again. She for sure was PAID OFF and if not doesn’t know a thing about the sport. I own a gym for kids to box and learn the art and have been a head coach for over 30 years. When I was a kid and boxed it was a true game then. The best fighter won but not today,the promoters don’t care about the fighters like days of old, MONEY IS ALL THEY CARE ABOUT.

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