The grand experiment of banking on the riches promised by the streaming of live sports begins in earnest Saturday night when middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez of Mexico seeks a third weight-class belt in his Madison Square Garden debut.
Alvarez’s bout against England’s Rocky Fielding, who wears the World Boxing Assn.’s secondary super-middleweight belt, will be an indicator as to how the new streaming service known as DAZN will fare in its effort to stand as “the Netflix of sports.”
DAZN, which signed Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 knockouts) to a guaranteed five-year, 11-fight contract for $365 million earlier this fall, is also aligned with heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua of England as well as with promoters that include Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions and Bellator MMA.
A new deal to televise live Major League Baseball action begins in the spring, and DAZN executives have promised to pursue other major U.S. sporting deals. For now, the service, accessible on smart phones, laptops and smart TVs, offers a free one-month trial before $9.99 monthly payments begin.
DAZN officials will not reveal their existing subscriber base or what the projections are for future growth. Alvarez generated 1.1 million pay-per-view buys at $90 apiece for his September majority decision over then-unbeaten middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin.
Quality programming is essential for Perform Group’s DAZN project, headed by former ESPN president John Skipper, to stake its claim in the competitive market, and Alvarez’s willingness to maintain his reputation for taking on competitive bouts is paramount.
Fielding (27-1, 15 knockouts) may be considered an obscure opponent following Alvarez’s defining bout with Golovkin. But, as Alvarez has pointed out, he’s taking a fight on his shortest break since 2011 by moving up a weight class to meet a champion.
Alvarez promoter Oscar De La Hoya sounded alarms Thursday by saying Alvarez would not consider International Boxing Federation middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs for Alvarez’s booked May 4 bout at T-Mobile Arena, but all that changed Friday.
Canada’s David Lemieux, a former IBF champion and last year’s World Boxing Organization title challenger, was hospitalized for dehydration during his weight cut for his Saturday co-main event and withdrew from his bout against Tureano Johnson.
De La Hoya, who had been eyeing a victorious Lemieux as Alvarez’s next opponent, was put off by Jacobs’ public push to land the Alvarez fight.
Following the Lemieux development, Jacobs (35-2, 29 KOs) sounded a hopeful tone while meeting with reporters at a Manhattan hotel.
“It’s an unfortunate situation [for Lemieux] and I wish him the best, but this is boxing … sometimes you’ve got to get it when you can and I’ve proven myself. To get this opportunity would be deserved in my opinion,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs hasn’t yet signed with DAZN and Golovkin also is undeclared. Premier Boxing Champions (televised on Showtime and Fox) and Top Rank (on ESPN) are interested in both free agents.
“I may not be the ‘A’ side to a guy like Canelo, but I’m a key player in the division, and I feel it’s the right fight,” said Jacobs, who lost a narrow decision to Golovkin in March 2017.
He said De La Hoya’s comments Thursday were surprising, but both sides have indicated that they may have just been a ploy to make clear to Jacobs exactly who will dictate terms. Jacobs said he meant no disrespect expressing interest in the bout.
“We’ll see what [Alvarez] says after the fight. I’m waiting comfortably, in a good position, but I want this big fight. I want Canelo,” Jacobs said.
A lucrative deal with DAZN, say Alvarez’s handlers, won’t alter the 28-year-old boxer’s push to take on gifted foes. Alvarez already has taken on Golovkin, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and four-division champion Miguel Cotto.
Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy Promotions, said Alvarez had the same arrangement with HBO as he does with DAZN, which allows him and Golden Boy to select opponents.
“The idea is to win and go back to 160 [middleweight]. If I can go up and down,” between 160 and 168, “who knows?” Alvarez said. “All of these fighters want to fight me and we’re here to make the best fights for the people.”
First comes Fielding. Nevada sports books list the Brit as a 9-to-1 underdog, but the champion does possess advantages in height (five inches) and reach (4½ inches).
In a session with reporters Thursday, Fielding revealed he vacationed in New York three years ago after getting knocked out in the first round by his Liverpool neighbor Callum Smith, sitting in the highest reaches of Madison Square Garden, watching a Knicks game.
He took a selfie of himself outside the arena and captioned it “one day … .”
That day arrives Saturday, Fielding finding himself in the center of the Garden’s famed boxing ring, where Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier once fought, intent on announcing his time has come.
Main Event: Rocky Fielding (27-1, 15 KOs) vs. Canelo Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KOs) for Fielding’s World Boxing Assn. secondary super-middleweight belt
When: Saturday; DAZN livestream bouts begin at 5 p.m. PST
Where: Madison Square Garden
Television: DAZN streaming service. Free one-month trial available ($9.99 monthly fee follows)