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Billy Joe Saunders in line for Canelo Alvarez

Billy Joe Saunders
Billy Joe Saunders is on course to fight Canelo Alvarez. But there might be a date clash with Taylor-Ramirez, writes George Gigney in his weekly analysis of the boxing media

WE could already be looking at our first major date clash of the year – and it’s not in the UK, though it does involve fighters from these shores. The Athletic received confirmation that a deal is in place for Canelo Alvarez to fight Billy Joe Saunders on either May 1 or May 8, providing he beats Avni Yildirim later this month.

Soon after, ESPN reported that Top Rank promotions have secured May 8 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to hold an undisputed super-lightweight title fight between Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez.

Obviously, Canelo-Saunders could just take place the weekend before and there would be no broadcasting issue, given that Cinco de Mayo – the Mexican holiday Canelo traditionally fights around – will happen midweek.

However, should both these fights land on the same date, there will be a major broadcast clash in the US. Canelo-Saunders would be aired on DAZN, while Taylor-Ramirez would be on an ESPN platform, perhaps ESPN+ or maybe even pay-per-view. Bob Arum told ESPN that they will not budge from their date, even if Canelo-Saunders is confirmed for the same night.

It’s not unusual for rival broadcasters to air boxing shows on the same night, but it is rare for two fights of such significance to go head-to-head in the race for eyeballs. It’s likely a symptom of the times we live in; the Covid-19 pandemic robbed most major fighters of the best part of a year in their careers, and so they and their respective teams are getting fights made at a faster pace. Broadcasters too – in particular DAZN – have some catching up to do after a deathly quiet period.

Billy Joe Saunders
Mark Robinson

It is, admittedly, slightly painful to bring up either of the Paul brothers in this column, and it’s usually easy to avoid given that neither of them are ever involved in legitimate fights, but this week ESPN’s Marc Raimondi – an excellent journalist who predominantly covers the UFC – wrote an article focusing on how Jake Paul can “revolutionise boxing.” It’s a lengthy piece that warrants some analysis.

Yes, you guessed it, the leading argument from those that Raimondi speaks to is that Paul, with his huge social media following and online presence, apparently brings legions of new fans to the sport when he steps into the ring. This is the same dross that was thrown at us when Jake’s brother Logan fought fellow YouTuber KSI in 2019.

In theory, it makes sense, but we’re yet to see any concrete evidence that it’s true. Yes, these bizarre events attract large enough one-off audiences, but how many of those “new” fans stick with boxing and tune into cards topped by established pros?

In Raimondi’s piece, there are quotes from Paul and his team about how he wants to “elevate” the popularity of boxing, though within a few paragraphs his manager admits there are no plans to fight an actual boxer. Paul’s next contest is against semi-retired UFC fighter Ben Askren, who is at or near the top of the list of ex-fighters who are legitimately bad at boxing. This hypocrisy is not challenged in the article.

Attention like this, from an outlet as huge as ESPN, damages the legitimacy of boxing. All you have to do is look at the quote from Paul which concludes the story: “More people know about [boxing]. But my audience cares more about the s**t talk, the storyline, the excitement of fight night, the outfits. They’re gonna watch these interviews. The fight is the side product.”

If that is what boxing is “revolutionising” into, I want no part of it.

Ryan Garcia, the only active boxer to currently toe the line between social media superstar and flourishing professional fighter, announced he was fighting Manny Pacquiao on his Instagram account, causing a flurry of confusion.

There were initial reports that it would just be an exhibition bout, which were then debunked by Pacquiao’s representatives. So, it then seemed that the pair were in talks for a sanctioned fight, which was an exciting prospect. That was until Eric Gomez of Golden Boy, who promote Garcia, poured cold water on the whole thing and said it wasn’t happening.

“There’s nothing to talk about there. They contacted us, but it turns out there’s nothing to talk about. That fight isn’t going to happen,” were his exact words to ESPN.

Confusingly, Garcia’s manager said talks are currently ongoing, and that the fight could still be signed. Contradictions like this are common with fights involving big names, and usually a sign that such a fight is still a long way off from being finalised, if it ever will be.

There remain no such disputes in the ongoing negotiations for Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua, with SportMail now reporting there could be an announcement within the fortnight. According to Eddie Hearn, it’s likely that such an announcement would confirm contracts have been signed, with news on a date and site to come later.

There are, reportedly, still several locations in play, but the Middle East – in particular Saudi Arabia – has been touted as one of the favourites. The British government recently added the United Arab Emirates to its list of countries that UK citizens can no longer travel to until the coronavirus is under control, which would potentially prevent British fight fans from travelling to see Fury-Joshua. It’s unlikely that will get in the way of the fight happening, and those rules could change by the time it takes place – which looks like June of this year – but it could be a blow to those hoping to be ringside for such a titanic event.

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