It’s 3:45 am.
The distinctive, piercing noise of the alarm rings around the room as I scramble to mute its ferocity before the rest of the house wakes up in vexation. It’s become a regular routine of mine since my boxing obsession began half my life ago; however, the rude awakening never becomes more comfortable to welcome.
It’s Canelo vs Kovalev: one of the biggest fights of the year involving the biggest star of the sport. It’s Las Vegas: the unofficial fight capital of the world. It’s what being a boxing fan is all about. It’s time to get up.
I open the laptop to catch Ryan Garcia’s first-round decimation of Romero Duno — a statement victory the 21-year-old “King Ry” has been craving since turning pro three years ago — and revel in admiration of myself for staying awake. My eyes begin to adjust to the beaming light generated by the screen, and the countdown begins for the light heavyweight world title main event.
Across the States inside New York’s Madison Square Garden, fans of a different combat sport were awaiting their night’s climax. UFC 244 was in town, as Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz went toe-to-toe for the “Baddest Motherfucker Title”: a title name that I would have no problem ridiculing if boxing wasn’t littered with a plethora of similarly embarrassingly trinkets.
“It’s probably the biggest and best card of the year,” I was informed by a friend earlier in the week, who follows mixed martial arts closer than most. My ignorance of MMA and the UFC meant I was unable to gauge the size of this event all week. I’d heard rumblings of Golden Boy and DAZN’s eagerness to avoid a clash with the Canelo-Kovalev fight, but what unfolded over the next 90 minutes was a bizarre, questionable display of weakness by the infantile streaming network.
In an attempt to maximise subscriptions over the weekend’s action, Golden Boy and DAZN were unwilling to pit their biggest superstar up against the challenge of Dana White and the UFC machine, afraid of coming second-best in a race of viewership.
This is Saul Alvarez: the undeniable face of global boxing, and now, having stopped Sergey Kovalev in the 11th round in the fight that eventually followed, many people’s pick for the pound-for-pound star of the sport. With huge companies investing eye-watering amounts of money in the Mexican icon — a reported $35 million would have been pocketed by Canelo for this fight — his pull was deemed inadequate to stand alone in competition against a “rival” sport.
It was a move that left DAZN scrapping for content in the 90 minutes that separated Garcia–Duno with the WBO light heavyweight title fight; eventually, starting after 1 am ET. A re-run of Canelo-Jacobs landed on Sky Sports’ stream to fill the void, with countless camera cuts to both fighters seen lying on sofas in their changing rooms as they await the finale of a different sport, over 2,500 miles away.
It was an odd position for both fighters to be put in. Having headlined cards and pay-per-view events for a substantial percentage of their careers, putting their performances in jeopardy for DAZN to attempt to scoop up the dregs of UFC fans must have been a humbling experience for two of the sport’s most decorated stars. Both looked cold; both looked irritated; both looked like they were being left to play second fiddle in one of the biggest nights of their careers.
It’s unclear whether this tactic was successful for DAZN. Relying on MMA fans to actively subscribe to their content following the Masvidal–Diaz fight is optimistic at best. With their peppering of promotion throughout fight week, it would be a surprise if DAZN received active sign-ups on the evening of the bout, rather than during the previous seven days.
The MMA/boxing crossover also seems exaggerated. It’s hard to believe that anyone who felt committed to watching Canelo–Kovalev would have been deterred by an option to dive into the MMA world instead. The “50-50 fan” across codes isn’t a thing, in my experience. I’m open to being proven wrong.
It was a feeling that Stephen Espinoza, President of Showtime Sports, was quick to highlight on Twitter: “Stalling a Canelo fight so we can all sit in the arena and watch MMA on screens is insane. An insult to the sport of boxing in general and Canelo and Kovalev in particular. Fans came to MGM to watch boxing. If they wanted to watch MMA, they would have stayed home & done so.”
It’s an opinion caveated by a rivalry with DAZN that has escalated since the streaming platform jumped into boxing waters, but one that is hard to argue against.
With DAZN deploying similar tactics next weekend — looking to scoop a new demographic of subscribers by putting on a YouTubers main event at the Staples Center — the question will inevitably be asked whether their greed for expansion will inevitably force original subscribers to turn away. I also learned that due to the delay, Sky Sports UK viewers that had recorded the fight on their Sky boxes only had four rounds saved, as the broadcast was scheduled until 5:30 am.
Modernising content consumption is a crucial part of any sport’s growth, but jeopardising its fundamentals should never be accepted as collateral damage.
Canelo’s pin-point left hook-right hand combination made sure that the agonising wait inside the MGM Grand on Saturday night was worthwhile in the end — a fortune that won’t always be available to cover the cracks of questionable submissions to other content.
I didn’t have access to the UFC fight. Dozing in and out of sleep with the sound of Andy Lee interviews and commentator apologies penetrating my subconscious, I re-charged my batteries before enjoying an engaging, tactical contest between Canelo and “Krusher.”
DAZN may have dropped a submission loss to the UFC, but boxing fans will continue the fight long into the night.