The sports streaming service DAZN has set its hopes for profound progress in boxing through superstar matchups. But this weekend’s action on the channel shows how complicated this can get.
Two of the biggest names in boxing, Saul Alvarez, known as Canelo, and Gennadiy Golovkin, known as Triple G, fight on DAZN. But they don’t fight each other.
DAZN (pronounced DA zone) certainly wanted that when it signed a billion dollar deal with Matchroom Sport, an English promoter, and a 365 million dollar deal with Golden Boy Promotions. The promise was 11 Alvarez fights.
And one of those bouts would be Alvarez and Golovkin in a rematch of their two previous bouts – high-action and high-drama bouts that resulted in a total of 2.2 million pay-per-view purchases on HBO.
Their first fight ended in a draw and their second with a narrow decisive win for Alvarez, who set the stage for a third fight.
Instead, Golovkin will fight Kamil Szeremeta on Friday night in Hollywood, Florida, while Alvarez will challenge WBA super middleweight champion Callum Smith of England on Saturday in San Antonio.
The attraction and uncertainty of a third match between Alvarez and Golovkin stems from factors that often determine whether major fights take place: pride, competition, and business.
Golovkin (40-1-1) wants to avenge his only career loss against Alvarez.
Rather than embarking on another bout with Golovkin, the IBF 160-pound middleweight champion, Alvarez says that as a competitor he’d rather go up against reigning champions at 168 pounds, admitted that a big enough payday could affect him .
“I did 24 laps with him. I don’t think it’s necessary, ”said Alvarez, who is 53-1-2, of a third Golovkin fight. “But we will see. It’s a business for everyone and that’s a big fight people want to see. “
Eighteen months ago the way looked clear to a third match between Alvarez and Golovkin. Both men recorded victories in spring 2019 at DAZN, which had broadcast rights for the future fights of both boxers.
For DAZN, a quick pairing of the marquee’s two middleweights could have helped recoup the cost of an agreement with Golden Boy that guaranteed Alvarez an average of $ 33.2 million per fight. DAZN positions its subscription model with monthly or annual payment plans as a high quality alternative to pay-per-view fights, provided they can deliver premium fights like another Alvarez Golovkin rematch.
“Fans think a trilogy is needed,” said Joe Markowski, DAZN executive vice president. “We want this fight to take place. We have always made that clear. “
But instead of fighting Golovkin again, Alvarez jumped two weight classes and knocked out Sergei Kovalev in November 2019 to win a light heavyweight title in his final fight before the coronavirus pandemic turned professional sport on its head.
The pandemic hit DAZN hard. Sports leagues that suspended the game resulted in a lack of live content, and the streaming service responded by putting employees on leave and withholding payment of fees for broadcast rights until the game resumed.
And in September Alvarez sued DAZN and Golden Boy for negligence and fraud. In November, Alvarez managed to end his contract with Golden Boy.
“I’m a free agent,” said Alvarez in an interview. “I do co-promotions. This time it’s with Eddie Hearn. “
Hearn, who as managing director of Matchroom Sport is the biggest beneficiary of DAZN’s boxing frenzy, lured Alvarez back to DAZN by matching him with Smith, the World Boxing Council super middleweight champion.
“If he beats Callum Smith, I’ll do everything I can to make sure he stays on the platform,” Hearn said in an interview.
An Alvarez win is not guaranteed. Smith is unbeaten with 19 KOs in 27 wins and towers over 5-foot-8 Alvarez at 6-foot-3. But a win would give Alvarez leverage against broadcasters and promoters looking to secure his next fight.
Alvarez’s free agency could make a third Golovkin fight either less likely or more expensive. He could pick an opponent from a different managerial camp, like next month’s winner of the title fight between Caleb Plant and Caleb Truax, both managed by boxing power broker Al Haymon. Or he could ask for more money for a promoter affiliated with DAZN to organize another Golovkin rematch.
But the pandemic also complicates this process. The first match between Alvarez and Golovkin brought in $ 27.1 million in ticket sales that helped fund the fighters’ eight-digit guarantees. Without the opportunity to fill an arena – the number of participants on Saturday is limited to 12,000 – the organizers lose a crucial source of income.
Golovkin, for his part, is pessimistic.
“It’s not my fault that this fight didn’t take place,” Golovkin told Agence France-Presse. “It’s too early to say, but there is a possibility that this fight will never take place.”
However, DAZN still has ambitions to become a major player among American sports channels and is motivated to keep elite fighters like Alvarez on its platform.
In 2017, a year before its launch in the US, DAZN debuted in countries like Japan and Canada, often with bad reviews. In Canada, the streaming service outbid cable operators the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket and spent a lot of money on parties and social media influencers promoting the deal.
But the programs were full of glitches. Users complained of frozen or pixelated streams, long delays, and broadcasts with no audio, and urged the NFL to invite cable operators back to the Sunday Ticket.
Before making his US debut, DAZN hired two former ESPN executives, John Skipper and Jamie Horowitz. Since the transmission rights for important team sports are linked to long-term agreements, DAZN has reorganized itself as a boxing-first streaming service and started the service in 200 countries worldwide at the beginning of this month.
“As a starting point, boxing is an essential part,” said Markowski. “It has the ability to grab the sports audience’s attention for moments.”
The list of new markets includes England, where boxing remains a mainstream sport and viewers can only watch this weekend’s fights on DAZN. And the expansion gives DAZN and its boxing advertising partners more incentive to arrange a third Alvarez Golovkin fight.
“This is a fight that is going on in hundreds of areas around the world,” said Hearn.