Friday, June 22, 2012 | 2 a.m.
In a town that considers itself the boxing capital of the world, the prospect of separate fight cards on Mexican Independence weekend, each featuring popular Latino fighters, is fueling a heavyweight showdown between competing promoters.
On their own, either of the two cards on Sept. 15 would attract a full house and big financial wins, but the staging of two fights on the same festive evening a mile apart seems certain to cannibalize the pay-per-view profits and possibly jeopardize the revenue through the gate.
At the Thomas & Mack Center, Top Rank Promotions will host a WBC middleweight championship fight featuring Argentina’s Sergio Martinez against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the son of Mexican legend Chavez Sr. who is undefeated and coming off an impressive knockout victory last weekend.
At MGM Grand Garden Arena, just down the street, Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez will take on Victor Ortiz if Ortiz wins his fight this weekend against Josesito Lopez at Staples Center in Los Angeles. If not, he’ll be replaced by Golden Boy Promotions, which is hosting the September card and hopes Alvarez’s popularity in Mexico will pay off at the box office and with pay-per-view buys.
It is rare for two top-flight cards to be planned on the same evening, in different rings in the same city, because they would undercut each other.
“If you think having two big events taking place in the same city is a good thing, then that’s naive,” said Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions. “It certainly doesn’t help one another. I do believe both are big fights and both are major fights. But it’s not an ideal situation.”
In fact, even at the much ballyhooed fight two weeks ago between Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquaio, 2,070 of the 16,800 seats went unsold.
So the hope of selling out two competing cards on Sept. 15 seems at risk, even with the celebration of Mexican Independence Day, traditionally the most sought after date for a boxing event.
But neither company appears ready to back down. (A similar scenario almost unfolded in 1995 when Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe were scheduled for Caesars Palace on the same night as Mike Tyson against Buster Mathis Jr. at the MGM. But Tyson got hurt and that card was cancelled.)
“People only have two eyes, so they can only watch one show,” said Bob Arum, Top Rank founder and CEO. “We have a very, very strong show. We expect to get the lion’s share of the pay-per-view. People have a choice. America is all about choices.”
Both promoters believe they reserved the date first. Both also feel they’ll fetch more pay-per-view buys because of a more marketable main event. And this surely won’t come as much of a surprise: They aren’t too fond of each other.
“We are competitive,” Arum said, “but this has nothing to do with that.”
Arum said his team announced Feb. 5 that Martinez (49-2-2), one of the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighters and a former two-division champ, would fight Sept. 15. Chavez became the opponent last Saturday when he floored Andy Lee in the seventh round, which executed a clause in his contract to fight Martinez, Arum said. The WBC advised Arum’s company that Chavez had one more fight — against Lee — before having to defend his title against Martinez, Arum said.
“The fight Golden Boy is talking about is something they shouldn’t have been permitted to announce because Ortiz isn’t fighting until Saturday,” Arum said. “That is why we didn’t announce Chavez. This is a serious business. You shouldn’t be able to reserve an arena when you don’t have a fight (lined up).”
Schaefer said his company reserved the MGM first and has been approved by the Nevada Athletic Commission — a formality — to hold the card. Arum’s promotion won’t be approved until the commission’s July meeting. He also said Arum had planned the take his fight to San Antonio before shifting gears last minute and booking the Thomas & Mack Center.
“We requested our date a long, long time ago,” Schaefer said. “Now, suddenly, Arum has to bring his event to Vegas, as well. That is strange. Arum is almost 100 years old. He doesn’t remember things well.”
Keith Kizer, the executive director of the commission, said both promoters are technically correct. Golden Boy secured the date first with the commission, but Top Rank was first to book the date with pay-per-view. Top Rank’s Martinez-Chavez fight will be televised by HBO’s pay-per-view while the Alvarez-Ortiz bout hosted by Golden Boy will be televised by Showtime pay-per-view.
“It’s surprising to me that two big fight cards are going up (against) each other,” Kizer said. “But if they are going to do it and have success, this is the weekend to do it.”
While the promoters aren’t flinching in moving forward with the duel promotions, the conflict has reportedly caught the eye of Martinez. He’ll be making his debut as a headliner on a pay-per-view card, and realizing a significant part of his paycheck will come with television buys, he didn’t hide his displeasure to Alvarez. A conservative estimate has the cards splitting a projected 300,000 buys.
“The competition, sometimes it’s good,” Martinez told boxingscene.com. “But if Canelo continues in that position, after I finish Chavez, I will go down to 154 (light middleweight) and do the same thing.”
Arum calls Martinez one of the most popular people in Argentina and says at least 1,000 high-rolling Argentine gamblers are committed to attend the fight and stay at Wynn Las Vegas, which is the fight’s home-base casino. Chavez Jr. reportedly broke a four-year viewership record last summer on HBO’s "Boxing After Dark" (a free show) with 1.5 million viewers. For his fight in February against Marco Antonio Rubio, an estimated 19 million viewers watched on free television in Mexico.
“We have absolutely no problem with both events. There are loads of Mexican fans to support both,” Arum said. “You try to avoid conflict, you really do. But there are more entities involved with sponsors and television networks in Mexico (supporting our card) that all wanted a fight Sept. 15.”
Schaefer describes the WBC light welterweight champion Alvarez as a Mexican heartthrob.
With red hair and a face full of freckles, the charismatic 21-year-old is popular with the younger and older generation alike. He’s engaged to Marisol González, a former Miss Mexico Universe and popular television personality. In his most recent fight, Alvarez drew more views than the popular Mexican national soccer team.
“Women have never followed a boxer like this since the days of De La Hoya,” Schaefer said. “Canelo is a big star. He is the fighter who deserves to fight on (Mexican Independence weekend).”
The ultimate winners on this fight night might be sports bars ponying up for both pay-per-views.