In a boxing week that featured an international spotlight on the middleweight division (including the latest star to sign with DAZN, former middleweight kingpin Gennady Golovkin), superstar Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs lit up NYC for a classy affair to announce their May 4 clash at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Wednesday, February, 27 12:06 pm
I'm running a little late. That happens on days when crossing the Hudson River from the land of Tony Soprano in “Joisy”. Fortunately, Grand Central Station isn't far from the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, host site to launch the first megafight of 2019 between Mexican icon and pound-for-pound unified middleweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (51-1-2, 35KOs) and IBF middleweight champion Daniel “The Miracle Man” Jacobs (35-2, 29KOs). There's a huge marquee of the two fighters overlooking Times Square as I round the corner of 7th Ave, with fans already flooding the entrance.
I get past human traffic and reach the credentials table, where assorted media I'm familiar with are trying to gain access into the exclusive round table with the two stars to no avail.
A friendly blonde Golden Boy staffer clears me for banding and begins escorting me to the backstage area where this meeting will take place. “You're not really late, it's been a little hectic and they're still getting settled,” she tells me, as we pass through the auditorium. I've skipped breakfast, regrettably, and hoping there's something to dine on; I'll have to shift gears and head over to Gleasons Gym in Brooklyn immediately after this conference and get a glimpse of Erislandy Lara and Brian Castano ahead of their WBA super welterweight bout at Barclays Center on Saturday night.
“I don't know if there's been anything set up, but I'll check,” she offers, as we reach backstage and I lose her, somehow, only to engage in a chat with the production crew in tight quarters. Moments later, she locates me with an inviting smile and motions to follow her– to what looks like a hallway out of a Stanley Kubrick movie, full of a few media friends who appear to have been held hostage. She Usain Bolts.
Me: “Wait! Where are you going? You're leaving me here?! What is this? You know dem wings and things I'm screaming bout, bring em out!Got stories to tell, no Taco Bell? In N Out?” (Or, something like that)
Golden Girl (laughing):”No John, I'm sorry. But there's like 100 reporters out there who want to be back here right now so… Food for thought?” (Exactly like that)
I'm spoiled. At this same venue last spring, I pulled double duty for the launch of Kovalev V Alvarez before heading over to the Garden to cover Lomachenko V Linares. I gave away the complimentary food concession tickets from Top Rank to fans, as the impeccable banquet dining at the Hard Rock stayed with me. Blame Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, journalist to the end.
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But that doesn't mean Matchroom Boxing promoter extraordinaire and the face of DAZN, Eddie Hearn, or Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya don't know what they're doing– or why. They do. As I survey the glamorous set-up inside the theater for the press and fans, noticeably absent are many of the old guard in mainstream media. No longer appealing to younger Millennials or the new kids now ruling the block: Generation Z, most of the “old” media still want to read newspapers and eschew urban culture; they couldn't tell you who Tekashi 6ix9ine is no more than they could tell you who the Yin/Yang Twins were. For perspective, some of these writers weren't new when Golden Boy partner and grey bearded middleweight legend Bernard Hopkins began his career during the Ronald Reagan presidency.
This is what allowed a brilliant man in Colin Cowherd on FOX to declare boxing “dead” in early 2017, but men like Hearn and De La Hoya were cognizant enough to make adjustments. They understood the difficult need to change a stale product for younger audiences in 2019, which includes placing their star fighters in front of the writers those fans are now reading, in a time of pixels and attention spans shorter than that of a goldfish. There's no such thing as a free lunch, but in a sense, having Canelo and Jacobs enter a small space to see us is far more than that.
After meeting with the fighters (more on that in a minute), I head back to the theater. On the way out, just above me are DAZN aces AK and Barak, part of the appeal to a legion of new fans during the sports' renaissance. We dap it up real quick, as B rides me in hood speak for going “celebrity” before they get into da zone under bright lights for production.
It turns out to be a great presser, as Hearn tells De La Hoya, “You're nervous about this aren't you?” At his turn on the dias, Oscar repeated his refrain that PPV is dead, as fans can indeed plug into DAZN for 9.99 per month, with the first month free of charge. Canelo V Jacobs is a $79.99 PPV all day traditionally, and theoretically, signing up in May makes what constitutes a superfight free viewing.
PBC should take notes. Not because of that per se, they'll offer competitive balance according to their own vision. But they may want to watch how Canelo and Jacobs conducted themselves with class– something their fighters are sometimes loathe to engage in. There were no camps filling the arena with distinct wiffs of weed and pants appeared to stay around the waist. It was refreshing.
But about backstage and behind the curtains.
Imagine a long walk-in closet space, draped in the finest royal curtains on both sides that seems no wider than a 2 X 4 piece of wood. There's a long table sprinkled with press kits in front of a select few of the best boxing writers in the world. There's an empty chair on both ends that look like thrones– and I squeeze my way past a few peers to the one on the other end in front of the camera crew I'd met moments ago. There's lights, there's cameras… and then suddenly, the world's #1 action fighter dramatically enters this closet like a movie star, complete with his own boxing version of “Entourage” as he takes the throne on the other end.
Composed and cordial, Canelo wears the stocky cool confidence of a latin James Dean reborn, with an insouciance about the very real specter of Jacobs that doesn't quite meet the description of cocky– though you almost want it to. You sense a refined etiquette that comes with wealth and genuine manhood (along with fatherhood); but that impeccably tailored plaid grey suit adorned with black, cannot hide a construction worker's build Clebuterol- allegedly – tried to frame a portrait of.
Now 28 years-old, he's literally new “Money”; no longer the emaciated co-attraction given a No.2 pencil by Floyd Mayweather for an exam he failed badly. After letting him know that I felt he challenged for the middleweight championship of Gennady Golovkin slightly better than Triple G defended his legacy, I wondered aloud if he's finally ready for perhaps the most versatile boxer he'll have faced to date. He winked. He was there (albeit as a new 20 year-old champion) when Dmitry Pirog shocked Jacobs, and if he “sees something” he ain't telling.
I heard you come into the lion's den to tame and me handle… Problem is you don't look nothing like Daniel.
Jacob's ladder has been a perilous one well documented, and it's for good reason that he looks directly across at me as if WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo “insulting” him in the bowels of the Barclays Center in March 2018.
Opening the round of questions off by passively insinuating “The Miracle Man” was pleased to have went the distance with GGG after not getting the nod he felt was deserved, Jacobs basically responded with a subtle “Da fuq you mean?”the way an IBF middleweight champion should. A miraculous recovery from both a rare form of cancer and that KO loss of the same kind nearly a decade ago, has to calcify a rare grit. And that's what he shows through poised demeanor.
In truth, Jacobs was always destined for this stage, as Brooklyn's speedy and dynamic switch hitter very rudely demonstrated to fellow New Yorker Peter Quillin to announce ascension anew. I was in Chicago at the UIV Pavilion in April 2015 to witness him dismantle a grimey Caleb Truax over 12 Picasso-like rounds. Two years later at Madison Square Garden, Friday NightLive's Xavier Porter joins me in the Skybox for our own private call of Golovkin V Jacobs the world missed out on. It's easily one of the best LIVE events I've had the privilege to analyze up close with someone so astute, and Jacobs– despite miscalculating a few rungs, appears to have scaled Triple G's summit according to X.
“Not yet… He wasn't mean enough, consistently enough,” I remember telling him. “He had too much of a competitive contentiveness. I guarantee you the judges are gonna see it that way.”
Articulate and aristocratic, with a subtle hint of arrogance for elite seasoning, Jacobs conjures a sleeker and more debonair iteration of a new age Roemello Skuggs from “Sugar Hill.”
He tells all of us that there's no way Canelo will dictate terms in the ring at all, which immediately raises these eyebrows. “I saw that look on your face!” Jacobs fires for emphasis. I got the sense he's had a chance to survey us (and myself, in particular) with a certain sureness, and if he approaches Alvarez with this same conviction, Canelo is headed for a very long Cinco de Mayo.
HARD ROCK FORECAST
It's too early to tell how this fight will unfold, but at first glance, their styles mesh into something close to either a cross between Oscar De La Hoya vs Shane Mosley II, or Shane Mosley vs Miguel Cotto.
Either way, we're looking at a great night in Vegas and I can't wait until May 4.