Boxing is a business. And just like in any other business, pursuing the highest possible rewards for the lowest possible risk is justifiable, even, in most cases, admirable. Given the heroic, high drama of prizefighting, many boxing fans naturally chafe at this fact. But it is a fact nonetheless, and a true fan of the sport should not resent it.
Fighters, after all, risk their health, even their lives, whenever they get into the ring. They do it for the sake of art and glory and they do it to entertain the screaming masses. But nobody should fault them if they do it for money, too. Professional boxers are guaranteed to walk away from the sport aged beyond their years. They should not be faulted for making the best possible deals for themselves along the way.
That’s why I didn’t fault Sergio Martinez when he opted to face Miguel Cotto in June 2014, rather than Gennady Golovkin, the true No. 1 contender to his lineal middleweight crown. Martinez was pushing 40 and had undergone multiple surgeries in the previous few years. Against Martin Murray in his previous fight, he had clearly been a shadow of his previous self. At the end of his career, he had never truly earned the sort of major payday that Cotto represented for him. And considering how badly Cotto starched Martinez, fighting at a catchweight of 155 pounds, no less, it was probably just as well that he avoided Golovkin.
I have a hard time faulting Cotto, as well, for fighting Canelo Alvarez last year, instead of Cotto. With his built-in Mexican fanbase, Alvarez guaranteed a huge revenue, for less risk. Cotto has been through wars in his career. A fight against Alvarez was certainly dangerous for him. It’s embarrassing that Cotto insisted afterward that he deserved to win that fight. But there was absolutely nothing ignoble about his decision to face Canelo.
Canelo himself, however, is a fighter in his prime. At 25, he’s more than ready to grow out of the junior middleweight division and fight as a true middleweight. He’s been coming into the ring on fight night at 170 or more pounds for years now, the same as Golovkin does.
Moreover, Golovkin is Alvarez’s mandatory contender, according to the WBC and according to any sensible ordering of the middleweight division.
If Alvarez doesn’t want to take that risk, fair enough. But by avoiding Golovkin, at the full middleweight limit of 160 pounds, he takes a different sort of risk with his reputation.