NEW YORK -- Saturday night was about more than what happened in the ring for Canelo Alvarez.
Sure, if Rocky Fielding had pulled a Rocky Balboa and scored one of the biggest upsets in boxing history by defeating Alvarez, it would have changed everything. But that was never close to becoming a reality during Canelo's one-sided TKO victory over Fielding in the third round to win the WBA regular super middleweight belt, making Alvarez a three-division world titleholder.
Alvarez's triumph over Fielding was the first fight of his five-year, 11-fight deal worth a minimum of $365 million with DAZN, a new sports streaming service that launched in the United States in September. The deal is the richest athlete contract in sports history and monetarily backs up his status as the new king of boxing, at least in North America.
It also makes him the first king of sports streaming in a sport that had been historically dominated by the kings of pay-per-view.
"Ladies and gentlemen, pay-per-view is dead," Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya said. "For me, it's a bittersweet moment to talk about pay-per-view being dead because my career was built on pay-per-view, but this digital platform is thinking about the fans, it's thinking about the consumers."
That is not entirely true, of course, if you are factoring in all combat sports. UFC 229 just a couple of months ago featuring Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event did around 2.4 million pay-per-view buys -- the largest mixed martial arts pay-per-view ever. Even Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury fight earlier this month did about 325,000 pay-per-view buys, and a rematch next year could generate double that. A fight between Wilder and Anthony Joshua would likely surpass 1 million pay-per-view buys.
While pay-per-view might not be completely dead, we can safely say that streaming sports is alive and well after the contract Alvarez got. The next step for Alvarez and DAZN, however, is getting everyone who signed up for a free, one-month subscription to watch Saturday's fight to stay on and start paying $9.99 per month to watch boxing's biggest star fight 10 more times through 2023.
Boxing has a rabid and loyal fan base, but fights become megafights and surpass the 1 million pay-per-view buy mark when casual fans open up their wallets and pay to see it. This can't be a venture catering just to hardcore fans for it to be sustainable. For Canelo to live up to his contract, he's going to have to pull in those casual fans, and the first step in doing that is marketing himself outside of where he's already a megastar.
"It's a landmark moment in my career to be able to fight at Madison Square Garden," Alvarez said. "It's something that I've wanted for some time, so I'm happy to be here. It's an honor to fight where important fighters such as Muhammad Ali have fought, so it's big to be here, and it's more motivation to make more landmark moments in my career."
Saturday's fight and the weeks leading up to it which saw Canelo's name and face plastered all over Times Square, Madison Square Garden and New York City cabs was more about promoting him and raising his profile than it was becoming a three-division world champion. Alvarez has even admitted he likely won't fight at middleweight again despite winning the title as he looks to return to middleweight in his next fight. Alvarez, however, will need to schedule bigger fights in order to attract those casual fans. That will mean taking on Daniel Jacobs as it looks like a trilogy match against Gennady Golovkin, who is in talks to sign with DAZN as well, isn't likely to happen anytime soon.
"The career that I've had is based on the big fights that I've made," Alvarez said. "If the contract came, it came, but I'm here because of all the fights I've had. The contract came to me because of my career and it wasn't for nothing. People know my history. I'm going to keep making history not because of the contract but because of me."
Saturday's win was far from the most impressive of Alvarez's career considering the opponent but it might have been one of the most significant as far as what it represented as he begins his new record-breaking contract and growing his brand outside of the arenas and regions that have helped him become one of boxing's biggest stars.
"This is the second phase of my career," Alvarez said. "The first phase has ended. I'm going to keep making history and moving forward."