Boxing

The Call to Cancel Canelo vs. Bivol

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As the Russian invasion of Ukraine goes on and the scene gets uglier and uglier, pressure mounts to continue heaping sanctions on Russia and all things Russian.

In the sporting world, Russia and Russian athletes have already been heavily sanctioned.

In soccer, FIFA and UEFA have banned Russian teams from all competitions until further notice, a move that will eliminate them from competing in the men’s World Cup in Qatar later this year and the Women’s European Championships in England this summer.

The Russian team Spartak Moscow has also been expelled from the Europa League.

Other sports, from racing to tennis to badminton have followed suit in sanctions against Russian athletes and events.

In boxing, all four recognized sanctioning bodies have also enacted sanctions.

The IBF, WBO, and WBC have taken various actions, the strictest of which has been a decision to, for the time being, not allow any title fights featuring Russian fighters.

The WBA, however, has pulled up shorter than the other sanctioning bodies when it comes to sanctions. This is presumably because a Russian fighter and champion, Dmitry Bivol, has signed on to face boxing cash cow Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in a high-profile light heavyweight title fight this May 7 via sports streaming service DAZN.

With that big, lucrative bout comes a big, lucrative sanctioning fee for the organization of 3% the total purse, of both fighters. In the case of Alvarez vs. Bivol, that would be a 3% of a total payout estimated to be upwards of $50 million, plus all other fees associated with the fight.

That could very well be the reason the WBA’s Russian sanctions have not gone past prohibiting the Russian flag from the event and eliminating the Russian national anthem from being played.

But the pressure is building to do more. And the question in boxing circles is whether organizers can make that May 7 date for Alvarez-Bivol before someone is forced to pull the plug.

In a video interview conducted on March 8 with the BBC, former heavyweight titleholders Wladimir Klitschko and Vitali Klitschko, who is the sitting mayor of Kyiv in Ukraine, answered the question of whether the Kyrgyzstan-born Russian citizen should be allowed to defend his light heavyweight title against the Mexican superstar.

“Absolutely not,” Wladimir Klitschko said. “Every sanction, and it’s nothing about the athletes, it’s about the politics of Russia…Every Russian representative, in this case, needs to be sanctioned because this way we show Russia that the world is against this senseless war. There’s no good in this war.”

The prizefighting Ukrainian brothers have both pledged direct aid in the battle against the Russian invasion and have also enlisted with the armed forces to fight. Joining them in the fight is current 3-belt heavyweight champ Oleksandr Usyk and former unified lightweight champ Vasiliy Lomachenko, as well as a number of Ukrainian athletes who’ve returned home to fight for the freedom of their country.

Back in the world of big-time prizefighting, the debate will get louder with time (and bloodshed) over whether a Russian should be given the main stage for a major world sporting event. Boxing has a well-earned reputation as the red light district of sport and as a business filled with shameless hucksters and hustlers. But there’s a limit to how much even boxing can look past world events.

If the WBA pulls its sanctioning of Alvarez-Bivol or sponsors begin to pull out, DAZN may lose this fight and have to scramble for a quick replacement to face Alvarez in what was to be their first-ever pay-per-view event. A lot of money could be lost by losing Alvarez-Bivol.

Time will tell how great the pull of money is when stacked up against the pull of international outrage.

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Paul Magno has over forty years of experience in and around the sport of boxing and has had his hand in everything, from officiating to training. As a writer, his work has appeared in several online publications, including Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports, FightHype, Max Boxing, Boxing.com, Inside Fights, The Boxing Tribune, The Queensberry Rules, and Premier Boxing Champions. You can reach him at: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com