Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has begun the court battle for independence against his promoter Golden Boy and broadcaster DAZN. Meanwhile, Manny Pacquiao’s contractual ties to anyone are increasingly vague as the search for a 2021 opponent begins.
That’s two of boxing’s biggest stars skating around true free agency in a sport that does not like that concept one bit. Throw in Mikey Garcia, who’s been working on one-fight deals since he won his independence from Top Rank a few years back. On a smaller scale, there’s former junior welterweight champ Regis Prograis, who’s now also a free agent.
High-end fighters are starting to come to a realization. The road to really big money in boxing is paved by free agency.
Floyd Mayweather— like him or loathe him — was a groundbreaker for free agency in boxing. In winning his promotional freedom from Top Rank all those years ago, his massive financial success later on showed fighters just how much money stays in the hands of the powerbrokers in the owners’ boxes and, by contrast, how much there is to earn if a fighter can control his own name, marketing, and promotion.
Surprisingly, relatively few fighters have followed Mayweather’s lead. Most likely this is because, right now in its infancy, free agency in boxing can only be pulled off by fighters with star power. The fighter needs to be someone who can sell his fights on the weight of his name value. Few fighters can currently do that. Most would seemingly prefer to take a smaller money cut and not bother with the business of self-promotion.
A free agent Canelo, though, would be a walking human money machine. So would Pacquiao. Their free agency would create floating hotspots of revenue wherever they decide to fight. It would not only enrich themselves financially, but it would provide trickle down revenue for everyone involved.
Of course, Canelo at 30 years of age has more time to stuff his bank account than the 41-year-old Pacquiao. Still, both would become insane earners on the open market. In the case of Mikey Garcia, whose star is significantly less bright than Canelo’s and Pacquiao’s, free agency turned him from a $500K fighter to a fighter who’s earned $7 million and $3 million, respectively, in his last two bouts.
Other fighters tapping into freeman status could benefit similarly.
Boxing’s powerbrokers bidding on fighters in the open market would completely change the dynamic of the sport. A lot of old, tired promoters and clueless network execs would suddenly get really serious about things. Promoters would have a vested interest in actually promoting their fighters to a much wider audience. Networks would have to be interested in actually building boxing rather than using it to grab a few quick bucks as a niche sport. The fakers would be separated from those serious about the sport. Fair market value would determine how much is allocated per fight, per fighter. The emphasis would be on boosting market value rather than exploiting loyalty in the midst of declining market value, as is the case now.
But there’s a downside to free agency as well. Fair market value is a double-edged sword. Fully free fighters may be confronted by the disagreeable truth that many of them have been overpaid for years.
Canelo and Pacquiao woudn’t have to worry about that. A bigger pot of gold is awaiting both if they go fully free agent. And then they’ll be kicking themselves for not trying this years ago.