LAS VEGAS — Trash talk and over-the-top antics have long been a way to gain attention for a big fight. Just look at Floyd Mayweather in boxing, Conor McGregor in MMA — or even when they fought each other. Real or contrived, the trash talk can help sell events.
But there are times when fighters show genuine respect for each other and want to let their fists do the talking. No bad blood. No nonsense needed.
The latter is the case when it comes to boxing’s biggest star, Canelo Alvarez, and Daniel Jacobs, who meet on Saturday (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET) at T-Mobile Arena to unify their three middleweight world titles in the biggest fight of the year.
Mexico’s Alvarez (51-1-2, 35 KOs), 28, and Jacobs (35-2, 29 KOs), 32, of Brooklyn, New York, are meeting on Cinco de Mayo weekend, traditionally one of boxing’s biggest weekends of the year, and it has been an utterly cordial promotion, perhaps even boring to some. The seasoned, proud professionals — who have held their own in verbal sparring wars but do not start them — have been downright complimentary toward each other.
“It’s never been my intention in my lead-up to any fight to sort of create this animosity to sell the fight or to bash my opponent,” Jacobs said. “Never have I ever wanted to do that. It has never been in my nature. I know that boxing is just a sport.
“So for me, this has been one of the best promotions and best lead-ups that I’ve been a part of because I share the same ideas with my opponent, which is strictly being professional and let our skills speak inside the ring.”
“It all depends on what type of trash-talking one is doing. For instance, if there’s a trash-talker like Mayweather, who everybody wanted to see get beat, then it creates a lot of attention to the event. But if you have a guy who just trash-talks for the fun of it, it doesn’t do anything for the fight or the event.” Oscar De La Hoya
Jacobs, who called his opponent “top-10, pound-for-pound” and a “true champion with superstar status,” has been matched by Alvarez, whose commentary on the fight has focused on Jacobs’ talent.
“He’s an opponent that is very complete,” Alvarez said through an interpreter. “He knows how to move in the ring. Very difficult. We know the risk of this fight, and it is a high-risk fight.”
There was no shoving at any of their news conferences. No naughty words. No hostility. In fact, it has been the exact opposite: complete respect and the feeling that they could easily be friends.
Heck, even Alvarez’s promoter, Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya, and Jacobs’ promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, get along well. They seem to have enjoyed the laid-back yet effective build to this fight, though both realize trash-talking has been an effective tool in terms of making money.
Hearn has promoted some fights with vicious trash talk, including two heavyweight bouts between Tony Bellew and David Haye and two super middleweight title fights between Carl Froch and George Groves.
Both were box-office bonanzas in the United Kingdom in part because of over-the-top antics, including media conference pull-aparts, but the effect can be diminished when boxers try to force it.
“The trash talk and the hype is great, and it helps to build a fight that might not be easy to build, but when you have a fight like this, I think that when you have got these two coming together in a unification fight, I don’t really see the need for bad blood,” Hearn said. “In fact, I think it’s an opportunity for the sport to blossom, and I think it’s an opportunity to actually show people — young people or people in the sport or even fighters coming through the sport — how to actually behave.
“When you’ve got good guys, usually, I don’t think you should change, and I don’t think you should change to sell a fight, especially when you are as good and as elite as these two. Trash talk is always good for promotion, but it’s not always needed when you’re talking about an elite or Hall of Fame fight.”
De La Hoya pointed to fighters such as Mayweather, whom he crossed paths with in 2007 in what was then the highest-grossing fight in history, in large part because of Mayweather’s verbal attacks.
“It all depends on what type of trash-talking one is doing,” he said. “For instance, if there’s a trash-talker like Mayweather, who everybody wanted to see get beat, then it creates a lot of attention to the event. But if you have a guy who just trash-talks for the fun of it, it doesn’t do anything for the fight or the event.”
When De La Hoya was boxing, he generally took the Alvarez approach — no harsh words unless his opponent started with him. Mayweather brought that edge out of De La Hoya, as did Fernando Vargas, Ricardo Mayorga and Ike Quartey.
“The trash talk and the hype is great, and it helps to build a fight that might not be easy to build, but when you have a fight like this, I think that when you have got these two coming together in a unification fight, I don’t really see the need for bad blood.” Eddie Hearn
“I was always a pro, but, for instance, I remember Ike Quartey, who was never a trash-talker, but he was confident,” De La Hoya said. “And when he told me, ‘I’m going to knock you out,’ that sparked something in me that made me vocal on how I feel about him, and I said I would knock him out, and it ended up being an amazing fight.
“Canelo is the same way. He’s serious about what he wants to do to you, and he keeps it to himself. But if you want to be vocal, he is not shy about opening up and letting you know what he will do.”
Alvarez can also hold his own when pushed. The lead-up to his first fight with Gennady Golovkin in September 2017 was similar to that of the Jacobs fight. GGG and Alvarez admitted that they liked each other, and Golovkin said he could see a day when they could have dinner and let their children play together. But everything changed ahead of their rematch.
When Alvarez tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol, causing the rematch to be postponed from last May until September because Alvarez was suspended, Golovkin, who is not known as a trash-talker, had many harsh words for Alvarez, who gave it right back to him. It turned the lovefest of the first fight into an authentic feud going into the rematch, including a moment when Alvarez shoved GGG at the weigh-in.
But a return to a more even-keeled approach suits Alvarez heading into the fight with Jacobs, with whom he has no problems.
“You guys know me. I mean, it’s never been in my character, my trait, to be offending fighters, talking bad about them,” Alvarez said. “What happened in the Golovkin fight was a reaction to everything they said and they did, and they talked about me. In this particular case, the fans know we’re both going to go in that ring, give it 100 percent, give it our all and provide a great fight.”
Jacobs has plenty of reasons of his own to keep the verbal sparring to a minimum, including the responsibility he feels toward his young son.
“Controversy sells, but that’s not who I am. That’s not where I came from. I’m not sure if that’s why I am not a household name, but I can’t concentrate on that,” he said. “I stay true to who I am and how I was raised. I’ll always keep that integrity and try to be a stand-up guy. Also, by having a son, I know he watches everything that I do, and I can’t be acting up and being goofy to get more ratings. Boxing is my job. I have to stay professional and disciplined to get the job done.”
The cordial nature doesn’t exactly help sell a fight, but everything that Alvarez and Jacobs have done in their careers has built this matchup on merit. Bill Caplan, the beloved 83-year-old publicist who has been in the business for 57 years and currently works with Golden Boy Promotions, sees parallels in the way Alvarez and Jacobs carry themselves and how some of the greatest legends in boxing history built up interest by getting the job done inside the ring.
“I used to listen to Joe Louis fights on the radio. He was my boyhood hero, and my first job in PR was on fights Joe Louis promoted,” Caplan said. “He never trash-talked — never ever. In 11½ years he was heavyweight champ of the world, I never remember one word of trash talk out of Joe Louis. I think the greatest fighter ever was Sugar Ray Robinson, and I was able to get to know him well. I would go to his training camp and stay over. It was a thrill. He did no trash-talking either. Zero.”
Caplan figures if that was the way those legends acted, as well as the way two of his other longtime clients and friends, De La Hoya and George Foreman, did it, then who needs it? “These guys I admired the most and idolized were not trash-talkers,” Caplan said. “A guy like Floyd Mayweather, a tremendously talented fighter, was a trash-talker, and because of that, I can’t love him — and I worked with him also. I worked most of his fights. Some people believe trash-talking helps sell a fight, but Canelo and Jacobs are both gentlemen. They don’t need that, and I admire them for that.”
As much as two fighters jawing back and forth might attract attention, there’s always a risk of diminishing returns if the words ring hollow. Caplan believes fighters who trash-talk too much are running down their opponents and reducing the value of a potential victory.
“Let’s say Canelo would say, ‘Hey, Jacobs isn’t worth a s—,’ and he wins. Well, he beat a guy who can’t fight,” Caplan said. “If you build the guy up, you’ve beaten a helluva fighter.”
De La Hoya said the lack of trash talk between Alvarez and Jacobs has not hampered the attention on the fight. He believes it has a huge buzz, as evidenced by an expected sold-out arena and the prospect that DAZN will generate upward of one million new subscribers. Still, even with the polite nature of the build to Canelo-Jacobs, De La Hoya, still a promoter, wouldn’t mind a hint of bad blood to put things over the top.
“I always like somebody getting into your face come weigh-in time to get the juices flowing and give the fight that last push,” he said. “Who knows? We might see that at the weigh-in on Friday.”
It would take something dramatic to derail the lovefest before the bell rings, though, and both fighters seem likely to keep the focus on the task at hand.
“The fans and what the boxing media is already predicting is that this fight is going to speak for itself,” Jacobs said. “This is a can’t-miss type of fight. This is a Hall of Famer type of fight. We don’t have to go out there and be goofy or go out there and be someone who we actually aren’t. So that’s a breath of fresh air for me. … We are ambassadors for boxing — and at the elite level.”