The agreement struck between DAZN and the UFC to ensure their respective main events would not coincide Saturday night may have been great for fight fans who wanted to view both showdowns, but it wasn’t ideal for at least one of the fighters.
“It was a pain in the ass,” Sergey Kovalev’s trainer, Buddy McGirt, told ESPN.
UFC 244, highlighted by the Nate Diaz-Jorge Masvidal showdown, was streamed on ESPN+. DAZN broadcast the Canelo Alvarez-Kovalev card.
As a result of the UFC-DAZN agreement, there was a 95-minute gap between when Ryan Garcia knocked out Romero Duno in Round 1 (8:45 p.m. PT) of their semi-main event in Las Vegas until Canelo-Kovalev started. And that meant those on the East Coast viewed the conclusion of the fight — Canelo stopped Kovalev in the 11th round — after 2 a.m. on a night when daylight savings ended.
There was an iconic image on the DAZN broadcast of both boxers laying down on couches in their respective dressing room, as they were forced to wait for the conclusion of Masvidal-Diaz in New York City. So what exactly were the fighters and their camps doing to bide the time, but also get physically and mentally prepared for the WBO light heavyweight title fight?
“He was lying on the couch, working in the room, just waiting and waiting and thinking about the fight, probably,” Kovalev’s manager, Egis Klimas, told ESPN. “It didn’t help at all, for sure. I’ll tell you that much.”
Klimas said they were given instructions by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to report to the MGM Grand Garden Arena by 6:30 p.m. PT, and that they were told they could make the ring walk as early as 10:15 p.m.
“So then we arrived, we were told, ‘Now it’s going to go as soon as the UFC fight was over, which is probably going to be about 9:30,” Klimas said. “And after that, nobody knew. Then they came back and said, ‘Well, probably you guys are going to go around 10 o’clock.'”
As time passed, Klimas became impatient with the whole process.
“I even spoke with a commissioner, we met in the hallway,” he said. “And the commissioner said, ‘Egis, we can’t do nothing about it, it’s not our call.’ And he told me, ‘If it would be my call, I would say, f— it, bring the fighters into the ring’ — that’s exactly what he told me.”
McGirt was upset about the protracted delay.
“They want you go put the gloves on, and then they want you to wait for 90 f—— minutes,” he said.
The trainer said they began to wrap Kovalev’s hands at around 7:40 p.m. PT, and finished up just before 8. He ended up warming up Kovalev on the pads twice before they left the locker room.
“I just kept telling them, ‘Keep an eye on the UFC fight, and keep me updated.’ That’s the only way you could do it, there was no other way,” said McGirt, a former two-time world champion who noted that having your hands wrapped for too long can be very uncomfortable. “If you’re not punching, it’s a pain in the ass.”
Added Klimas: ”Even before we started going to the ring, it was like 15 minutes by ourselves, (Sergey) goes, ‘F—, my hands are numb.’ He was sitting with his hands wrapped for over two hours.”
Klimas said Kovalev never actually took a nap. And McGirt isn’t using the delay as an excuse for the ultimate outcome; he pointed out that for his fighter, a relaxed, tranquil setting is par for the course.
“Sergey before he fought (Eleider) Alvarez in the rematch did the same thing, he laid down, relaxed,” McGirt said. “Everybody is different, some people are antsy, can’t sit still, and some like to sit back and relax.”
What transpired was similar to a stand-by bout, where boxers don’t really have a set place on a fight card and could be called up at any time.
“It felt like it,” said McGirt, chuckling at the thought, ”but at the same time, hey, this is boxing, man, you expect any and everything. Nothing surprises me in boxing.”
Alvarez, who won a title in his fourth weight division, brushed off the whole experience. When asked if it bothered him, he said, ”Not at all, patience. The best thing we have his patience.”
According to his trainer, Eddy Reynoso, who worked the Garcia corner beforehand, it was just part and parcel of being on major cards. Last year, there was a delay of well more than an hour before Alvarez faced Gennady Golovkin in their rematch at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, since there were a few quick knockouts on that pay-per-view card.
“In this case it was just an additional 20 minutes more,” Reynoso said through Golden Boy Promotions publicist Gabe Rivas. “But we’re professionals, we know and understand that these things happen, especially with TV. And at the end of the day, the TV platform is the one that pays. So we assume the added responsibility.”
Reynoso says they sensed no change in Canelo leading into the fight.
“We even got to see the Nate Diaz fight, so we remained calm,” he said. “On our part, there was no delay, we just adapted when we warmed Canelo up.”
It was so serene inside Canelo’s dressing room that he nearly took a late nap, according to Reynoso.
“He almost did fall asleep,” said Reynoso, laughing at the thought. “But we didn’t let him because he was very relaxed, he was calm. He was talking to the whole team. We actually had a good time. It wasn’t hard, it wasn’t bad, it was very calm.”
But while Canelo and his team had the patience of Job, that wasn’t the case for the hordes on social media, who griped about having to wait so long for Canelo-Kovalev to touch gloves.
“Obviously it wasn’t ideal,” Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gomez said. “But in the end we wanted to do what was best for our fans and we didn’t want anything to interfere — Canelo should have the stage by himself.”
Gomez called the delay of the fight ”a production decision” by DAZN, which last year signed Alvarez to a landmark 10-fight, $365 million contract.
So should the Mexican star be forced to stand down for another combat event?
“Well, you’d have to ask him that,” Gomez said. “But as far as I’m concerned,, it was as very successful night and Canelo was chasing history, and at the end of the day, the result was great. We’re happy, it was a very successful show.”
Joe Markowski, the executive vice president for DAZN North America, said it was a good decision for his platform.
“More fans watched Canelo’s history-making knockout of Kovalev because of the decision to stagger the fights,” he said. “Our data indicated a sizable group of existing and potential DAZN subscribers were interested in seeing both fights. We worked directly with (UFC president) Dana White to stagger the fights in an effort to serve the largest number of fans. With the UFC fight in New York and our fight in Vegas, it made sense for the UFC fight to begin first.
“Ultimately, we saw a significant surge in subscription sign-ups and audience size between the end of the UFC fight and the beginning of Canelo’s fight.”
Permission was granted to show the UFC main event on the big screens inside MGM Grand Garden Arena, which isn’t typical.
“Actually I watched that fight,” Gomez said, with a laugh. “And I kept going back and forth in the locker rooms, making sure everything was OK.”
He said there wasn’t that much grumbling from fans who bought tickets to Canelo-Kovalev.
“Funny enough, inside the venue, some of the fans that came up to me said, ‘Hey, this is really cool. We’re getting to see both fights,'” he said.