On Saturday night, Miguel Cotto will fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in Las Vegas. Sitting in their respective corners will be two men much more famous than the two fighters: Jay Z and Oscar De La Hoya.
Cotto is represented by Jay Z’s two-year-old sports agency, Roc Nation Sports, while Golden Boy Promotions, De La Hoya’s company, has worked with Canelo since his professional debut at age 18. (He’s now 25.) Roc Nation and Golden Boy are co-promoting the fight—it’s the first collaboration between the two, and their frontmen have high hopes for eyeballs and buzz.
“Miguel Cotto needed a dance partner, Canelo needed a dance partner, and we all thought it was the perfect time to make this happen,” De La Hoya said during a visit to Fortune’s offices last week. This fight, he revealed, has been in the works for two years, but it took a long time for it to come together. “They had to budge on certain points, we budged on certain points. We all had to let our ego down.”
De La Hoya and Jay Z have also struck up a bet (of the non-controversial kind): If Canelo wins, Jay Z has to donate $100,000 to De La Hoya’s charitable foundation, and vice-versa if Cotto wins.
Miguel Cotto, 35, is an established star with a 40-4 record, perhaps soon approaching the end of his career in the ring. Canelo, who is 45-1, is just getting started. Cotto was the current WBC middleweight champion until Tuesday, when he reportedly refused to pay the WBC a required $300,000 sanctioning fee required to have this be a title bout. The news means that Cotto is no longer recognized as the world middleweight champ, and that if Canelo wins, he will become the champion, but if Cotto wins he will only be “lineal” champion, while the titlist champion would be Gennady Golovkin, current interim titleholder.
ESPN reports that for this fight between Cotto and Canelo to happen, Cotto and Roc Nation had to pay Golovkin—who is Cotto’s mandatory challenger by rights—”step-aside money” to allow Cotto to fight Canelo instead. Such fees are often standard in boxing. Because he had already paid this fee to Golovkin’s team, Cotto did not like having to pay another $300,000 to the WBC. De La Hoya this week told reporters that Cotto’s refusal to pay is “a disgrace to the promotion.”
The news about Cotto may dim the excitement around the fight. But Michael Yormark, president of brand strategy for Roc Nation, doesn’t think so. “Cotto-Canelo is going to be the best pure boxing match and live sports and entertainment event we have seen for some time,” he tells Fortune. “We have two future hall of famers, two legends, two icons of their countries and their sport… our expectations for the audience are tremendous and I think those expectations have already been validated by the tremendous media and buzz around this event. Nothing can take away from that buzz. Saturday night’s fight is about so much more than a belt.”
De La Hoya, speaking to Fortune last week before Cotto’s belt was stripped, was optimistic (perhaps even idealistic) about the potential impact of the November 21 fight and his boxer’s future earnings potential. “Canelo can surpass Floyd’s earning,” he predicts. Mayweather earned a guaranteed $32 million purse for his September fight (which he has claimed will be his last) against Andre Berto, and that didn’t include a cut he gets from the Pay-Per-View returns. Mayweather made at least $25 million from each of his last 12 fights—these numbers were unprecedented in boxing until him. “I think Canelo is the next guy, he is the face of boxing, and I believe he will surpass the numbers that Mayweather made.”
Canelo, in fact, fought Mayweather in 2012; he lost by majority decision. “He was too young,” De La Hoya now admits. “It was an ego thing. He wanted to prove he was the best. But he was 21 years old. It was ridiculous, facing him that young. He’s got the ego. Me, ego is not my amigo.”
Indeed, De La Hoya says he makes a priority of keeping his fighters humble (as much as that is possible) and advising them to be smart with their money. “The beauty of being promoted by me is there’s a blueprint there,” he says. “They’ve seen what I’ve done outside the ring, and they want to know, ‘How can I do that? How can I be like Oscar? Let me be smart. Let me start thinking about life after boxing while I’m an active fighter.'”
Indeed, what De La Hoya has done outside the ring is a lot, in many different businesses. He is a co-owner of the Houston Dynamo, an MLS team, with Phil Anschutz, co-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Staples Center. And De La Hoya bought The Ring, a boxing magazine, in 2007. The magazine put UFC fighter Ronda Rousey on its cover earlier this year. “It was surprisingly controversial,” he says. “Purists didn’t like it. But at the end of the day, what justified it is that she does want to get into boxing. The doors are wide open whenever she does want to explore it.”
As MMA has increased in popularity, some believe its growth is cannibalizing boxing, which has already suffered a loss in popularity recently. De La Hoya says they can coexist, and one’s rise is good for the other: ” (If you’re curious about who would win in a fight today between the former champ and Rousey, De La Hoya happily says, “Hands down, Ronda. If she were to get me on the ground, it’s over.”)
In fact, De La Hoya tells Fortune that he considered a boxing comeback just recently. It lasted 24 hours. “I was trying to convince myself I could come back and have one more fight, so I started training,” he says. “I woke up at 5 in the morning, I ran, I sparred. The next day, I couldn’t get out of bed. So there went my comeback.”
For now, De La Hoya will live boxing glory through Canelo Alvarez. And if his guy wins, what’s next? He’s already envisioning a fight with Golovkin, the interm middleweight champion. He is undefeated, and 31 of his 34 victories were knockouts. “Golovkin is making huge noise,” says De La Hoya. “He’s undefeated, knocking everybody out. So what I can already envision, a couple years down the road, is our own Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Golovkin and Canelo. That’s the next super-fight. If my master plan works out, that happens.”
Next, read: How Oscar De La Hoya feels about Donald Trump