An Objective Look At Saul “Canelo” Alvarez
By: Sean Crose
Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is something of a fighter without a home. Indeed, it’s hard to know how to identify the 47-1-1 boxer. He is considered the lineal middleweight champion of the world, though he has yet to engage in a major bout at or near the 160 lb. middleweight limit. He’s fighting Liam Smith for a junior middleweight title this weekend, but may then jump up to middleweight afterwards (“may” being the operative word here). Indeed, the man has even proven to be comfortable fighting at his own 155 lb weight limit. Needless to say, fans can’t be blamed for being confused.
Kell Brook, for instance, was a welterweight who moved up to middleweight. Since he was defeated by Gennady Golovkin this past weekend, it appears he’s now going to fight at junior middleweight (while presumably ditching his IBF world welterweight title). Such clarity can’t be found when it comes to Canelo, a fact which has led to more than a fair bit of resentment among boxing’s fan base. Again, fans can’t be blamed for being unhappy. Still, it’s a shame to see Canelo’s reputation taking such a hit, especially when one considers the fact that most of this public relations mess could have been avoided.
Canelo may have largely been an unknown commodity among casual fans before facing Floyd Mayweather in a 2013 superfight, but his career trajectory, as well as his demeanor, after that one sided loss to the pound for pound king earned the red haired fighter many accolades. What’s more, those accolades were well deserved. For, after besting Alfredo Angulo, Alvarez went on to face the very talented and slick Erislandy Lara –supposedly against his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya’s, wishes. Make no mistake about it, Lara was a dangerous fight. Yet Canelo took it and won it by close, albeit controversial, decision.
The man then went on to battle enormous star Miguel Cotto after destroying hard fighting James Kirkland in epic fashion in Texas. To be sure, it took what seemed like forever for the Cotto fight to come together. One could even venture to say if Cotto-Canelo hadn’t occurred the same year as Mayweather-Pacquiao, the negotiations between the Cotto and Canelo camps would now be remembered as one of the sport’s great recent frustrations. The bout eventually went down, however, and Canelo won a close, lucrative and well watched contest. Something, however, had happened.
In the buildup to the bout, Cotto had given up his WBC middleweight title, claiming he didn’t want to pay the World Boxing Council an expensive fee. Upon winning the fight with Cotto, Canelo became WBC middleweight champ, which meant he was now required to face middleweight terror Gennady Golovkin, who had been receiving step aside money. Looking at it all in hindsight, it’s tempting to argue that Canelo should have given up the WBC belt immediately after winning it…or even refused it beforehand. Sure, he would have taken heat, but perhaps it wouldn’t be as hot for the man as it is now.
For the once widely lauded Canelo is now far less popular than he used to be. He may still have a huge fan base, but it’s a simple matter of clear eyed comprehension to understand the man’s reputation is now damaged goods. Make no mistake about it, Canelo is nowhere near as highly regarded as he was a year ago. And the fact that he is facing a widely unknown Liam Smith this weekend on a pay per view card isn’t helping matters. What, one may ask, would things be like now if Canelo – after having defeated Cotto – had politely given back the WBC belt while making it clear Cotto was his only goal, not the middleweight championship? What if Canelo had declared outright before he even fought Cotto that he wouldn’t accept the title should he win?
No doubt, his reputation might not be where it is at the moment. Canelo wasn’t known as a middleweight before facing Cotto, after all. Sure, he was known to bulk up in between weigh in and fight time, but could he not have somewhat successfully argued that the Cotto match ultimately wasn’t about middleweight dominance, that being middleweight king had never truly appealed to him? Couldn’t he have argued that, after he got his dream match with Cotto, he was simply going to go about his business without being accused of being a pretend titlist? Indeed, he could have.
Sure enough, he probably should have.
There was no escaping the Catch-22 that came with fighting Cotto, not with Golovkin waiting in the shadows, but the damage could have been far less if Canelo and the gang at Golden Boy had simply played their cards right. They didn’t play their cards right, however. What they did was feign interest in a Golovkin bout when the interest simply wasn’t there. They led the fans on with vague indications that a GGG bout would happen sooner rather than later when that was never to be the case. And then it all caught up with them.
After the WBC, somewhat surprisingly, told Canelo it was time to put up or shut up regarding a Golovkin bout, he did something that might have been unthinkable just a year earlier: He gave up his title belt rather than face Golovkin. And so here we are. In truth, it’s all a bit unfair for Canelo. It seems all he wanted to do was engage in an epic bout with Cotto. But like a seemingly great bill that works its way through congress, that particular fight came with a whole lot of attachments and amendments, so many that more harm may have ultimately come than good.
The operative word here, of course, is “may.” No one knows what the future holds. Perhaps Canelo will face Golovkin in September of 2017, as some think. Perhaps he will try to age GGG out and fight the Kazakh when Golovkin is well past his prime. Perhaps he’ll simply refuse to fight Golovkin at all and let huge paydays cushion the public fallout, as contemporary businessmen-boxers do in similar situations. Or perhaps Canelo, Golovkin, or both, will lose before either meets in the ring (if they ever are to meet in the ring).
All that’s certain at the moment is that Canelo is no longer generally viewed in the light he once was. And the window of time through which he can regain his reputation in all its former glory closes inch by inch with each passing day.