CANELO ALVAREZ: GREAT OR JUST "VERY GOOD"?

Saul Alvarez, more popularly known as “Canelo”  or Cinnimon, a nod to his reddish hair, currently sits on one of boxing’s more prestigious thrones. According to recent boxing publications, most of which are Internet creations, Alvarez claims the top position as the best Pound-for-Pound fighter plying his trade today. Even the Oscar De La Hoya owned The Ring Magazine lists him as the top man across all weight classes.  And the reference to The Golden Boy and The Ring is significant, due to the animosity between De La Hoya and Alvarez.

                For those unfamiliar with the Oscar and Canelo saga, a quick refresher. De La Hoya and Alvarez appeared to have a perfect relationship. With De La Hoy acting as promoter and Alvarez as the promote, and both men having ties to the Hispanic population of Mexico, it seemed like an ideal pairing. However, after several years, money and ego led to a parting of ways and the kind of finger-pointing and animosity that is a by-product of most divorces of this nature.

                Understandably, when functioning as Alvarez’s promoter, De La Hoya sang Canelo’s praises and strongly supported the stance that Alvarez was the best fighter in the world. Now, not so much. In a recent Instagram post, De La Hoya commented on Alvarez: “Please, this guy does everything wrong. Head up when he throws hooks, on his heels, flatfooted. What else? Oh, he avoids @twincharlo (referring to Jermall Charlo).” Alvarez’s response? “Do me a favor and go f*ck yourself.”

                So, for The Ring Magazine to list Alvarez as it’s Pound-for-Pound best, despite the bad blood between Oscar and Canelo, makes a powerful statement about Canelo Alvarez’ current standing in the boxing world.

                And if you go strictly by his record, Alvarez not only looks like a current Pound-for-Pound best but also a potential All-Time Pound-for-Pound fighter.  Canelo’s current ledger boasts a record of 56-1-2, with 38 of those wins coming by way of knockout. Alvarez himself has never been officially knocked down in a professional bout, let alone knocked out. Yes, there are several boxing pundits who insist that Jose Cotto knocked him down in their bout, where Alvarez was seemingly held up by the ropes. However, the referee didn’t call it a knockdown. But Canelo has a very sturdy chin. Regardless of the Cotto bout. Against the heavy-handed Gennadiy Golovkin, Canelo was wobbled and ate some big shots but never went down.

                Only a majority decision loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr., a draw to Jorge Juarez in Alvarez’s fifth professional outing in 2006 at the age of sixteen, and a split-draw to Golovkin in their first fight smudge Canelo’s ledger.

                Adding to the luster of his record, Canelo has held eight titles throughout his career, claiming belts in the light-middleweight, middleweight, and super middleweight divisions. Currently, Alvarez holds the WBA, WBC and WBO World Super Middleweight titles.

Just perusing Canelo Alvarez’ accomplishments since he turned pro at the precocious age of fifteen, one would have to be impressed, and rightfully so; but before we induct Alvarez into the Boxing Hall of Fame, a closer examination of his record is in order.

Just perusing Canelo Alvarez’ accomplishments since he turned pro at the precocious age of fifteen, one would have to be impressed, and rightfully so; but before we induct Alvarez into the Boxing Hall of Fame, a closer examination of his record is in order.

 

 

Alvarez Vs. Super Welterweights

The table below lists the eighteen most representative opponents faced by Canelo Alvarez when he fought as a Super Welterweight. The names on the list are quite impressive: Amir Khan, Miguel Cotto, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Sugar Shane Mosley, Matthew Hatton; as well as good, solid fighters just a notch below those just named. Equally impressive, of the eighteen bouts found on the table, twelve of the contests were title fights, increasing the difficulty of each bout due to the added pressure that comes with trying to win or defend a crown.

As a Super Welterweight, Alvarez went 17-1-0, scored 11 stoppages, and lost only to the extraordinary Floyd Mayweather Jr. and that by a majority decision. All these names and numbers would seem to prove the greatness of Saul Canelo Alvarez.

Except for one often overlooked fact: all but one of the legitimate opponents Canelo faced as a super welterweight was older than Alvarez, and some by as much as twenty-five years (Matthew Hilton).  Canelo averaged 22.4 years of age when he faced the eighteen super welterweights listed: those eighteen averaged 33.4 years of age, or exactly 11 years older at the time they faced Alvarez – on average.Safe to say that none of the opponents listed were close to their prime, with a few notable exceptions. Focusing on the biggest “names” that Alvarez faced: Miguel Cotto was 35 (ten years older); Floyd Mayweather Jr. was 36 (thirteen years older); and Shane Mosley was 41 (nineteen years older).

Canelo Alvarez was hardly an inexperienced neophyte against many of his opponents at super welterweight. Alvarez had already compiled a  32 – 0 record, of which 12 bouts had been scheduled for ten-round and 10 bouts for twelve rounds, prior to facing Jose Miguel Cotto.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

 

 

 

 

 

It’s only fair to point out that, Mayweather Jr, aside, Alvarez did what he had to do and that was win and win impressively. Say what you want about his talent level or competition, Canelo doesn’t fool around in the ring; he doesn’t carry a fighter, nor does he come in unprepared, regardless of the age and/or ability level of his opposition. Still, it’s hard to label a fighter an All-Time Great when he’s forced to go the distance with a 41-year-old Shane Mosley and 35-year-old Miguel Cotto.

                Against Mosley, Alvarez won by a wide margin; and while Mosley spent whatever gas he had left in the tank, Sugar Shane was never in the fight. But Mosley was also never on his back, despite being 19-years older than Alvarez. Less than a year and a half later, 38-year-old Anthony Mundine stopped Mosley via TKO when Shane claimed that he developed wracking back pain, and at nearly 43-years of age, it was easy enough to accept Mosley’s explanation. However, Mosley had been dominated in the rounds immediately prior to Mosley’s “No Mas” between rounds.

                It was a different story when the 25-year-old Alvarez took on 35-year-old Miguel Cotto. In a bruising battle, Alvarez won an undisputed unanimous decision. What was disputed was the incredible difference in scoring from most writers and viewers when compared to what the three blind mice – judges – scored it. Nobody with any understanding of boxing would have questioned an Alvarez win by anywhere from 2 to 4 points. But the judges saw a much wider discrepancy between the two boxers, giving Alvarez the win by 6, 8 and 9 points without the benefit of a single 10-8 round in the fight.

Alvarez vs. Super Middleweights

By the time Alvarez made a permanent move into the Super Middleweight ranks, he had fully matured as a fighter. A look at the table below shows Canelo’s nine best opponents as a Super Middleweight:

Once again, however, Alvarez held an age advantage, being on average 4-years younger than the collective nine opponents listed. While the age difference is not as pronounced as it had been against the Super Welterweights (and Middleweights), Canelo’s opposition wasn’t nearly as impressive, at least in name, as were those previously discussed.

Arguably, Gennadiy Golovkin owns the biggest name of the bunch, considering that the Julio Cesar Chavez who faced Alvarez was “Chavez Jr”, and not even a shadow of the great fighter who sired him. Still, Chavez Jr, who had fought only five times in the preceding four years, lasted the distance in a dog of a fight. Alvarez pitched a shutout against the older and badly overrated, overly cautious Chavez, Jr.

Getting back to Golovkin, when Canelo first faced the Kazakhstani, Golovkin was himself undefeated and being touted as the best pound-for-pound in the fight game. The first Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennadiy Golovkin was considered a substantial jump in the level of competition for the 27-year-old Alvarez. The fight was very competitive, enough for it to end in a controversial draw, with opinion split almost 50-50 as to who won the fight. It was an exciting and close bout; at least to everyone not named Adalaide Byrd.

The split-draw might have been less controversial had Ms. Byrd scored the same fight that everyone else saw. Judge Dave Moretti had the bout 115-113 for Golovkin; Judge Don Trella saw the fight dead even at 114-114; and Judge Adalaide Byrd scored the bout 118 to 110 to Alvarez. Byrd’s outrageously lopsided card added fuel to those who thought Golovkin got a raw deal. In the wake of the Byrd controversy, the eight-year age advantage held by Alvarez (27 and in his prime) over Golovkin (35 and fading) was, for the most part overlooked.

Alvarez ran into some serious trouble prior to a much-anticipated rematch with Golovkin. Two failed drug tests resulted in Alvarez being given a six-month suspension, although there was no compelling reason to believe that Canelo had ingested clenbuterol intentionally. The suspension forced a cancelation of Alvarez-Golovkin II, pushing the bout originally scheduled for May 5th, 2018, to September 15th, 2018.

The Canelo Alvarez (age 28) vs. Gennadiy Golovkin (age 36) rematch took place a year after their first meeting. The bout did little to convince the boxing world that Alvarez was clearly superior to Golovkin. The scoring by the judges was, unlike the previous fight between the two, consistent, with Judge Dave Moretti and Judge Steve Weisfeld scoring the fight 115-113 and Judge Glenn Fieldman seeing it even at 114-114. The result landed on Alvarez’ side, with Canelo winning a majority decision. For what it’s worth, a poll of various media types saw the bout differently, with 11 out of 18 respondents calling the fight for Golovkin, 7 seeing it as a draw and only 1 giving the decision to Alvarez. Again, there was little mention of the age disparity between the two fighters.

The new Super Middleweight Champion has fought six times since the second Golovkin bout, winning all six. Canelo dispatched Rocky Fielding without breaking a sweat, knocking down his 31-year-old opponent three times in three rounds. Alvarez exposed Fielding’s 28-1-0 record as mostly smoke and mirrors; and the three-year age advantage held by Alvarez could have been 30 years and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Canelo Alvarez, who to his credit ducks no one despite De La Hoya’s claims, next faced tough and well-respected Daniel Jacobs, who had given Golovkin a difficult bout at Middleweight just prior to the Alvarez vs. Golovkin I bout. Once again, Alvarez came in as the younger fighter by three years, Canelo 29 and Jacobs 32. In what turned out to be somewhat of a chess match, Alvarez was again given the benefit of the doubt in a close but unanimous decision by scores of 115-112 twice and 114-113. While Alvarez was the more accurate of the two combatants, Jacobs landed 20 more power shots, although it was Canelo who scored the only knockdown of the 12-round tiff.

Following the Jacobs’ bout, Alvarez signed to face former light-heavyweight champion, 36-year-old Sergey Kovalev. Between 2013 and 2019, Kovalev had held some variation of the light-heavyweight crown, claiming the WBO title three times, the IBF title once, and the WBA bauble once.

Kovalev, at his best between ages 27 and 30, was a formidable fighter. During that four-year period, “Krusher” Kovalev held wins over undefeated Nathan Cleverly, undefeated Cedric Agnew, undefeated Blake Caparello, ageless Bernard Hopkins, and respected Jean Pascal, twice.  Far more impressive, though, were Kovalev’s losses.

Kovalev lost to the outstanding Andre Ward, Kovalev losing 113-114 on all three judges’ cards. Seven months later, Kovalev climbed back into the ring against Ward in a well-deserved rematch. Going into the 8th round, two judges had Ward up by a point and the third judge had Kovalev winning by three points. The judges’ scoring became a moot point when Ward stopped Kovalev in the 8th by TKO.

Canelo Alvarez did not face the Sergei Kovalev described above.  During the interim, stretching over two years from the Ward bout to the Canelo Alvarez bout, Kovalev rebuilt his record by going four and one, with two TKOs thrown in for good measure.

His opponents: 19-1 Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (in his first 12-round bout, after fighting mostly 8 and 10 round bouts during his career); Igor Mikhalkin 21-1-0 whose big win prior to facing Alvarez was Doudou Ngumbu; two fights against Elider Alvarez, an undefeated 23-0-0 fighter who knocked out Kovalev in 7 rounds (knocking Kovalev down 3 times in the 7th) in their first bout and took Kovalev’s WBO light-heavyweight title; followed by a bounce-back fight against Eleider, a contest in which Kovalev dominated most rounds and regaining his WBO title via a comfortable 12-round unanimous decision. Kovalev successfully defended his WBO title against another undefeated fighter, Anthony Yarde, who sported a perfect 18-0 record against the likes of Travis Reeves, Walter Gabriel Sequeira and Norbert Nemesapati.

The Alvarez vs. Kovalev bout pitted the 29-year-old Canelo Alvarez against the 36-year-old Kovalev. It looked like either man could emerge the victor, heading into the 11th round. At the time of the stoppage, the scorecards read 96-94 (twice) and 95-95. Even in a bout that ended in a stoppage, there was some controversy, after a cryptic response by Kovalev, when asked on social media if he had thrown the fight.

Since the Kovalev bout, Canelo Alvarez defended his WBA Super-Middleweight title three tiems: dominating a decidedly non-competitive Callum Smith; retiring Avni Yildirim in the 3rd round of their WBA Super-Middleweight title fight; and retiring Billy Joe Saunders in the 8th round of their title tiff. Both Smith and Saunders carried undefeated records with them into the ring against Canelo. Saunders, at least, had to be considered a legitimate opponent, and ended up giving Canelo some trouble, only to succumb to the hard punches of Alvarez (Canelo fractured Saunder’s orbital bone that resulted in major swelling with a single punch.

Saul Canelo Alvarez next goes against Caleb “Sweet Hands” Plant, yet another undefeated fighter at 21 -0-0 with 12 knockouts to his credit. Alvarez will be giving up 4 or 5-inches in height and 3.5” in reach when he climbs into the ring with Plant. In this bout, it’s Alvarez who is the “elder” being two years older than his 29-year-old opponent. Assuming the hard-punching Alvarez puts a loss in the column of the third undefeated opponent that he’s faced in his last five fights, Alvarez will have added to his luster. Plant is no stiff, even without a big punch, and Alvarez has no size or age advantage. A win for Cinnamon would bring Alvarez’ record to 52-1-2. Impressive, without question.

Final considerations when trying to determine Canelo Alvarez’s claim to greatness. He certainly deserves being called the #1 pound-for-pound fighter active today. But the question asked at the beginning of this article was whether Canelo deserves to be considered an All-Time Great. Maybe. He’s unquestionably very good.

To make it into the All-Time Middleweights, you would have to believe that Canelo Alvarez could beat Marvin Hagler, Carlos Monzon, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Bernard Hopkins, among recent middleweight kings; and old timers like Harry Greb, Stanley Ketchell, and Freddie Steel. That’s seven names. Add to that fighter like Jake LaMotta, Dick Tiger, Charley Burley and Tiger Flowers. How about Sugar Ray Leonard or Tommy Hearns at middleweight? Canelo Alvarez wouldn’t be a walk-over for those guys and it wouldn’t be a great shock to see him out-tough LaMotta and Tiger, or outbox Freddie Steele. As good as he is, it’s hard to see him ranked ahead of ten of the boxers named.

 

Canelo has a better opportunity to make a Top Ten of All-Time list as a Super-Middleweight. Alvarez would need to stack up against Nigel Benn, Chris Eubanks (Sr), Joe Calzaghe, Steve Collins, Andre Ward, Roy Jones Jr, Mikkel Kessler, Chong-Pal Park, James Toney, and maybe a few other guys not mentioned. Here, unlike at middleweight, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on his best day has a chance to some degree against everyone named. The only really clear-cut favorites would probably be Roy Jones Jr, Calzaghe, and Kessler. Collins would be a great fight between two guys who don’t even think of losing, and this fight might well be even-money. James Toney? At his very best, Alvarez would have his hands full (along with most other SMWs) but Canelo out-hustling and unleashing a devastating body attack to win over Toney isn’t inconceivable.

In conclusion, while I think it’s safe to call Canelo Alvarez an all-time great super-middleweight, I think it’s premature to put him in the Top Ten All-Time Great Middleweights. Is Alvarez worthy of Top Twenty status as a middleweight? I believe he easily fits in anywhere between #4 and #6.

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