A Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez fight is always an event. When he defends his undisputed super middleweight championship against Jermell Charlo this weekend, the boxing world will stop and stare. But these occasions are not quite what they once were. While ‘Canelo’ remains the defining boxer of the last decade-and-change, his nights under the lights are no longer an opportunity to see the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world do his thing.
Not long ago, an Alvarez outing was exactly that. As recently as 2021, the Mexican finished cutting a swathe through the super middleweight division. His goal had been to collect every belt and become the weight’s first undisputed four-belt ruler. ‘Canelo’ completed his task that year by stopping WBC boss Callum Smith and WBO ruler Billy Joe Saunders. He even found time for a brutal knockout of mandatory Avni Yildirim.
There was no doubt that Alvarez was the finest boxer on the planet. But then like Icarus he flew too close to the son. Dmitry Bivol slashed his paper wings into shreds in a 2022 WBA light heavyweight title challenge. Alvarez had ruled at 175 before, stopping WBO kingpin Sergey Kovalev back in 2019. But in Bivol he found a champion at his very peak and was well beaten.
There are still questions around the modern ‘Canelo’. He has only fought just twice since, against a faded Gennady Golovkin and the limited John Ryder. He easily took his former foe apart in their trilogy fight, but it was far from the same test ‘GGG’ had posed him in years past. Alvarez got back into the win column after the Bivol reverse, but we didn’t learn anything about the future Hall of Famer. Meanwhile the Ryder fight was one-way traffic, with the brave Brit outpointed. In years past Alvarez might have stopped him, more evidence 'Canelo' wasn't at his best.
Charlo might not bring that out of him either. The undisputed champion down at light middleweight, he has never scaled above 154 pounds. A supremely talented fighter, yes, but not a super middleweight. Not even a middleweight. ‘Canelo’ may have reigned at light middleweight himself but he last made that weight in 2016. This is a man who has boxed at 168 pounds or higher since 2019. A fighter, lest we forget, who was trying to manoeuvre for a WBC cruiserweight title shot until Bivol brought him back down to Earth.
Perhaps unfairly, any ‘Canelo’ victory at the weekend will be attributed to the weight. He could win in round one or after a hard-fought distance bout. If the Mexican’s hand is raised and he keeps his undisputed title, people will say Charlo is a light middleweight. That the result was a foregone conclusion. Of course if he loses, there may be no way back at all.
As Alvarez’s crown has slipped as pound-for-pound ruler, others have ably stepped up to the throne. Undisputed welterweight boss Terence Crawford and unified super bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue have entered career-best performances. WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight king Oleksandr Usyk keeps winning. Devin Haney continues to impress as undisputed lightweight king and has a date up at light welterweight with WBC champion Regis Prograis. Everywhere you look there a fighters emerging that look capable of being the absolute best.
The Charlo fight isn’t the one to put ‘Canelo’ back there. Those bouts are hopefully in his future. There is talk of a Crawford super-fight, though the weight issue would echo the discussions around Charlo. But a fight with unbeaten two-time world champion David Benavidez would be a super middleweight thriller. It would also draw huge with the Latino community, with Benavidez’s Mexican heritage and Canelo's huge popularity. Avenging the Bivol defeat is perhaps the tallest order out of Alvarez’s potential bouts. But doing so would rank as one of his greatest victories.
But for now it is Charlo standing in the way of ‘Canelo’. A superb fighter but perhaps one who is a little out of his depth weight-wise. A win will keep ‘Canelo’ in the pound-for-pound discussion. But he won’t dominate those chats on the strength of it alone.
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