This is not the article you were supposed to be reading this Monday morning. Going into his fight with WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol, you could probably count the boxing scribes who expected to be eulogising the prospects of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez rather than celebrating them on one hand. But 36 minutes is a long time in boxing. Over the course of 36 minutes of ring time in Las Vegas on Saturday night, the entire landscape of boxing in 2022 changed.
By the time Dmitry Bivol had his hand raised and his title belt clasped back around his waist, everything had changed. Boxing is yet to anoint its new pound-for-pound king, but the council of elders are certain it is no longer ‘Canelo’. Far-fetched dream fights involving Alvarez scaling as high as 201lbs for a tilt at unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk were scrubbed quietly off promotional whiteboards in the corridors of power.
A penny for the thoughts of Gennady Golovkin, the middleweight champion whose pre-contract agreement for a trilogy fight with the Mexican is now likely in tatters. It is a testament to the significance Saul Alvarez has accrued over his 17 years in the sport that his loss causes a ripple effect that impacts boxing as a whole.
So with Usyk and Golovkin off the table, and his long-mooted cruiserweight clash with Ilunga Makabu similarly unlikely now, where does ‘Canelo’ go next? The immediate thinking seems to be “back into the lion’s den”. The Bivol contract carried a rematch clause, and the Mexican has said he wishes to exercise it. It is the natural reaction of the proud fighter to want to immediately erase a loss. It will not be scrubbed from Alvarez’s record of course, but it will be scrubbed from his psyche. ‘Canelo’ has form here, having gone straight back in with Gennady Golovkin after a controversial draw in a fight many felt he lost.
For Bivol’s part, he is on board for a repeat. Putting the obvious financial incentives to one side, the Russian senses a chance to make history. When asked whether he would be willing to drop down to super middleweight to contest Alvarez’s undisputed championship, Bivol said “Yeah, 168 for all of the belts, of course, it’s good. Why not?”.
If ‘Canelo’ wins the rematch, even at the 168lb limit that feels far more conducive to his physiology, he will likely end up back where he started. His pound-for-pound status will be restored in the eyes of most, this weekend’s defeat will be dismissed as an aberration. A temporary roadblock on his path to immortality. But even in victory, where does ‘Canelo’ go next?
His days of marauding through the divisions as this force of nature, unbound by weight class, are over. There is no more history left for Alvarez to make now that moves to cruiserweight and heavyweight are off the table. If the former WBO light heavyweight king can annex Bivol’s WBA strap at the second attempt, you’d still consider a pursuit of WBC and IBF boss Artur Beterbiev to be beyond him. At 31, ‘Canelo’ has years left in the sport. But does he need them? Will the flame-haired star be content to tread water, knowing his days of historic achievement are behind him?
Of course if he loses, the outlook becomes ever bleaker. Boxing’s schadenfreude-loving fanbase has already been quick to discredit him. To some, losing to Bivol effectively eradicates a near-two decade career spent at the top level. Wins over Miguel Cotto, Caleb Plant, Shane Mosley, Sergey Kovalev and Danny Jacobs have been erased from the minds of boxing’s less forgiving spectators. Type the words “Canelo fraud” into Twitter and you will find a dearth of critical thinking and a simple message. Losing to an unbeaten fighter who has been a world champion for five years has rendered Alvarez obsolete in their eyes. A second loss to the same competitor, despite the fact Bivol proved this weekend he belongs at the very top of the sport, would be unforgivable to many.
No, this is not the article you were supposed to be reading. This was supposed to be a description of the latest chapter in the ‘Canelo’ era. Instead, we have perhaps glimpsed the dawn of the age of Dmitry Bivol. But Alvarez should be credited for seeking a rematch with the first man to defeat him in nine years. If ‘Canelo’ is to solve this problem, he will do it by going through it rather than around.
Image Credit: Matchroom Boxing/Ed Mulholland