It’s been quite a year in the squared circle. Trilogies have reached their brutal conclusion, undisputed champions have been crowned, and shocking upsets have left us slack-jawed in wonder. As 2021 draws to a close, The Sportsman has picked the five fighters that have defined an extraordinary year of fistic happenings. Now it all comes down to this. Join us as we reveal The Sportsman Boxer Of The Year.
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is not like other fighters. While the other boxers on this list have been ranked for their achievement in one outstanding fight during the year, the Mexican takes home the big prize having boxed three times in 2021. With his last outing of 2020 coming in December, a dominant points win over Callum Smith to take the WBC, WBA and The Ring super middleweight titles, ‘Canelo’ actually fought four times over the course of twelve months. The number of fights is significant on its own, however. Rather, it is what these bouts represented.
Between December 2020 and November 2021, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez beat all three of the super middleweight champions, as well as mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim. Not only did he defeat these men, he scarcely lost a round in doing so. Alvarez is a wealthy man who could pick and choose his fights, coming out of hiding annually to top up his bank balance and his legacy at his convenience. Instead, this throwback fighter took on a whole weight division, in double-quick time, and won.
The conquest that began with Smith continued in February, with Yildirim. ‘Mr Robot’ was dismissed by some despite being the mandatory challenger to Alvarez’s WBC title. But the entire point of the Mexican’s assault on super middleweight was the unification of every title belt, and thus Yildirim was a necessary evil. The Turkish fighter would quit on his stool after three rounds of ‘Canelo’ attacks, bludgeoned to defeat with vicious, professional accuracy.
This set the table for the fights everyone wanted to see ‘Canelo’ have in 2021, unification clashes with the WBO and IBF champions. The first of these came against Britain’s Billy Joe Saunders. The unbeaten traveller was expected to pose Alvarez some problems, boasting an awkward ring style that the Mexican had never encountered before.
Saunders’ famed elusiveness proved no match for the relentless ‘Canelo’. The flame-haired warrior outlanded the Hertfordshire man, before fracturing Saunders’ orbital bone in the eighth round. It was a gruesome and decisive end to what had seemed a fairly competitive match-up on paper. A display of utter dominance, and the conquest of yet another title belt. With the WBC, WBO, WBA and The Ring belts in tow, only one super middleweight championship remained.
That championship, the IBF title, belonged to Caleb Plant, a 21-0 slickster from Tennessee. For the second time in as many fights, ‘Canelo’ faced a reigning world champion who didn’t know how to lose. Once again, Alvarez would teach them exactly how it felt to be on the receiving end of a conclusive defeat.
The build-up caught fire in a way no previous Saul Alvarez fight had. A verbal exchange during a face-off, where the Mexican interpreted Plant’s missive of “motherf**ker” as an insult towards the Alvarez family matriarch, led to a scuffle. ‘Canelo’ shoved his tormentor, before showing exquisite defensive skills to avoid a punch that came his way. The fuse was lit, as the usually-cool Alvarez appeared to have been rattled by Plant.
This altercation only further intensified the hype surrounding a historic occasion. For the very first time, all four of the world super middleweight belts would be on the line in one fight. The stakes could not have been higher, and the personal issue between the pair added further intrigue to the already-huge fight.
Plant fought without fear, and proved once and for all that he belongs in the rarefied air of elite level boxing. He fought bravely, and gave Alvarez plenty to think about over the course of the contest. But ‘Canelo’ is the consensus pound-for-pound number one for a reason, and he knocked Plant down twice in a dramatic eleventh stanza on the way to a stoppage victory. Once again, the generational talent had met a fellow champion and triumphed inside the distance. ‘Canelo’ could now add undisputed super middleweight champion to his extraordinary resume.
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is The Sportsman Boxer Of The Year because what he achieved in 2021 will go down in the history of the sport. Not only that, the manner in which he accomplished it was simply mesmerising. Three stoppage wins and two title triumphs over unbeaten world champions. 2021 was truly the year of ‘Canelo’. With a shock move to cruiserweight on the cards for 2022, few would bet against next year being defined by the superb Mexican either.