Canelo Alvarez-Sergey Kovalev – From middleweight glory to light heavyweight history
Reigning middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez makes the bold move up in weight to challenge WBO light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday, live on DAZN.
Canelo, who is The Ring Magazine champion at middleweight, has campaigned above the 160-pound limit on two occasions. The Mexican superstar dominated countryman Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. over 12 rounds in a 164.5-pound catchweight contest in May 2017 and scored a third-round stoppage of Rocky Fielding in a super middleweight bout last December.
The 29-year-old from Guadalajara now bids to become the 10th middleweight titleholder to win a portion of the light heavyweight championship and the first to do so as reigning middleweight champion.
Here we look at the illustrious list of fighters that successfully made the same leap:
Bob Fitzsimmons: Middleweight (1891-95) Light Heavyweight (1903-05) – The Brit held the middleweight championship for over four years before relinquishing it and moving north to heavyweight. He took the title from James J. Corbett but lost it in his first defense to James J. Jeffries. Fitzsimmons elected to drop to 175 pounds and outpointed George Gardner over 20 rounds to become the first man in boxing history to win world titles in three weight divisions.
Dick Tiger: Middleweight (1962-63, 1963, 1965-66) Light Heavyweight (1966-68) – Dick Tiger (real name Richard Ihetu) didn’t take up boxing until he was 19. He suffered early setbacks but improved dramatically to win the middleweight championship on three occasions. Tiger beat the likes of Gene Fullmer and Joey Giardello, but following a controversial points loss to Emile Griffith, he moved north to 175 pounds. A 3-1 underdog, at 37 years of age, Tiger outpointed Jose Torres to win the light heavyweight championship. He made three successful defenses before suffering a shuddering knockout defeat to Bob Foster.
Thomas Hearns: Middleweight (1987-88) Light Heavyweight (1987, 1991-92) – Hearns won world titles at welterweight and junior middleweight but lost to middleweight king Marvelous Marvin Hagler in their three-round war in 1985. Two years later, “The Hitman” incredibly stepped all the way up to 175 pounds to stop WBC titleholder Dennis Andries for his third divisional triumph. Middleweight glory finally arrived when Hearns dropped 15 pounds to score a fourth-round knockout over Argentinian dangerman Juan Domingo Roldon to claim the vacant WBC title. Hearns later won another belt at light heavyweight, stunning pre-fight favorite Virgil Hill over 12 rounds.
Sugar Ray Leonard: Middleweight (1987) Light Heavyweight (1988) – “The Sugarman” won gold at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and enjoyed a star-studded professional career, collecting world titles at welterweight and junior middleweight before retiring for three years due to a detached retina. In his middleweight debut, with just one fight in five years, Leonard once again displayed his greatness by scoring a 12-round split decision over the great Marvelous Marvin Hagler. The following year, Leonard in an unprecedented move, past or present, fought for both the vacant WBC super middleweight and WBC light heavyweight titles, stopping Donny Lalonde in nine rounds.
Iran Barkley: Middleweight (1988-89) Light Heavyweight (1992) – Barkley lost in his first middleweight title attempt, dropping a decision to Sumbu Kalambay in the fall of 1987. The following year, “The Blade” met Thomas Hearns, a 4-1 favorite, and was on the verge of defeat when he produced a stunning third-round stoppage. This result was later voted The Ring Magazine “Upset of the Year”. Barkley would lose to Roberto Duran in his first defense but won a super middleweight belt before challenging Hearns in a rematch for the WBA light heavyweight crown. The aggressor throughout, Barkley scored the only knockdown en route to a 12-round split decision win.
Mike McCallum: Middleweight (1989-91) Light Heavyweight (1994-95) – McCallum will go down as one of the best junior middleweights in boxing history, making six defenses of his WBA belt before moving up to middleweight. He lost his first world title attempt to Sumbu Kalambay in 1988 but rebounded to claim the vacant WBA title, edging Herol Graham of England in 1989. He made three defenses but was stripped ahead of what should have been a unification clash with James Toney in 1991. “The Bodysnatcher” skipped super middleweight and took the WBC 175-pound title from Jeff Harding before losing it in his second defense to Fabrice Tiozzo.
Roy Jones Jr.: Middleweight (1993-94) Light Heavyweight (1997, 1997-2003, 2003-04) – The gifted Jones was a sight to behold at 160 pounds, as evidenced by a dominant decision win over Bernard Hopkins to claim the vacant IBF title. Following one successful defense, Jones took a super middleweight belt from James Toney and later settled at 175 pounds. During his first reign, he was disqualified for striking Montel Griffin when he was down but Jones quickly regained and went on to unify the WBA and IBF titles, making 11 total defenses. He abdicated his throne, sought out heavyweight glory and dropped back down to 175 pounds to take the WBC belt from Antonio Tarver via controversial decision.
Reggie Johnson: Middleweight (1992-93) Light Heavyweight (1998-1999) – Johnson gave James Toney all he could handle in his first middleweight title attempt, dropping “Lights Out” in the second round before losing a 12-round split decision. Just 10 months later, Johnson edged Irishman Steve Collins to annex the vacant WBA title and made three successful defences before losing to John David Jackson. The Houston native twice tried to regain his belt but dropped a pair of split decisions to Jorge Castro in Argentina. Following a two-year layoff, Johnson returned as a light heavyweight and was soon served up as an opponent for big-punching William “Kid Chocolate” Guthrie. Johnson had other ideas, however and knocked out the IBF titleholder with a stunning right hook. He made two successful defenses before losing to a prime Roy Jones Jr.
Bernard Hopkins: Middleweight (1995-2005) Light Heavyweight (2006-08, 2011-12, 2013-14) – Following a decision loss to Roy Jones Jr., Hopkins picked up the vacant IBF title by stopping Segundo Mercado. Over the course of his title reign, he would unify WBA, WBC and WBO versions and made a record 20 defenses. There were defining stoppage wins over Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad, but a brace of controversial decision losses to Jermain Taylor forced “The Executioner” up to 175 pounds. The great Hopkins outclassed Ring Magazine champion Antonio Tarver and later captured a series of 175-pound title belts by outpointing Jean Pascal, Tavoris Cloud and Beibut Shumenov. He remains the oldest fighter in boxing history to capture a recognized world title, at the age of 49.
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