Canelo Alvarez-Callum Smith: When Ring Magazine Champions collide
Unfortunately for present-day fight fans, it’s all too rare an occurrence for the best to fight the best in any of the 17 (soon to be 18) weight divisions. Promoter and network alliance frequently gets in the way and the sport suffers terribly as a result. Rarer still, however, is a matchup between Ring Magazine champions.
On Saturday, Callum Smith will defend his Ring Magazine and WBA super middleweight titles against Canelo Alvarez, who is still recognized as The Ring middleweight champion. The vacant WBC 168-pound title will also be on the line in this high-stakes showdown at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Smith (27-0, 19 knockouts) won the vacant 168-pound championship courtesy of a seventh-round knockout of George Groves in the final of the World Boxing Super Series in September 2018. The 6-foot-3 boxer-puncher from Liverpool, England has since scored a third-round stoppage over Hassan N’Dam and claimed a close – many say controversial – decision win over John Ryder.
Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KOs) won the vacant 160-pound Ring Magazine championship thanks to a thrilling 12-round majority decision win over Gennadiy Golovkin, also in September 2018. The reigning pound-for-pound king has been all over the scales since, defeating Rocky Fielding at super middleweight, Daniel Jacobs at middleweight and Sergey Kovalev at light heavyweight. The Mexican star now returns to 168 pounds in search of authentic treasure in a fourth weight class.
The following is a look back at 19 occasions, over the past 82 years, where Ring Magazine champions have faced off. Suffice to say that Callum Smith and Canelo Alvarez are in good company:
Tony Canzoneri (Lightweight) KO 3 Jack “Kid” Berg (Junior Welterweight)
Date/ Venue: April 24, 1931/ Chicago Stadium
The junior welterweight division was still in its infancy and lightly regarded, but this bout marked the first occasion where Ring Magazine champions faced off. Canzoneri, a former featherweight titleholder, took the lightweight crown from Al Singer in November 1930 via first-round knockout. Only five months later, he would square off against Berg for the 140-pound title, although both men weighed in comfortably inside the 135-pound limit. Canzoneri dominated the first two sessions en route to a shuddering third-round knockout, avenging an earlier points defeat in the process. Five months later, Berg bounced back to win the rubber match by decision.
Henry Armstrong (Featherweight) UD 15 Barney Ross (Welterweight)
Date/ Venue: May 31, 1938, Madison Square Garden Bowl, Long Island City, Queens, New York
Yes, when Armstrong squared off against the welterweight king, Ross, he was still recognized as the featherweight champion of the world. And, incredibly, it was the smaller man who prevailed in this battle of all-time greats. Armstrong had lifted the 126-pound crown from Peter Sarron in October 1937 and followed up with 14 wins (13 inside the distance) in non-title bouts. Ross had reigned as lightweight and welterweight champion (and also held the junior welterweight title) during his career, but he was no match for the rampaging Armstrong, who claimed a lopsided unanimous decision. The challenger weighed in two pounds short of the lightweight limit at 133 pounds and the champion was 142. Ross never fought again, retiring with a record of 72-4-3 (22 knockouts).
Henry Armstrong (Featherweight/ Welterweight) SD 15 Lou Ambers (Lightweight)
Date/ Venue: August 17, 1938/ Madison Square Garden, New York
This matchup is historical for two reasons. Firstly, Armstrong came into the fight as a double-weight world titleholder and was attempting to win his third. Second, this was simply one of the greatest prizefights of all time. Ambers was a lightweight legend, who held wins over Tony Canzoneri, Baby Arizmendi and Pedro Montanez, among others. He was therefore completely unfazed by Homicide Hank’s formidable reputation and fierce fighting style. Ambers more than matched his foe in several astonishing exchanges, and despite falling behind on points, his punches took a toll on the habitually bulletproof Armstrong. Ambers closed brilliantly in the late rounds and his opponent was visibly exhausted at the final bell. Armstrong, however, was declared the winner and made history by becoming the only fighter ever to hold three divisional championships simultaneously. The feat will never be matched. Ambers avenged the loss on points the following year.
Sugar Ray Robinson (Welterweight) TKO 13 Jake LaMotta (Middleweight)
Date/ Venue: February 14, 1951/ Chicago Stadium
The stunning savagery of this encounter led to the bout being named after the infamous “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” that saw seven members and associates of the North Side Gang shot to death by a rival faction in Chicago in 1929. The boxing rivalry between “Sugar Ray” and “The Bronx Bull” was now in its ninth year and Robinson led the series 4-1. LaMotta, who handed Robinson his first pro defeat, had picked up the middleweight championship from an injured Marcel Cerdan in 1949 and knocked out Laurent Dauthuille with just 13 seconds remaining in a title defense that he was losing on points. The sixth installment of the Robinson-La Motta feud followed the familiar pattern of their previous encounters with LaMotta attempting to close the distance and tear up his foe on the inside, while Robinson looked to slash up the target with jabs and combinations at distance. By the 13th round, LaMotta had paid the price for getting inside so many times that he required referee Frank Sikora to rescue him from himself.
Ezzard Charles (Heavyweight) UD 15 Joey Maxim (Light Heavyweight)
Date/ Venue: May 30, 1951/ Chicago Stadium
One of the greatest light heavyweights of all time, Charles, inexplicably, did not secure world title glory until he reached heavyweight. After receiving partial recognition as champion in some states, The Ring finally installed “The Cincinnati Cobra” as glamour division king following his 15-round thrashing of an aging Joe Louis. Charles followed that with a points win over Jersey Joe Walcott before taking on reigning light heavyweight king Maxim, who he’d beaten three times before. This was a dominant win for Charles, who also scored a fifth and final decision victory over his old rival in December 1951.
Joey Maxim (Light Heavyweight) RTD 13 Sugar Ray Robinson (Middleweight)
Date/ Venue: June 25, 1952/ Yankee Stadium, New York
Having established himself as the finest pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Robinson continually pushed the envelope in terms of career goals. There was even talk of him challenging Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight crown in the late 1950s. As it turned out, however, the light heavyweight division proved to be a bridge too far. Weighing 157.5 pounds to Maxim’s 173, Robinson banked rounds more rounds that night, but the champion’s underrated pressure combined with the scorching heat wore Robinson to a frazzle. The sweltering conditions led to referee Ruby Goldstein being replaced in Round 10 and a dangerously dehydrated Robinson was pulled out of the fight after the 13th.
Rocky Marciano (Heavyweight) KO 9 Archie Moore (Light Heavyweight)
Date/ Venue: September 21, 1955/ Yankee Stadium, New York
Moore was three years into an incredible decade-long reign as light heavyweight champion when he challenged Marciano for the ultimate prize. The challenger got off to a fantastic start, dropping “The Rock” with a perfect counter right in the second round, but then things went south. The legendary Marciano immediately began to exert the type of suffocating pressure for which he was renowned and Moore simply couldn’t keep up the pace. The defending champion scored three knockdowns before putting “The Old Mongoose” down for the count in the ninth round. This was the final fight of Marciano’s illustrious career.
Carmen Basilio (Welterweight) SD 15 Sugar Ray Robinson (Middleweight)
Date/ Venue: September 23, 1957/ Yankee Stadium, New York
Despite his advancing years, the 36-year-old Robinson was coming off one of his most spectacular career triumphs; a chilling fifth-round one-punch knockout of the habitually durable Gene Fullmer. The great Sugar Ray was now middleweight champion for the fourth time, but a new challenge quickly emerged in the form of Basilio, a rugged two-time welterweight champion from Canastota, New York. The challenger had the reputation of being almost impossible to discourage and that was certainly the case on fight night. Basilio’s work rate and aggression bested Robinson’s superior skills and speed in what was named The Ring Magazine Fight of the Year.
Emile Griffith (Welterweight) UD 15 Dick Tiger (Middleweight)
Date/ Venue: April 25, 1966/ Madison Square Garden, New York
Dominant as a three-time welterweight champion and having added the inaugural junior middleweight title to his collection, the legendary Griffith only had place to go. Tiger’s patchy record of 53-16-3 belied his excellent quality and status as a two-time middleweight champion, but the former hatmaker from the Virgin Islands sought more glory. The bout was closely contested, although the smaller Griffith did manage to knock Tiger off his feet for the first time in his career with a beautifully timed right hand in Round 9. Both men had their moments for the remainder of the contest, but when the decision was announced in favor of Griffith, the Madison Square Garden crowd booed incessantly.
Joe Frazier (Heavyweight) KO 2 Bob Foster (Light Heavyweight)
Date/ Venue: November 18, 1970/ Cobo Arena, Detroit
More than a decade before Mackie Shilstone could help athletes bulk up and retain their physical gifts, light heavyweight legend Foster would eat an extra meal or two and take on the big men. He came into this fight as the undisputed champion at 175 pounds with four successful title defenses to his credit, however, that didn’t help him against a prime Smokin’ Joe, who scored two knockdowns with his patented left hook, the second of which rendered Foster unconscious. The super-powerful Frazier, at 209 pounds, had a 21-pound weight advantage, and it was a huge relief when the challenger regained his senses. This one could have ended a lot worse than it did.
Carlos Monzon (Middleweight) RTD 6 Jose Napoles (Welterweight)
Date/ Venue: February 9, 1974/ Puteaux, France
Napoles was a two-time undisputed welterweight champion with nine title defenses to his credit and a resume that included victories over Curtis Cokes, Emile Griffith, Billy Backus and Hedgemon Lewis, among others. The Mexico-based Cuban was a sublime talent and a welterweight legend when he challenged fellow-great Monzon. The Argentinian powerhouse was equally dominant in his own division, however, having defended the undisputed championship eight times in three years. Despite the class being comparable, Monzon’s strength and power proved decisive in the fight. He battered Napoles in the fifth and sixth rounds and forced trainer Angelo Dundee to pull his fighter out before the start of the seventh.
Sugar Ray Leonard (Welterweight) KO 9 Ayub Kalule (Junior Middleweight)
Date/ Venue: June 25, 1981/ Astrodome, Houston
This was Leonard’s first big fight since his “No Mas” revenge triumph over Roberto Duran in New Orleans seven months earlier. It also took place immediately before his first battle with fellow welterweight titleholder Thomas Hearns, and The Hitman’s appearance on the card (a fourth-round stoppage of Pablo Baez) was intended to whet the appetite. Imagine that! Leonard essentially moved up to 154 pounds to challenge an unbeaten southpaw with a 36-0 record and four successful title defenses with one eye on an undisputed title at 147 pounds. Those were the days! It wasn’t vintage Leonard, but he was always in control, and found the punches to finish Kalule in the ninth.
Aaron Pryor (Junior Welterweight) TKO 14 Alexis Arguello (Lightweight)
Date/ Venue: November 12, 1982/ Orange Bowl, Miami
Arguello had already annexed world titles at featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight, when he made the audacious choice of challenging for Pryor’s junior welterweight championship. The goal was to become boxing’s first four-weight conqueror, and while he fell short of achieving that goal, the fans were treated to one of the greatest fights of all time. Pryor went on the attack from the opening bell, his relentless assaults and superior physicality carrying the day through the first half of the fight. Slowly, however, the tide began to turn and Arguello’s superior craft proved eye-catching enough to narrow the gap. However, an astonishing burst by Pryor early in Round 14 led to referee Stan Christodoulou jumping in to rescue the stricken Arguello, who slowly collapsed to the canvas.
Michael Spinks (Light Heavyweight) UD 15 Larry Holmes (Heavyweight)
Date/ Venue: September 21, 1985/ Riviera Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
You’re heavyweight champ, 48-0 and just one win shy of equaling the record 49-0 mark set by predecessor Rocky Marciano. What do you do to guarantee success in your next fight? How about accept a lucrative matchup against a much smaller man with a big name? It seemed like a good idea at the time. Holmes, who had showed his age in one or two prior outings, struggled with the funky style of the reigning light heavyweight champion. Spinks, unlike Foster and Moore, did have fitness guru Mackie Shilstone on side to supervise a functional 25-pound weight gain, and his jab, agility and quick raids offset “The Easton Assassin.” It was close, but at the end of 15 rounds Spinks had made history by becoming the first reigning 175-pound titlist to claim heavyweight gold.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler (Middleweight) KO 3 Thomas Hearns (Junior Middleweight)
Date/ Venue: April 15, 1985/ Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
Has a fight ever had a more apt moniker? “The War” set the gold standard 35 years ago and for many it has never been equaled. Hearns dethroned the great Wilfredo Benitez on points to pick up the junior middleweight title and almost decapitated the legendary Roberto Duran (KO 2) in his most high-profile title defense. Conversely, Hagler had struggled with the impeccable ring craft of Duran and claimed a close decision, so many felt that middleweight glory was well within Hearns’ reach. But with the echo of the opening bell still hanging in the air, “The Marvelous One” attacked “The Hitman” like a dog and never stopped. It was the greatest first round ever contested but its cumulative effect sucked more from the challenger than it did the champion. Hagler closed the show with a brutal onslaught in Round 3.
Floyd Mayweather (Welterweight) TKO 10 Ricky Hatton (Junior Welterweight)
Date/ Venue: December 8, 2007/ MGM Grand, Las Vegas
It’s difficult to overstate just how popular Ricky Hatton was during his peak years. The Manchester-based pressure-fighter was as personable as he was ferocious, and wins over Kostya Tszyu and Jose Luis Castillo, among others, made him a British superstar. Never one to shirk a challenge, Hatton, holder of The Ring title at 140 pounds, targeted pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather for ultimate glory. The Englishman dutifully applied the pressure, but Mayweather’s skills – as well as referee Joe Cortez’s frequent and untimely interventions – blunted his success. Despite the suspect officiating, Mayweather was just too good and closed the show with a brace of knockdowns in the 10th round to retain his welterweight championship.
Joe Calzaghe (Super Middleweight) SD 12 Bernard Hopkins (Light Heavyweight)
Date/ Venue: April 19, 2008/ Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
Calzaghe had everything pretty much his own way during a legendary run at 168 pounds that included 21 title defenses. Breakout wins over rival titleholders Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler vaulted the talented Welshman onto the pound-for-pound list, and the only goal left to accomplish was capturing a world championship in a second weight class. Hopkins brought The Ring title at 175 pounds to the party and scored a brilliantly timed right-hand knockdown in the opening round. Calzaghe, however, made the Philadelphia general work at a pace he didn’t like and his superior engine and punch output were key in pulling off a narrow victory on the scorecards.
Andre Ward (Super Middleweight) TKO 10 Chad Dawson (Light Heavyweight)
Date/ Venue: September 8, 2012/ Oracle Arena, Oakland
Dawson was coming off a career-best win over Bernard Hopkins, which saw him become a two-time light heavyweight titleholder and lay claim to The Ring championship. Ward, fresh off his Showtime Super Six final triumph over Carl Froch, was no less confident and entered the ring as the favorite. Crucially, the bout was contested at the 168-pound limit, which Dawson hadn’t operated within for six years. That did nothing for his cause. Ward scored three knockdowns and stopped his drained and depleted foe in the 10th. The Ring 175-pound title was not on the line, but Dawson lost that in his very next outing to Adonis Stevenson (KO 1).
Floyd Mayweather (Welterweight) MD 12 Canelo Alvarez (Junior Middleweight)
Date/ Venue: September 14, 2013/ MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Ding, ding, school’s in. Billed as a superfight, this battle of unbeaten champions quickly turned into a multi-million dollar boxing lesson. Mayweather was razor-sharp from the opening bell, and his sophisticated mix of speed, skill and ring craft bewildered Canelo throughout. This was arguably Mayweather’s finest ever display, but one of the judges, C. J. Ross, found a way to score the bout a draw. She never officiated a fight again. Mayweather held both championships until 2015 but wouldn’t make a defense of the junior middleweight crown.
Canelo-Smith, plus undercard action, will be streamed live by DAZN in the U.S. and in the U.K.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing