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‘Fighting Words’ — For Canelo Alvarez, Three Down and More Lining Up

09
Nov

In 11 months, in three fights, in 31 rounds, Canelo Alvarez defeated all three of the super middleweight titleholders, won all four of their world titles, and became the one and only undisputed champion ever at 168 pounds.

It’s impressive to think about what has just occurred — how he was victorious, even more than who he had vanquished.

It’s impossible not to wonder what will come next — who will challenge him next, and whether they will present more of a challenge than these three who came before them.

The roles will change.

In the coming months, in his upcoming fights, in every round, Canelo Alvarez will no longer be the conquering hero arriving in a new land, running roughshod over the previous rulers who foolishly thought they could retain their titles and remain in control of their own territory.

This is Canelo’s kingdom now.

Now he’ll fend off challengers in order to maintain his reign. There will be hungry upstarts who’ve never tasted defeat, who want what he has, and who think they have what it takes to, well, take it. And there may also be an old rival with a score to settle.

One thing remains the same, however. If Canelo wants to hold onto his throne, he will have to do so with a combination of cunning and force.

These past 11 months were fun for boxing fans. Canelo Alvarez set an ambitious goal with an ambitious timeline. The fights, unlike so much of what happens in boxing too often, actually came together. The results seemed highly likely (Canelo is great) but were never wholly certain (his opponents were good). Even if you believed that Canelo defeating Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant absolutely would happen, you were curious to see how it would happen.

The fun isn’t over.

Just because a fighter is the undisputed champion doesn’t mean his work is done. Canelo hasn’t quite cleaned out the division. There is a top contender who deserves a shot, rising prospects who may soon be ready for their own chances, and aging veterans who want to be king — or at least the payday that comes if they can’t seize the crown jewels.

There’s also the alluring possibility that Canelo could try to expand his dominion into another division, to add to his already impressive list of accomplishments.

He was the lineal champion at 160 and isn’t just lineal, but is also undisputed at 168. He held world titles at 154. He made a brief foray into the 175-pound weight class and captured a belt there as well when he knocked out Sergey Kovalev.

Perhaps Canelo will see light heavyweight as another land that cannot stand up to his calculated strategies and precision strikes. Or perhaps he will over-extend himself, the same hubris that proved to be the downfall of so many others, whether we’re talking about fighters or empires.

We’ll have to wait a bit to find out what Canelo’s next move will be. After Saturday’s triumph, an 11th-round technical knockout over Plant, Canelo said he would take some time off and return to the ring in May 2022. An opponent would of course be announced at least two months ahead of time.

That four months of rest until the next training camp seems a deserving break after this campaign.

Canelo has actually fought four times since December 2020.

He unseated Smith, the previous lineal champ, winning a dominant unanimous decision and picking up two world titles in the process.

Canelo returned just 10 weeks later in what was somewhat a keep-busy fight, but was rather intended to get a pesky obligation out of the way in the way that one might swat a bug. Canelo dispatched mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim with ease in nine minutes.

Ten weeks after that, Canelo was in with Billy Joe Saunders, adding a third super middleweight title by breaking Saunders’ face for an eighth-round stoppage.

The fight with Plant took some additional negotiation to bring to fruition. So six months after beating Saunders, Canelo shared the ring with Plant with every prize on the table. Plant had the remaining sanctioning body belt. The winner would leave with all four, plus The Ring’s championship, plus the lineage, wholly undisputed.

That’s as many fights over the course of 11 months as some fighters will have in the span of two years. In some cases, that’s more than they’ll do. And that’s just talking about the quantity of fights. The quality is commendable as well.

Some will find ways to critique Smith, Saunders and Plant, picking them apart with words like Canelo did with punches.

They could say that Smith hadn’t looked good in his previous performance against John Ryder, hadn’t fought in nearly 13 months, hadn’t beaten enough good opponents to entrench himself as the top guy at 168, and wasn’t long for 168 anymore, was perhaps drained from making weight. Indeed, Smith went up to 175 after the loss to Canelo.

They could argue that Saunders hadn’t beaten anyone of note at super middleweight and occasionally fought down to his level of opposition. And they could contend that Plant was also unproven against the upper tier of fighters, that this was a case of Plant stepping up against Canelo.

Most wins for most fighters can be picked apart in some fashion. The fact is that Smith, Saunders and Plant were the three titleholders and three of the top guys at 168. The fact is that no one had beaten any of them before Canelo did. The fact is that nobody else was even attempting to do what Canelo did.

And what Canelo did came despite him giving up height, despite him facing opponents who may walk around heavier than him, and despite him facing two foes in Saunders and Plant who could’ve made things stylistically difficult by boxing and evading him. Neither could avoid him all fight. Each felt his power. And soon after they did, the fight was over.

What else should Canelo have done in these 11 months? Going for the undisputed championship was a proper endeavor. Defending it against top contenders is the next best thing. And it’s also the best next thing.

David Benavidez is the most deserving fighter currently at 168. Benavidez doesn’t have a world title anymore, but he seems a more difficult task than Smith, Saunders and Plant.

“El Bandera Roja” Benavidez could be much more than a red flag in Canelo’s path to greatness – Photo by Naoki Fukuda

He’s somehow still just 24 years old, approaching 25. Benavidez was 20 when he won a vacant world title against Ronald Gavril in 2017. He retained it in a rematch with Gavril in 2018 but was soon stripped of the belt after coming up positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition test.

In 2019, Benavidez regained the title by stopping Anthony Dirrell. Again, it was soon gone — and this time it was a deserving punishment. Benavidez came in nearly three pounds overweight for a fight with Roamer Angulo in August 2020 and dropped his title on the scales.

Benavidez scored a TKO over Angulo, returned earlier this year to do the same against Ronald Ellis, and is due to fight this coming Saturday in Phoenix. He was supposed to face former titleholder Jose Uzcategui — the guy Caleb Plant beat for a world title in 2019 — but Uzcategui tested positive for a banned substance. Instead, Benavidez will meet Kyrone Davis.

Benavidez has the height, power and combination punching that could make for a very interesting fight with Canelo. He also has unfinished business at 168 as a former world titleholder whose “former” didn’t come from defeat in the ring, but rather from self-sabotage outside of it.

And then there are a few current middleweight titleholders.

Jermall Charlo, who held a world title at 154 and now reigns at 160, is an intriguing opponent who brings speed and power, and whose charisma would make their fight even more marketable.

Less likely is Demetrius Andrade, whom Canelo straight-up dismissed when Andrade interrupted the post-fight press conference after Canelo beat Saunders. Andrade, also a two-division titleholder, is a very good boxer who looks excellent when he lets his hands go but tends to take his foot off the brakes and leave fans wanting more, and wanting better from him.

And then there’s Gennadiy Golovkin, who’s come the closest to beating Canelo — some argue that Golovkin deserved at least one of the decisions in their two fights — in the years since Floyd Mayweather Jr. handed Alvarez his first and only pro defeat. Their first fight, in September 2017, ended as a draw. Their rematch, a year later, saw Canelo win a narrow decision.

Golovkin is getting up in age at 39 (as much as it pains me to say it, given that I am days younger than him). He fought just once in 2020. He’s expected to return from another yearlong layoff for a unification bout with Ryota Murata this December. It might be best to wait to see how Golovkin looks in his next fight.

Back at 168, there’s another guy in his upper 30s, Anthony Dirrell, who’s not at all deserving when compared with the others, but who could be a keep-busy opponent if Canelo needs one. Dirrell is 37 and was coming off three disappointing performances — a close split technical decision win over Yildirim to win a vacant world title, a TKO loss to Benavidez to lose it, and then a surprising draw with the aforementioned Davis. Dirrell did return with a nice one-punch knockout on the Canelo-Plant undercard (more on that in The 10 Count below) and wants a title shot before he retires.

If Canelo wants to remain at or around super middleweight for some time, there may be some more contenders who’ll be ready for him in the coming years. Those include guys like David Morrell (a top amateur who’s farther along than his 5-0 pro record would otherwise indicate), Carlos Gongora (20-0) and Christian Mbilli (19-0).

Becoming the true champion of a division is quite a feat. Longevity atop a weight class is even more impressive.

But the temptation awaiting him at 175 may motivate him more.

There is Dmitry Bivol, who holds one light heavyweight title and has spoken before of wanting to face Canelo, and even of being willing to drop down in weight to face him. Bivol is being called out by former 168-pound titleholder Gilberto Ramirez, who now campaigns in the 175-pound division.

And there’s Artur Beterbiev, who has two belts at 175 and is the consensus top guy. Beterbiev first has to get by a defense this December against former titleholder Marcus Browne.

That is quite an array of options for Canelo. The best thing about those options is that none is seemingly off the table.

Canelo remains a promotional free agent who continued to work with broadcaster DAZN and promoter Matchroom Sport through the Saunders fight, and who got together with Premier Boxing Champions and Showtime for this match with Plant.

Nothing is stopping any of these fights from being made. The only question is whether any of these fighters can stop Canelo’s winning streak.

It wasn’t Smith, Saunders or Plant. Those three went down. More are about to step up to the plate.

The 10 Count

1 – If you missed Mikaela Mayer’s fight on Friday against Maiva Hamadouche, find some time to watch a highly enjoyable 10-rounder that was much more competitive than the scorecards would indicate.They brawled in the center of the ring from the opening bell. They would continue to exchange heavy blows and hard combinations. Mayer adjusted, boxed more from a distance, invested to the body, and won more exchanges when in close range. But Hamadouche just kept on coming.

Mayer unified two junior lightweight title belts with the decision win, and she also picked up the inaugural Ring junior lightweight belt. The scores were wide, 100-90, 99-91 and 98-92, leaving Hamadouche, her promoter, the commentators and viewers upset afterward, which added another storyline beyond what had just occurred.

“I don’t want to talk about the scorecards,” said ESPN’s Timothy Bradley after this fight, and also presumably after his first fight with Manny Pacquiao.

I didn’t score the fight live and have yet to go back to watch it again.

It’s wholly possible to have 10 competitive rounds and still have a wide decision. However, the shutout score for Mayer seems a stretch. I do recall there being several rounds that could’ve gone either way. What people are upset about is that the judges seemed to give Mayer the benefit in almost all of those rounds.

A rematch would be lovely. Talk afterward also went to Mayer challenging the undisputed lightweight champ, Katie Taylor. I’d love for either Mayer or Hamadouche to share a ring with unified featherweight titleholder Amanda Serrano.

Mayer is one of a handful of female fighters with true star power and potential in boxing today – Photo by Mikey Williams / Top Rank

2 – There wasn’t much of a draw to the televised undercard of Canelo Alvarez vs. Caleb Plant, though this was far from the first time that a top-heavy pay-per-view either had lesser names competing on the undercard and/or notable names taking part in mismatches.

The show opened with a pair of 140-pound prospects who didn’t have significant name recognition: Juan Pablo Romero (who came in with a record of 14-0 and 9 KOs) and Elvis Rodriguez (11-1-1 with 10 KOs).

It continued with the return of Rey Vargas (34-0, 22 KOs coming in), once a junior featherweight titleholder, now debuting in the 126-pound division. He hadn’t fought in nearly 28 months, and his last outing against Tomoki Kameda hadn’t exactly thrilled viewers.

Vargas’ opponent was Leonardo Baez, who couldn’t even charitably be described as a contender or a prospect. Baez was a keep-busy opponent with a record of 21-4 (12 KOs), who had been stopped twice recently at and around bantamweight, and whose three wins since had come against foes with records of 3-36-2, 16-19-4 and 5-27-2.

And few were clamoring to see Anthony Dirrell (33-2-2 with 24 KOs coming in) in the co-featured slot. Dirrell, 37, was coming off a surprising draw against Kyrone Davis this past March and a TKO loss to David Benavidez back in 2019. He was in with Marcos Hernandez, 15-4-2 with 3 KOs.

Nearly everyone was likely buying this show for the main event. Some pay-per-views may need a strong undercard to convince those who are on the fence about purchasing it. This wasn’t one of them. The undercard wasn’t going to be a selling point.

The entire broadcast was enjoyable nevertheless.

Romero and Rodriguez kicked off the broadcast with an entertaining battle. Rodriguez dropped Romero twice to score a fifth-round KO, giving Romero his first defeat. For Rodriguez, it was a nice bounce back from a decision loss earlier this year, the first blemish on his record, and one that led to his promoter releasing him. The fight was reminiscent of something we might see on ShoBox — and that’s a compliment.

Vargas won a one-sided fight with Baez. It wasn’t overly competitive or compelling, though it wasn’t dreary either. The Showtime broadcast team made a point of the fact that Vargas wasn’t able to stop Baez. I think that might be unfair. While Baez was coming up two weight classes from when he suffered his previous KO losses, it’s wholly possible that he was sturdier now at 126.

It won’t happen given promotional alliances, but I’d love to see Vargas against Emanuel Navarrete. What is more possible, and also appealing, is Vargas against Leo Santa Cruz. There’s continued talk about Vargas challenging featherweight titleholder Gary Russell Jr.

By the time Dirrell and Hernandez made their way to the ring, it was approaching 11pm on the East Coast. Dirrell got things over with quickly and in highlight-reel fashion, stopping Hernandez with a single uppercut in Round 4.

3 – Anthony Dirrell’s fourth-round knockout of Marcos Hernandez was doubly impressive.

First, there was the beauty of his counter right uppercut, thrown as Dirrell realized that Hernandez was doubling up on the jab, throwing from a more squared up stance and leaving his chin exposed.

(The only thing that could’ve made it better is if Dirrell had gone fully Ryu from Street Fighter II and yelled out “Shoryuken!” — and then “YOU WIN” had appeared in big letters on-screen.)

Second, there was the self-control Dirrell showed to not follow-through with his follow-up right hand, which would’ve landed just after Hernandez dropped to one knee on his way down to the canvas.

4 – I love me a good uppercut knockdown or knockout, and we’ve been treated to plenty in recent memory, including (but not limited to):

5 – As Showtime noted leading up to Canelo Alvarez vs. Caleb Plant, the winner would be only the sixth undisputed champion in men’s boxing in the four-belt era.

The other five are Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Terence Crawford, Oleksandr Usyk and Josh Taylor. In women’s boxing, I believe there are only four: Cecilia Braekhus, Claressa Shields, Jessica McCaskill (who beat Braekhus) and Katie Taylor.

I think Teofimo Lopez deserves inclusion, though I can understand the arguments against it.

When Lopez defeated Vasiliy Lomachenko last year — yes, it’s now been nearly 13 months since Lopez last fought — he unified his own IBF world title with Lomachenko’s WBA and WBO belts. He also usurped Lomachenko’s status as the WBC “Franchise Champion,” because that’s somehow a thing.

This requires a little bit of explanation.

The World Boxing Council created the designation ostensibly to give titleholders more flexibility, but also likely because having multiple titleholders in a division allows for more sanctioning fees to be levied. Per the WBC, a titleholder must request to be named the “Franchise Champion,” and they will then have “special status with respect to his or her mandatory obligations, holding multiple titles and competing for titles of other organizations.”

In 2019, Lomachenko asked to be named the WBC’s lightweight “Franchise Champion.” That led to Devin Haney, the organization’s interim beltholder, being elevated to full titleholder.

That’s where the debate comes in. The opposing viewpoint is summed up well by BoxingScene’s Jake “Jazz Hands of Stone” Donovan:

“Devin Haney was the mandatory challenger. Vasiliy/Top Rank cashed in the title rather than face him,” Donovan recently tweeted. “This doesn’t need to be any harder than the sanctioning bodies already make it.”

From my perspective, the Lomachenko-Haney situation wasn’t any different than a fighter petitioning to have a unification match rather than take on his mandatory obligation first. The WBC just did a WBC thing and has another name for it, because the WBC.

And that, to me, is where the way we treat the WBA’s many title belts provides some guidance.

Oleksandr Usyk is part of the exclusive four-belt club

For too long, the WBA has tended to have one fighter with its “super” world title and another fighter in the same division with a regular one (we won’t even get into the “interim” and “gold” titleholders). In those situations, we at The Ring have often considered the “super” titleholder to be the primary beltholder, and the “regular” titleholder to have a secondary belt.

I think the “Franchise Champion” is the primary guy for the WBC. Lomachenko was the man while Haney was the secondary “interim” beltholder. The names of their titles changed. The order of their importance shouldn’t. This wasn’t a case of a fighter being named “champion in recess” or “champion emeritus.”

Lopez should be considered undisputed at 135. That doesn’t mean his work in the division is done.

6 – Of course, this could all be easily resolved in one of two scenarios:

The WBC stops doing this kind of bullshit…

…or Lopez and Haney finally go beyond talking shit and actually get in the ring with each other.

7 – That all depends on how much longer Teofimo Lopez sticks around at lightweight.

And that’s if Lopez can still make lightweight.

He’d spoken in the past about wanting to move up to 140. He’s young at just 24 years old and will likely continue to fill out as he ages. Then again, Lopez has also been working with nutritionists. Both he and his manager say making 135 has been easier since then.

When Lopez finally steps in the ring with George Kambosos Jr. later this month after far too much drama and far too many delays, it will essentially be his third weight cut for one fight.

Lopez was in the process of making weight in June when the fight was canceled just days beforehand due to Teofimo testing positive for COVID-19.

And then the fighters were in camp for an October date that ended up not happening.

Maybe that last postponement means making weight will be easier for November 27. It’s likely that the fighters gave themselves a brief break from training, didn’t pack on pounds like they normally would between bouts, and will be in even better shape.

We’ll find out in less than three weeks.

8 – Canelo vs. Caleb Plant was also the eighth titleholder vs. titleholder fight this year in men’s and women’s boxing, according to boxing writer Lee Groves (via his CompuBox colleague, Dan Canobbio).

The other seven are, in chronological order: Claressa Shields vs. Marie Eve Dicaire; Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Roman Gonzalez; Canelo Alvarez vs. Billy Joe Saunders; Josh Taylor vs. Jose Ramirez; Jermell Charlo vs. Brian Castano; Chantelle Cameron vs. Mary McGee; and Mikaela Mayer vs. Maiva Hamadouche.

Junior featherweight titleholders Brandon Figueroa and Stephen Fulton will face off on November 27. Middleweight titleholders Gennadiy Golovkin and Ryota Murata are expected to meet on December 29. (An end-of-year fight between 115-pound titleholders Kazuto Ioka and Jerwin Ancajas is in discussions but hasn’t been made official yet.)

Kali Reis, who holds the WBA junior welterweight title, will defend against Jessica Camara on November 19. It’s not titleholder vs. titleholder, though the winner will pick up a vacant WBO belt and leave as a unified titlist.

9 –  Returning to Triller, the company will be putting on a show on November 27 — and taking a calculated risk that its product will be different enough from the two boxing broadcasts (Teofimo Lopez vs. George Kambosos Jr., Brandon Figueroa vs. Stephen Fulton) that day.

It’s definitely quite different and reaching a different audience. Having your own niche is a wise idea. In this case, the niche is boxers competing against mixed martial artists.

Here’s their marketing language, via a press release:

“TRIAD COMBAT is a revolutionary, new combat team sport which incorporates boxing and MMA rules in an aggressive, fast-paced manner with the fighters competing in a specially designed triangular ring over two-minute rounds featuring professional boxers competing against professional mixed martial arts fighters. The specific motto of leveling the playing field between the two sports utilizing crossover gloves and with holding allowed is meant to offer boxing and MMA fighters an even battleground where neither opponent has a greater advantage.”

Among the names announced for separate fights are former UFC heavyweight champ Frank Mir, boxing heavyweight contender Kubrat Pulev, and former UFC 170-pounder “Platinum” Mike Perry.

The pay-per-view will cost about $30. That’s not too high a cost for morbid curiosity. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I go on first dates…

10 – The Triller pay-per-view will also feature a performance by Metallica, which is kinda fitting.

Triller Hit The Lights and and decided to Jump In The Fire with its debut last year featuring Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones.

Then Triller sought to Seek and Destroy by entering more traditional boxing promotion, aka Damage Inc., to Fight Fire With Fire by putting in a very high purse bid for Teofimo Lopez vs. George Kambosos, thinking No Remorse was the right Attitude.

Its executive, Ryan Kavanaugh, tried to be Prince Charming but came off Holier Than Thou, a Cure for boxing’s ills.

Triller wanted to be the Hero of the Day but wound up a Leper Messiah.

There were the postponements of Lopez vs. Kambosos and eventual default, a Struggle Within that gave Triller plenty of Frustration and a bad case of Whiplash after they got Through the Never. That was Unforgiven.

They were Unforgiven II after Oscar De La Hoya contracted COVID-19 ahead of a fight with Vitor Belfort. Like Some Kind of Monster, Triller brought in Evander Holyfield instead, a Frantic decision resulting from the Frayed Ends of Sanity, as if aging legends were mere Disposable Heroes. That show was The Thing That Should Not Be, a travesty that left Triller seen as a Bad Seed.

Nothing Else Matters to Triller’s detractors now. The Memory Remains of what happened in 2021. They want to see the company Fade to Black and hit The End of the Line.

Triller seems Hardwired to Self-Destruct. It’s Sad but True…

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.

 

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