Canelo Alvarez is The Ring Fighter of the Year for 2021
After Canelo Alvarez drove Caleb Plant to the canvas for the second time in the 11th round with three brutal right hands to the head, and referee Russell Mora immediately waved off the fight, the pound-for-pound king raced across the ring and climbed the ropes in victory.
At ringside inside the sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on the electric night of November 6, Showtime blow-by-blow man Mauro Ranallo captured the moment with his call.
“The coronation is complete,” Ranallo roared. “All hail King Canelo! Viva Mexico’s first undisputed champion!”
Indeed, not only was Alvarez’s coronation complete as the first undisputed super middleweight world champion, and the first Mexican boxer to become an undisputed champion in any weight division in the three- or four-belt era, he also sealed the deal as the clear choice for The Ring’s 2021 Fighter of the Year, winning it for the second time.
“For me it’s an honor. Like I always say, I love boxing. I do this because I love boxing, and whatever is coming is an honor for me,” Alvarez told The Ring. “It’s a bonus for me because I love this sport. I respect this sport and I always try to do my best in boxing.
“I feel great. I feel blessed, because at the end of the day, I want to make history in my career. And so I feel blessed. I feel so good about this. This is the second, but I hope there are many more to come.”
Alvarez also won the award in 2019, a year in which he outpointed Daniel Jacobs to unify three middleweight world titles and then spectacularly knocked out Sergey Kovalev in the 11th round when he jumped up two divisions to win a light heavyweight belt.
Winning the prestigious award again will go a long way in leaving a mark on boxing history, something the 31-year-old Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 KOs) talks about on a regular basis, even while saying such accolades are not something he thinks about.
“Never,” Alvarez said. “I just focus on my fights and winning, and winning, and accomplishing the goals we have in front of us.”
While his path to the 2019 award came by beating significant opponents for titles in two weight classes, his goal in 2021 was different.
It was a year in which Alvarez had his mind set on achieving just one thing in one division – becoming the first undisputed champion in the 37-year-history of a 168-pound weight class that many greats have called home but who never could be called undisputed, including Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roy Jones Jr., James Toney, Joe Calzaghe, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Andre Ward, Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler and others.
Alvarez’s quest actually began in the waning days of 2020, when he easily outpointed Callum Smith to take the Englishman’s Ring championship and WBA belt as well as the vacant WBC title. He was now a four-weight world champion, and this blowout victory set the tone for his busy and historic 2021.
Alvarez would fight four times in 11 months, including the Smith and Plant fights, an unheard-of level of activity for an elite fighter in this day and age. He began his 2021 campaign with the expected destruction of WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim, who had stepped aside to allow Alvarez to face Smith for the vacant WBC title with the contractual promise that the winner would face him next.
Living up to his word, Alvarez met Yildirim on February 27 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, and crushed him in three lopsided rounds. It wasn’t the fight Alvarez wanted, but he had promised to do it. Besides, when boxing’s P4P king and biggest attraction fights four times in 11 months, most would agree he’s entitled to a soft touch in there.
It was Canelo’s next two bouts that really mattered when it came to Fighter of the Year consideration.
On May 8, Alvarez squared off with England’s Billy Joe Saunders, the unbeaten WBO titleholder, in the second outing of Canelo’s two-fight deal with promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing and DAZN.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, they met at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where capacity limits had largely been lifted, and drew a United States indoor boxing record crowd of 73,126 on Cinco de Mayo weekend. The pro-Canelo crowd smashed the previous record of 63,352 for the heavyweight championship rematch between Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks at the Superdome in New Orleans on September 15, 1978. It was just another nugget of history that did not go unnoticed by Alvarez.
“I think Caleb Plant was a bigger fight because there was only one more belt left, so the magnitude of the fight was bigger, but the fight I enjoyed a lot was Billy Joe Saunders, because he talked a lot of shit and we had 73,000 people in the arena,” Alvarez said.
“I loved [setting the attendance record], because for me, I’m gonna be in the history books of boxing for that too. So for me it’s huge, and I hope I can break that record soon.”
As for the fight, Saunders talked a big game, complained there was no British judge on the panel and even threatened to pull out during fight week because the ring wasn’t as large as he wanted.
Ultimately, Alvarez didn’t care who the judges were or what the size of the ring was, and he gave in to Saunders’ ring request. Most thought Saunders’ technical southpaw style might trouble Alvarez for a few rounds, especially with a larger ring in which to roam. But it hardly did, and the roomier ring couldn’t save Saunders from Alvarez’s wrath.
Although Saunders had mild success boxing Alvarez in the middle rounds, he proved no match for the Mexican star. By the end of the eighth round, during which Alvarez punished him with right hands to the face, Saunders’ right eye was swollen closed and trainer Mark Tibbs eventually motioned to referee Mark Calo-oy to stop the fight.
Alvarez, who had predicted he would break Saunders down and stop him between the eighth and 10th rounds, said he felt a powerful right uppercut dig into Saunders’ face. As it turned out, Alvarez had broken Saunders’ cheekbone and orbital bone, injuries that required surgery.
With the WBA, WBC and WBO belts in his possession along with The Ring title, it left just one piece of hardware remaining for Alvarez to collect – Plant’s IBF title.
Alvarez had purposely done a short-term deal with Hearn and DAZN in order to make sure no obstacles stood in the way of pursuing the fights he wanted. So, as a promotional and broadcast free agent, he commenced talks with Premier Boxing Champions’ Al Haymon, who represented Plant, for a fight that would ultimately land on Showtime PPV. The hardball negotiations led to the event being set for November rather than the Mexican Independence Day weekend in September when Alvarez wanted to fight, but at least he had the matchup he wanted.
Although Plant fought well and won some rounds, he was trailing on all three scorecards going into the 11th round and was no match for Alvarez’s diverse and punishing attack, which culminated with Alvarez scoring two knockdowns, getting the stoppage and sending Plant to the hospital.
Alvarez had reached his historic undisputed goal in just 11 months to become only the sixth man to fully unify a division in the four-belt era, joining middleweight Bernard Hopkins (2004), middleweight Jermain Taylor (2005), junior welterweight Terence Crawford (2017), cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk (2018) and junior welterweight Josh Taylor (2021).
“We accomplished one of the best things in boxing, being undisputed,” said Alvarez. “Outside the ring and inside the ring, too, it’s the best year for me. I got married with my wife (Fernanda). I’m so happy. I accomplished and made history as an undisputed champion. So for me it’s maybe my best year in boxing.”