Is Canelo Alvarez actually about to make a mistake?
As Canelo Alvarez decides to move up to cruiserweight there is uncertainty in the banner divisions, writes Matt Christie
THE business of boxing is as ridiculous as it is fascinating. In the past week, the task of trying to keep on top of it all has proved almost impossible. From the Tyson Fury-Dillian Whyte-WBC tangle to the Terence Crawford-Errol Spence Jnr saga – via Canelo Álvarez deciding to hop, skip and jump to cruiserweight – the lack of structure in the sport has been glaring.
Now, it’s not all bad, of course. Canelo’s move in particular is an interesting development that nobody really saw coming. After proving his supremacy at super-middleweight there were options for the Mexican. And when you’re the biggest and most marketable star in the sport, particularly in a sport like boxing where fixture lists and forward planning do not exist, you always have options. David Benavidez, his leading challenger at 168, was one. A third fight with old rival Gennady Golovkin was another. Middleweight Jermall Charlo declared he was ready to step up, too. But what we anticipated was Álvarez looking up, and not down, to bigger challenges. Both Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol were enticing choices as the light-heavyweight champion and number one contender at 175lbs respectively. But what Canelo has opted for is to go even bigger, at least in terms of the size of the opponent.
Now, whether one deems Ilunga Makabu – the fourth best cruiserweight in the world and holder of the WBC strap – as a harder fight than Beterbiev, or a more appealing opponent than Golovkin, is really a matter of opinion. But what can’t be denied is that Canelo is ‘chasing history’. He is making the most of the myriad belts out there and, in a similar way to Roy Jones Jnr in 2003 when as light-heavyweight king he vaulted to heavyweight to challenge belt-holder John Ruiz, he is being as sensible as he can be when venturing so high.
I have seen critics swipe at Canelo for taking an easy option. Well, that’s simply not the case here. Okay, he is not going straight for Mairis Breidis – the real world champion at 200lbs – but he is testing the waters against a very dangerous opponent. Regardless of Makabu’s standing at cruiserweight, or the belt he owns, the African is one of the biggest punchers in the division (of his 28 victories, 25 came inside schedule) and is surely the heftiest hitter Álvarez has faced so far in his long career. But, no, he’s not the man, in the same way that Ruiz was not the man at heavyweight all those years ago. He is both beatable and dangerous. For Canelo, it’s the kind of combo he likes when selecting his opponents, particularly when he enters a new weight class for the first time.
But why knock him for that? Would anyone else be expected to aim any higher while making their debut in a division where opponents can weigh 32lbs more than Canelo is used to? Surely not. Would anyone criticise a fighter already established at cruiser – like Briedis, Lawrence Okolie or Yuniel Dorticos – if their next bout was against Makabu? Again, surely not.
But Canelo, largely because of his position atop the sport, attracts as many admirers as naysayers. It kind of goes with the territory. What this may signal, though, is the end of Álvarez the super-middleweight. He may even be unknowingly kissing goodbye to a career at light-heavyweight, too. This hike in weight is dangerous, not only because Makabu is a quality fighter who can bang, but more so – I’d argue – because of what it might do to Canelo’s body. After a 16-year career, yo-yoing between divisions where the gap between them is as great as this, is rarely a success (at least not in the long term). One only has to look at what happened to the aforementioned Jones after he defeated Ruiz. That was indeed a majestic jump. But when he tried to land back at light-heavyweight eight months later, he was not the same fighter. By the end of 2004, in fact, after being halted by both Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, he was damaged goods and never again regained his top form. Furthermore, we have seen other boxers, like David Haye, build muscle in a bid to thrive in a heavier weight class only for injury after injury to suddenly occur.
Canelo is operating in a different era so the nutritionists and the strength-conditioners he has close at hand, those who will help Álvarez to pack yet more muscle onto his ever-expanding 5ft 8ins frame, might do better when it comes to building and then shifting mass. Regardless, at 31 years old, what Álvarez is undertaking might well spell the end of the fighter he is today. No, this is not the most daring leap a boxer has ever attempted. But it is unquestionably one that is laced with jeopardy.
News of Canelo’s decision broke at the WBC convention in Mexico City. It was where we expected to hear that Tyson Fury, who owns that sanctioning body’s heavyweight belt, had to face Dillian Whyte next. Instead, the WBC indicated they are not willing to install Whyte as Fury’s mandatory simply because the Londoner was in the midst of a legal fight with the organisation due to their failure to make Dillian’s title shot before now. And regardless of one’s ongoing frustration with the nonsensical policies of the sanctioning bodies, their decision here did make some sense. At the same time, it’s difficult to not have some sympathy for Whyte as he waits and waits for that defining fight.
Again, it all speaks of a real lack of governance at the very top. It speaks of too many organisations following different rules and four sets of rankings that are all contradictory of the others. It underlines the failure of promoters and TV networks to work together to make the right fights at the right time. Surely it shouldn’t be this difficult to work out who the world heavyweight champion is going to fight next. As things stand, and without Fury-Whyte being ordered, the next opponent for Fury is unknown. For his part, Fury has said he doesn’t care who he fights and he wants to be in action by March, but concedes it’s about “who is available”. Which would rule out the sensible choice, Oleksandr Usyk, who is in advanced talks with Anthony Joshua, the man he defeated in September and whom he is obliged to fight again due to the kind of contract clause that does little for the sport when it comes to moving forward. I wholly understand why these clauses are built into contracts. Even so, without them, perhaps fighters like Whyte would have got their chance a long time ago.
Terence Crawford, meanwhile, is again hoping to snare a fight with Errol Spence Jnr at welterweight. Following Crawford’s win over Shawn Porter last weekend, Crawford-Spence is the only fight to make at welterweight. So don’t hold your breath. Porter announced his retirement after being stopped in the 10th round of a quality bout. He walks away knowing that he never once shirked a challenge nor allowed the politics of boxing to get in his way. We wish him all the best in the future.