Brutal and dangerous though it may be, boxing is still a sport, both at heart and in practice. So when a prominent pugilist decides the competitive nature that drives it is a bit dicey and that it’s best to avoid the challenge of legitimate and fair competition, that fighter then becomes a villain in the eyes of many fans. He may still have a large following, but no following is big enough to counter the scorn and derision that comes when it’s perceived that a once highly respected boxer has become a dreaded “cherry picker.” He may even see his following begin to dwindle, especially if he starts losing fights. See Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for an example of that.
And while it’s true Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is no Chavez Jr., it is true that there are now rumblings about how the man views his profession. Not that long ago, the Mexican superstar was seen as a shining light in the darkness of manipulation and mediocre match-making that seemed to be enveloping boxing. While other champions played it safe, Canelo told anyone who would listen that he was different, that he would fight anyone.
And it seemed he meant it. Erislandy Lara, for instance, was a tough and unpopular choice of opponent, but Canelo took him on anyway. Because Canelo was just that kind of fighter. Maybe even a throwback. After a close points win over the Cuban he declared: “I’m always going to take the best fights and the hardest fights, the fights [the fans] want to see.”
But since moving up to middleweight, there’s been a change in the way Alvarez is viewed, and with good reason. First off, there’s the fact that Canelo apparently wants to remain middleweight champ without adhering to traditional middleweight rules, insisting that anyone who wants to fight him has to weigh-in at 155 lbs. The problem, of course, is that the middleweight limit is 160 lbs. Don’t want to fight above 155, Canelo? Fine, but your personal rules shouldn’t apply to your title. If you don’t want a fight to be held at the middleweight limit, there’s an easy solution to your problem. Or at least there should be.
Needless to say, this is not a good way to endear oneself to a solid fan base, even one as hard-earned and large as Canelo’s. Neither is the fact Alvarez doesn’t seem eager to face Gennady Golovkin anytime soon. There may be good reason for this; after all, Golovkin is the kind of guy that can ruin a career with a few hard placed shots. This, however, is boxing. And again, boxing is a sport. And Gennady Golovkin has more than earned his chance to compete for the linear middleweight championship of the world.
But Canelo is insisting that Golovkin, a natural middleweight, drop down to 155 in order to face him. And that he wait. How long Triple-G has to wait, we don’t know, but it’s clear Canelo isn’t anxious to make this fight happen. And some fans are wondering if the World Boxing Council, whose middleweight championship Alvarez holds, will prove to be fully accommodating to the popular Canelo and his team.
The WBC, after all, has a pretty bad reputation – so bad that even though it has mandated that Canelo must fight GGG next, no one is confident it will double down on its edict if either Canelo or his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, demur. And so there’s a chance that the much anticipated Canelo vs Golovkin showdown will be pushed back yet again, as it’s already been pushed back, or even prevented from ever happening. And if that ends up being the case, Canelo’s image and status is going to take a major hit.
It doesn’t end there, however. There’s also the matter of welterweight Amir Khan. Make no mistake about it, the recently announced ‘CaneloKhan’ match is a high-profile, big money event. But for those looking for Alvarez to live up to his promises and continue to take on big challenges, this is not what they had in mind. Maybe a bulked-up Khan can present a stylistic challenge for Canelo, but the Mexican’s size and strength is most likely going to be too much for the smaller man with the weaker chin. Chris Algieri, after all, presented Khan with a stiff challenge in the Britisher’s last fight, which was at welterweight. Algieri is improving as a fighter, but if he can give Khan a serious run for his money, what will Canelo do to him?
Let’s keep in mind that not only is Khan a naturally smaller man, but also that Canelo has seemingly perfected the art of taking full advantage of the day-before weigh-in. While on paper he’s been a super-welterweight or a 155 lb. fighter, in fact, for at least the last three years, he’s been a light heavyweight when the bell rings. He weighed 172 pounds before he got into the ring with Austin Trout back in 2013; he was 170 for his one-sided drubbing of Alfredo Angulo. Since then he’s avoided HBO’s unofficial scale, but he still insists the weight limit for his fights be 155. Granted, Cotto wanted to fight for the middleweight title against Canelo at a lower weight, but why should that give Canelo the right to demand a weight some 20 pounds less than what he weighs when the fight begins? That’s the sort of thing that rubs fans the wrong way.
Still, it’s clear Canelo and his team are comfortable with the decisions they’re making. Indeed, these decisions are extremely sound financially. What’s more, all Canelo has to do is fight GGG at 160 after the Khan bout and all will be forgiven. If, of course, he gets by Khan. As I wrote, Alvarez will “most likely” get the better of the Englishman. What if he doesn’t, though? What if Khan out-slicks him all night, only for Canelo to get an outrageous Vegas decision? Or what if he does get the win, but then signs to take on Billy Joe Saunders and the WBC lets it happen? The man will truly be in trouble with the fans in that case. For he’ll be known as a “favored child” in boxing and his stock will fall exponentially.
The fact is, boxing is ultimately a sport, no matter which way you slice it. And sometimes there’s consequences for even the most market-friendly courses of action. If Saul doesn’t want to lose the respect of boxing fans, assuming he defeats Khan, he better think long and hard about his next career move. — Sean Crose