Saul “Canelo” Alvarez continued his campaign to entrench his status as the best fighter in boxing, pound-for-pound, as well as its biggest attraction, not to mention the game’s most active champion, as he set to win his fourth match of 2021. As in his three other bouts of the year, there was little reason to expect much in the way of drama or even competitiveness, but Caleb “Sweet Hands” Plant was the last belt-holder still standing in the super middleweight division. A victory for the Mexican superstar meant another significant feat in Canelo’s impressive career, as the man who once argued he was too small to compete at middleweight and take on Gennady Golovkin could soon claim total supremacy at 168 pounds.
All agreed that Plant was a talented boxer, but virtually no one saw him as a legit threat to hand Canelo the second defeat of his career, but if Canelo vs Plant lacked intrigue, that changed somewhat on September 21st when the two fighters got into a heated altercation at a press conference with slaps and pushes and angry words, and even a minor cut underneath Plant’s right eye. Some were impressed by Caleb’s refusal to be intimidated by his more experienced and accomplished opponent, as Plant talked the talk of a fighter ready to pull off a huge upset. Beyond that, the juice machine was on full blast, hyping the chance to see arguably the best fighter in boxing do his thing as he added yet another shiny belt to his collection.
Obscured by all the pre-fight hoopla as the fight approached was one very significant fact: the best fighters on Plant’s record are Jose Uzcategui, Vincent Feigenbutz, and Caleb Truax, none of whom are currently world-ranked. Any astute analysis of this match-up had to conclude it was less a champion vs champion unification fight, and more a routine outing and a nice payday for Canelo and little else. And indeed, the action in the ring reflected that harsh but inescapable truth. Ignore the Plant cheerleaders; this was a methodical, one-sided demolition.
That said, “Sweet Hands” did have his moments when he managed to get the distance he wanted and then peppered Canelo with jabs and quick combinations, but these interludes were fleeting. The story of the fight was the stronger and more powerful man coming forward and dictating the terms. After a competitive opening two rounds, Alvarez started landing his left hook in the third, and from then on he called the tune. Plant lacked the defensive skill to prevent the Mexican from landing debilitating shots to both body and head, or the power to get Canelo’s respect. As if to prove this latter truth, in round six Canelo landed a series of thudding shots and then strode forward with his hands down, demonstrating zero respect for Plant’s abilities to trouble him in any way.
In the tenth one sensed the end was near when some heavy shots forced a tiring Plant to hold, and in round eleven a wicked left hook led to the first knockdown of Caleb’s career. He rose but the bout was finished, as Plant had guts but nothing else with which to fight back. When a fusillade of blows sent Plant down a second time, the referee immediately called a halt, giving Canelo an eleventh round TKO victory and status as the undisputed king in the super middleweight division.
Many are saluting Alvarez for bucking what has become a long-standing trend of the elite fighters in boxing competing only twice per year, and no doubt fans hope others will emulate Canelo’s stepping through the ropes four times in fewer than twelve months. But let’s be honest: the names of Plant, Callum Smith, Avni Yildirim and Billy Joe Saunders hardly add up to a stand-out run. Activity alone should not merit high praise, especially when some truly attractive match-ups are left to wither on the vine.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Alaverz is up to. It’s the same low-risk, high-reward approach we saw Floyd Mayweather pursue in the latter stages of his career, when he was widely regarded, as Canelo now is, as the best fighter and top attraction in the game. That selfish, “safety first” route stinks for boxing, but it’s great for Alvarez and his team. No doubt Canelo’s conviction is he’s paid his dues and is entitled to cash in, and the guess here is he will continue to seek out the low-risk propositions which still guarantee him big paydays. The fact he operates as a promotional free agent only makes that more likely.
If Canelo were of a mind to maximize his talents and be a true competitor, we could look forward to genuinely intriguing showdowns with the likes of Golovkin, Charlo, or even Beterbiev or Joe Smith Jr., but the bet here is that none of those matches will happen. Instead, expect Zach Parker or Anthony Dirrell to be on the docket after Canelo enjoys the long rest he declared he has earned. But we’re all used to this, right? It’s boxing in the 21st century. And as they like to say, it is what it is. — Robert Portis