Can Canelo Alvarez Still Grow?

THE biggest star in world boxing is still without a dance partner.

It might be a few months away, but little’s been uncovered over whether Saul Alvarez, the man they call Canelo, will face Ryota Murata in Japan, WBO super-middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders, WBA 168-pound champion Callum Smith or anyone else from 160-175lbs.

Canelo defeated Sergey Kovalev in November to capture the WBO crown at light-heavyweight but given that he publicly stated he won’t entertain a third fight with Gennady Golovkin – quite possibly the most lucrative contest out there for him – the other alternatives at the table don’t whet the appetite as much even if they are not without their merits.

Saunders, 29-0, is a quality southpaw with Olympic pedigree who is a two-weight world champion, regardless of how highly you rated Shefat Isufi, whom he defeated for the vacant title at 168 back in May at the home of a fourth-tier English football club.

Saunders’s advocates contend that he rises to the level of opposition and that Canelo, on the biggest stage, in May in Las Vegas, would bring the very best out of him.

Some who saw Smith, 27-0, toil against John Ryder in November – and more than a few felt Ryder deserved the decision inside Liverpool’s Echo Arena – think a more motivated Smith would pose the greatest threat to Canelo, with his stiff punching, strong jab and the fact that he’s enormous at a weight Canelo hasn’t been tested at before. The red-headed Mexican versus Smith would have a shot at filling Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium, but why would the A-side travel?

The money is in the USA, unless the big-spending Middle East begins to flex its financial muscle once more.

Then there’s Murata, possibly the most commercially savvy option given DAZN’s footprint in Japan. But the 16-2 WBA middleweight champion who has avenged losses to Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam and Rob Brant in his 18 fights would open as a second favourite in fights against Saunders or Smith, certainly at 168, and neutrals would not be enticed.

Smith and Saunders seem to be the front runners although Canelo’s five-year, 11-fight, $365 million contract with DAZN should see him attempt to clean out the 160, 168 and 175 weight classes. Perhaps he will. But you’d like to think it doesn’t matter who is next, he should try to beat them all before it’s done.

There’s also Dmitriy Bivol, Jean Pascal and Artur Beterbiev at 175, should he further want to chance his arm at the higher weight.

So far, he’s beaten Rocky Fielding, Daniel Jacobs and Kovalev as part of the monster deal.

DAZN will, or should, be pushing for him to line up a long list of potential opponents, the best of the rest, and they should enforce the Golovkin trilogy fight before the Kazakh, who turns 38 in April, slips any further.

The fighters may not see eye to eye, but they have unfinished business from their two previous encounters. Many felt Canelo benefitted from favourable judging both times, drawing their first encounter and winning the rematch. They were both close, excellent bouts.

And DAZN signed GGG surely on the premise that by buying two pieces of the puzzle they could complete the jigsaw and have a third match.

But, like football – or soccer, there’s such a thing as player power. No one will dictate to Canelo who he will fight.

He went public to lambast his promoters, Golden Boy, late in 2019, when they couldn’t find him an opponent for the Mexican Independence Day weekend in Las Vegas last September, a date that Tyson Fury wound up taking and boxing Otto Wallin on.

Historically, the Mexican holidays in May and September have been reserved for the sport’s premium star. By the time the Kovalev deal was done, the September ship had sailed – so too had that Mexican holiday money. Instead, he wound up on a date share with the UFC’s biggest fight of the year, when Jorge Masvidal met Nate Diaz at Madison Square Garden on an event that saw Canelo’s ringwalk delayed in case the audiences overlapped.

It wasn’t boxing’s finest hour, but it was a stark reminder that even pitched in against a history-making opponent Canelo is not the draw Floyd Mayweather was, that Manny Pacquaio was, that Mike Tyson was and so on.

Boxing’s biggest star has often been sport’s biggest star, but sometimes that’s governed by the dance partners, or the potential dance partners.

The return on DAZN investment against Saunders, Smith or Murata would surely be minimal but no one can make him fight Golovkin, and with the clock-ticking a win over GGG would have the naysayers merely saying Golovkin had slipped further still.

It’s a tough position to be in. 

Alvarez, 53-1-2 wants to call the shots.

DAZN needs to call them.

But either way it seems unlikely that the biggest star in boxing will shine much brighter than he does today, and that’s not a good sign for the sport.