Already unrivalled as the biggest commercial draw currently active in world boxing, Glynn Evans considers the long-term possibility of Saul Alvarez eclipsing Julio Cesar Chavez Sr – father of Saturday’s opponent Julio Jr – as the ultimate Azteca ringmaster.
While ‘Canelo’ didn’t feature when I was commissioned to order a list of Mexico’s greatest, exactly a year ago, a brace of clubbing count out wins over quality Brits Amir Khan and Liam Smith has certainly edged the pride of Guadalajara several inches closer to contention.
Fighters in the weight categories around the middleweight class in which ‘Canelo’ currently campaigns can be expected to reach their physical peak somewhere around the age of 30, allowing the audaciously gifted and fiercely dedicated starlet several remaining years to maximise his potential.
Formerly a Mexican Junior champion in the amateurs, Alvarez first started utilising his atomic fists to bolster the family kitty just three months after his 15th birthday; an age most British teens are fretting and sweating over their mock GCSE exams!
By 16, the child prodigy was duelling grown men over 10 rounds and, by 17, ‘Canelo’ had completed the 12 round championship course whilst snaring the Jalisco State title. Before his teen years were through, he’d already punched for pesos on 34 occasions (one draw).
Since debuting 12 years back, Alvarez has yielded just once – a 12 round majority decision to the sport’s P4P leader, Floyd Mayweather – when clearly compromised by strimming his densely muscled 5ft 9in frame to two pounds beneath the 154lb super-welter cut-off.
Whilst amassing 48 wins, he has accrued four world title belts across the 154 and 160lb divisions and triumphed in 10 world championship gigs......at just 26 years of age!
But it’s the cocktail of power and panache with which the above were accomplished that has vaulted Alvarez into a huge PPV attraction with both US and Mexican af-fist- iados.
Whilst ‘Canelo’ is every bit the Azteca warrior so synonymous with his nation’s proud fighting heritage, he is evolving into a highly skilled technician whose combinations are as creative as they are concussive.
While his feet aren’t the most fleet, he is blessed with the anticipation and combative instincts of a ring thoroughbred and Golden Boy Promotions recent slow-mo video release emphasised subtle defensive smarts that the naked eye can’t always fully appreciate in real time.
And those who doubt that Alvarez can execute with one shot must have been dozing themselves when he blasted out James Kirkland , Amir Khan (right hands) and Liam Smith (left hook to the liver) with single digs.
So why is King ‘Canelo’ only on the periphery of the list? For a start, he has alienated some purists who are averse to defending champions imposing artificial weight restrictions upon opponents, which are inconsistent with the traditions of their division. Recent middleweight title spats with Miguel Cotto and Amir Khan were made at 155lbs. Others are angered that he opted to forfeit his WBC 160lb strap rather than honour a mandatory challenge from Kazakhstan!
Additionally, there are question marks over the true calibre of the competition that he has conquered thus far. ‘Canelo’s’ CV lists victories over 10 world champions past or present but closer scrutiny reveals that Cotto and Shane Mosley – the only possible ‘greats’ on his resume - were several years past the primes. Ditto Carlos Baldomir and Lovemore N’Dou.
Similarly, Khan and Miguel Vasquez were naturally smaller men. Few would contest the 154lb credentials of Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara or ‘Beefy’ Smith but all were very good champions as opposed to ‘great’. And ‘Canelo’ struggled to sparkle when confronted with the mobility of the first two mentioned.
To propel himself into his nation’s top ten, the Mexican needs to shine against an elite level fighter close to their prime, where he enters at little more than an ‘evens’ pick. But where might such a challenge surface?
At 154, there was little value revisiting Trout or Lara and the only other relevant candidate, Demetrius Andrade, owns a southpaw skill set against which Alvarez has been consistently uncomfortable. Relatively low reward for relatively high risk.
While Alvarez’s decision to jump to 160 moves him further out of range of the plethora of gifted welter stars presently active – Pacquiao, Thurman, Brook, Spence, Porter – he has several worthy challenges at 11st 6lb against whom he could significantly increase his stock.
Tear-ups with Daniel Jacobs or unbeaten WBO king Billy Joe Saunders would have the bookies setting tight-odds, while a shoot out against basic but brutal Quebec banger David Lemieux would be huge fun.
For Saturday’s spat, he has agreed to a ‘between-weights’ 164 ½ lb cut-off, largely, one senses, to appease Chavez Jr’s casual consideration for the scales, and to treat his fight daft compatriots to their annual Cinco de Mayo fistic fix.
While there is plenty of quality at 168lbs – the British quartet of DeGale, Groves, Eubank Jr and Smith high among it – compact ‘Canelo’s’ lack of height and length suggest he’s unlikely to be visiting super-middle to enhance his legacy, any time soon.
The Fast Track!
Of course the fight that will propel him quickest and highest up the table of Mexican greats is a collision with that combustible Kazakh. Irrespective of how his handlers try to paint it, the reality is that Alvarez abdicated his WBC 160lb throne last year to avoid a mandatory with ‘Triple G’. End of.
However, over the ensuing 12 months, ‘Canelo’ has clearly kicked on while Golovkin has, at best, appeared to plateau. His nuclear fists inflicted just one knockdown in the 17 rounds he shared with Kell Brook and Jacobs in his two most recent gigs. The odds are narrowing.
Alvarez says he fancies the job, Golden Boy appear to be getting braver. September looks hopeful. Victory sees ‘Canelo’ deified!
Still only 26, Alvarez has many years and innumerable potential megafights to break into this top ten and systematically advance up the roster.... provided he can sustain his insatiable hunger – no given when your balance sheet far surpasses eight figures!
Cracking the top three might even be attainable but eclipsing Chavez Sr – he of the 31 world title wins and other-worldly talent – is a dream rather than a reality. Smoking Chavez Jr in tomorrow’s civil war is the nearest Alvarez is likely to come to getting one over on ‘JC Superstar’!
Watch Canelo v Chavez Jr live on BoxNation, with free registration on Sky TV using code MAYBOXING.