Canelo Álvarez An All-Time Great? Sorry, Saul!
Canelo Alvarez is expected to return to boxing on May 6th, in his hometown of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, reportedly against British contender John Ryder. It is his first fight on Mexican soil since 2011 when he defeated Kermit Cintron to retain the WBC super welterweight title.
Canelo is arguably boxing’s greatest star and most recognizable champion. The red-headed freckled face Mexican is recognized by most boxing rankings as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and revered by fans. In the past, Canelo has expressed he wants to be the greatest fighter of all time when his career is over, a lofty goal considering this list contains legendary fighters like Muhammad Ali, both Sugar Rays, Roy Jones Jr., and his compatriot Julio Cesar Chavez, to name a few.
However, with Canelo still active in boxing, we are far from considering him an all-time boxing great. Indeed, can he even be considered among the greatest Mexican boxers ever?
Canelo is a proud Mexican who gallantly represents his country whenever he enters the ring. His patriotic pride is unquestionable. But, although Mexican fans respect him, is he, and will he be, considered an all-time Mexican great? When you think of Mexican boxing heroes, has Canelo replaced Julio Cesar Chavez in your mind? Do his fights invoke the same hair-raising thrills as those of Salvador Sanchez and Ruben Olivares? Will his trilogy against Gennadiy Golovkin stand the test of time like the Erik Morales vs. Marco Antonio Barrera trilogy?
Canelo Alvarez is 32 years old and has been boxing professionally for seventeen years. With a career quickly approaching two decades, the Mexican pound-for-pound king will soon be nearing the twilight of his profession. Has he done enough, or will he do enough to have his face etched alongside Julio Cesar Chavez, Ruben Olivares, and Salvador Sanchez on the Mount Rushmore of Mexican boxing greats?
Most of the lists I researched rank Julio Cesar Chavez, Salvador Sanchez, and Ruben Olivares as the three greatest Mexican fighters of all time. So, how does Canelo fare when compared to these Mexican boxing deities?
The myriad of categories to compare fighters to one another are endless. However, I will focus on what I believe are the three most important categories when assessing the greatness of a boxer. I will compare Álvarez's to his predecessors, achievements, the quality of the opposition, and the era in which they fought.
Comparing Canelo Álvarez To Julio Cesar Chavez
Julio Cesar Chavez:
Achievements: Julio Cesar Chavez is the gold standard of Mexican boxing. Canelo Álvarez would find it extremely difficult to catch up to his accomplishments.
His name has become synonymous with the term “Mexican style” of boxing, and he is the most iconic Mexican boxer. In a career that spanned twenty-five years, Chavez amassed a remarkable record of 107-6-2, with 86 knockouts. He has more knockouts than most fighters have fights today. He went undefeated for fourteen years and 90 outings until he experienced his first defeat against Frankie Randall.
Chávez won six world titles in three weight divisions. “El Gran Campeon Mexicano” set a record for most successful title defenses with 27, most title fights with 37, and most title-fight victories with 31. He was ranked No. 50 on Ring Magazine's list of “100 greatest punchers of all time.” In 2002, The Ring ranked Chávez as the 18th greatest fighter of the last 80 years. Finally, on December 7th, 2010, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Quality of Opponents: Chavez fought some of the greatest fighters of his generation. JCC defeated 15 world champions. Impressive fighters included Jose Luis Ramírez, Rafael Limón, Rocky Lockridge, Meldrick Taylor, Héctor “Macho” Camacho, Juan Laporte, Edwin Rosario, and Greg Haugen. In addition, he fought five halls of famers, with wins over Hector Macho Camacho and Edwin Rosario, losses to Oscar De La Hoya and Kostya Tszyu, and a draw with Pernell Whitaker.
During the 1980s and 90s, Julio's division housed great fighters. It was an era where the best fought the best, and some of the most memorable fights in history took place. Most of the fighters Julio faced during this time were elite, and they all fought each other. Haugen, Camacho, Laporte, Rosario, and many more fought each other, creating a division of elite experience opponents. On any night, Chavez could've lost to any of these fighters. However, during the time, he only lost to Frankie Randall, a loss he would later avenge. And he fought to a draw with Pernell Whitaker. Chavez wouldn't lose again until 1996, when he faced a much younger Oscar De la Hoya.
Comparing Canelo Álvarez To Salvador Sanchez:
Achievements: Salvador Sanchez was a wrecking machine every time he stepped in the ring. Salvador Sanchez debuted as a professional on May 4th, 1975. Unfortunately, his career was cut short by his untimely death when he perished in a car accident in 1982. However, in those seven years, Sanchez amassed a record of 44-1-1, 32 KOs. During that time, Sanchez would reign as the WBC and The Ring featherweight champion from 1980 to 1982. In 1991, Sánchez was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In 2002, he was ranked as the 24th greatest fighter of the past 80 years by The Ring magazine. In 2003, The Ring rated Sánchez number 88 on the list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.
Sánchez was also ranked as the third greatest featherweight of the 20th century by the Associated Press.
Quality of Opponents: Salvador Sanchez fought the elite fighters of his era. He didn't just beat them; he knocked them out. Something about fighting world-class fighters bought the best out of Sanchez. Mike Tyson expressed that to Canelo Alvarez on Tyson’s Podcast “Hotboxin with Mike Tyson.”
When Canelo was asked which Mexican boxer he admired growing up, he named fighters like Gilberto Roman and Julio Cesar Chavez. Tyson injected with Salvador Sanchez, and Canelo dismissively said, “Sanchez, not so much,” which prompted this response from Iron mike.
“Sanchez was hard to beat. This is what made him special. If you’re a halfway fighter, a decent fighter, you might last the distance (against him). As good as you are, you’re greater, you are the more, he kicks your ass. He fights right above the level of the game that he’s fighting. If you go in as a killer, he is going to fuck you up. He's just above everybody else. During that time, he was just such a bad motherfucker,” said Tyson about the late great Mexican champion.
Sanchez fought three Hall of Famers. Wilfredo Gomez, Danny Lopez, and Azumah Nelson. Sanchez knocked them all out. I don't doubt that if Sánchez had lived, he would’ve been the greatest Mexican fighter of all time.
Sanchez fought in an era that every boxer within the division was elite. Like Julio Cesar Chavez, Sanchez's opponents were world-class fighters who were tried and forged in battle. Up to his fight with Salvador Sanchez, Wilfredo Gomez successfully defended his title 17 times consecutively, winning all those fights by knockout, and Sanchez demolished him.
Comparing Canelo Álvarez To Ruben Olivares:
Achievements: Ruben Olivares was a three-time, two-division champion (bantamweight and featherweight). He is considered the most exciting Mexican fighter to step into the ring. Every time Ruben stepped into the ring, war was inevitable. In a career that spanned 23 years, Olivares amassed a record of 89-13-3 70 KOs. He won the WBA, WBC, and The Ring bantamweight titles twice and won the WBA and WBC featherweight titles. He has a winning streak of 22 knockouts, is on an elite list of fighters with at least 50 knockouts, and was named The Ring Magazine's 12th greatest puncher of all time in 2003. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.
Olivares shared the number one spot with Carlos Zarate as the greatest bantamweight of the 20th century by the Associated Press in 1999.
Quality of Opponents: Ruben Olivares fought the best fighters of his era. He fought Salvatore Burruni, Octavio Gomez, Joe Medal, Kazuyoshi Kanazawa (two times), Takao Sakurai, Alan Rudkin, Chucho Castillo (three times), Efren Torres, Kid Pascualito, Jesus Pimentel, Lionel Rose, and Hall of Famers Bobby Chacon (Three times) Eusebio Pedroza, Danny Lopez, and Alexis Arguello.
Era (the 1960s-1980s): Watching Ruben Olivares fight is like watching a Hollywood depiction of gladiator warfare in the Roman Coliseum. Olivares' opponents were elite, mean, and challenging. These battles were brutal, bloody, and violent. Additionally, that era of bantamweights was talented and absolute monsters in the ring. Olivares fought the most formidable opposition, hands down.
Achievements: He is a veteran of 62 fights and has amassed a record of 58-2-2, 39 KOs. Canelo has won titles in four weight classes, is the undisputed super middleweight champion, and has fought some of the best fighters of his generation. Álvarez is the first and only boxer in history to become the undisputed super middleweight champion. Currently, Alvarez is ranked in the top five of most pound-for-pound fighters lists.
Quality of opponents: Canelo Álvarez has fought some of the best fighters of his generation. Canelo has earned wins over Gennadiy Golovkin, Erislandy Lara, Daniel Jacobs, Sergey Kovalev, Miguel Cotto, Austin Trout, and Sugar Shane Mosley. In addition, he has fought three Hall of Famers, defeating Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley and losing to Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Era: (2005-2020): During his time, the middleweight division and super middleweight division houses some of the best fighters in boxing.
My Take: There is no question that Canelo Alvarez is currently one of the greatest boxers in the world. So far, Canelo has had a successful career, and if he were to retire today, he would be a first-ballot hall of famer. But achievements alone aren't enough to elevate him to the prestigious esteem level of Mexico’s greatest fighters.
The main factors that will keep Canelo off Mexico’s top five greatest Mexican boxers are the quality of fighters he faced and iconic moments in the ring. While Canelo has faced some notable fighters, most were not the best version of themselves or not on the same level as Alvarez. You can scratch the wins over Cotto, Mosely, and Kovalev. When Alvarez fought these three legends, they were a shell of their former selves, and there is no doubt in my mind that they would've beaten the ginger haired Mexican at the height of their careers.
Throughout his career, Alvarez mostly beat good fighters, not great fighters. Wins over Alfonso Gomez, Kermit Cintron, James Kirkland, Alfredo Angulo, Liam Smith Jr., Rocky Fielding, Daniel Jacobs, Billy Joe Saunders, Liam Smith, and an undersized, glass-jawed Amir Khan are solid wins, but hardly crowning achievements.
When Canelo faces quality fighters, he struggles. Erislandy Lara gave Alvarez fits, and many believe Canelo was on the wrong end of the split decision win. Austin Trout gave Canelo as good as he was getting until the latter half of the fight, and Floyd Mayweather outclassed Alvarez.
His wins over Gennadiy Golovkin are nothing to boast about. Many believe Canelo should've lost the first two installments of their trilogy. His trilogy bout with GGG was anti-climatic and failed compared to Morales vs. Barrera and the four-fight series between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao.
Lastly, Canelo must still fight the best fighters in the super middleweight division. David Benavidez, Demetrius Andrade, Caleb Plant, and David Morrell are elite fighters. Canelo is at the pinnacle of his career, where he can demand and make a fight with any of them. However, of late, he chose to fight Caleb Plant, the slightest threat to Canelo, and fight a third fight with a faded GGG. While those fights probably made sense from a business perspective, but they did nothing to elevate his legacy among the Mexican greats.
To add insult to injury, Canelo Alvarez has gone on record saying he will never fight another Mexican fighter for the remainder of his career; this is something no Mexican great has ever said, as far as I'm concerned. Most Mexican legends have fought a compatriot, and it almost always makes for same the best fights of their career. If Canelo can choose not to fight someone, he certainly can choose to fight any of the top fighters in the division.
Canelo Álvarez is still active and at the pinnacle of his career. What Canelo does in the latter half of his career will determine if he ever reaches the legendary status of his predecessors. While he is a great fighter, Canelo’s career is mostly forgettable.
Most boxing fans will forever remember Chavez’s iconic win over Meldrick Taylor, a fight he was losing going into the final round, and Sanchez's destruction of the Puerto Rican fistic assassin Wilfredo Gomez, and Olivares's wars with Bobby Chacon and Chucho Castillo are mesmerizing. In the meantime, we will watch the greatest Mexican fighter of this generation defend his title against another lackluster opponent.