Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, professional boxer, turned pro at 15 and is the biggest active star in combat sports. He’s 31 years old and in his prime, has won titles at 154, 160, 168 and 175 and his record is streamed with recognizable names and former title holders, with many being “former” because they risked their title/s against him.
Canelo 56-1-2 (38) is on the verge, if he’s successful this Saturday night, to become the undisputed Super Middleweight Champion, holding the WBA-WBC-WBO along with Ring Magazine’s lineal title and his opponent Caleb Plant’s IBF title. That’s something that only Bernard Hopkins, Jermaine Taylor, Terence Crawford, Oleksandr Usyk and Josh Taylor have accomplished. Hopkins is a certified all-time great, I believe Crawford is closing in on becoming one, Usyk may be as well and Taylor is on the short list of elite pound for pound fighters in boxing currently.
There was a time when I thought Canelo was overrated and more a product of his genes and marketability. In other words, a Hispanic fighter who looks Irish. I thought he had two left feet, couldn’t cut off the ring effectively, could be flustered with quick handed opponents, tended to run out of steam down the stretch and his confidence was penetrable. And being someone who trusts his boxing aptitude and instincts, I was steadfast in those opinions.
However, since he was soundly defeated by Floyd Mayweather a little over eight years ago, he’s evolved and is no longer the same fighter who was probably edged out by Erislandy Lara and who lost the first fight to Gennady Golovkin on my live scorecard.
That fighter has moved on and he’s now more than a handful for anybody campaigning between 168-175. And that metamorphosis started somewhere during the ninth and 10th rounds of the first Golovkin bout in September of 2017.
For the first eight rounds Golovkin was on the attack, had Canelo on his heels and searching for answers on how to stem the tide and ride it the way he wanted. Then he began to make Golovkin miss, made him pay with counters and even picked his spots to initiate the meaningful exchanges. He finished the fight strong and clearly got the better of it over the last three and perhaps four rounds of the bout.
Since the end of that bout Canelo has improved defensively, offensively, found out that he has a cast iron chin and as a result of that his confidence has escalated like I’ve seldom seen before. In fact, Canelo is the only fighter I can think of who became a superstar and icon way before he was that good, then he improved!
His opponent Caleb Plant goes into this unification bout with a limited tool box, hoping to get by with a rubber mallet when he needs a steel hammer.
And if given the benefit of the doubt suggesting he’s the most skilled mallet handler in the world, it’s still doubtful that he’ll be able to lay a foundation to which he’ll be able to hold off the storm Canelo is now capable of bringing.
Plant likes to be tricky and cute and feeds off of making his opponent miss, but doesn’t make them pay, at least not in a way that will bother Canelo. And the thing that’ll work against Plant in hoping to do that is – Canelo has mastered coming forward with his hands in position to either catch or punch off a miss. But it’s more than that. Actually Canelo coming forward without letting his hands go, in the defiant manner in which he does, sends the message to his opponents that is read by them correctly — “you can’t hurt me, if you don’t commit, I’m gonna kick your ass while you’re debating with yourself whether to get out of here or try and fight me!”
So they try and bluff him in order to keep him from getting too confident and throw something without fully committing to it, so they can get out before he counters the hell out of them. The problem is, he calculated them reacting that way and is in great position to cut loose to the head and body and then proceeds to do just that. As a result he becomes more alpha and they become lesser than they were when the bell rang for the first round.
Andre Ward, the last unified Super Middleweight Champ, offered Plant some sound advice: “I’m not a believer when you face a guy that’s powerful or a guy that’s supposed to have punching power you’re [supposed to] avoid him and being perfect for 12 [rounds],” Ward said. “Like, I don’t believe in that. Like, I like to go rattle their cage. In fact, you gotta rattle the cage. What I mean by that is that sometimes you gotta go to that power and smother it. You gotta let them know, whoever it is, hey, you can get hurt, too. And then that enables you to box and do what you need to do. So, it’s a mixture of everything. Caleb understands that. He’s a high IQ fighter.”
Ward is correct, and maybe the version of him who won the Super Six tournament could’ve rattled Canelo’s cage. But Plant doesn’t punch with the same impact and isn’t nearly as strong physically as Ward.
At one time Canelo was vulnerable to pesky quick handed fighters, but at 168 that’s no longer the case. Because he’s grown so much stronger and believes in his chin so much, he doesn’t care about anything coming his way and knowing that he’s forced his opponent to rush their shot there’s even less on it.
Many miss that it takes strength and power to outbox a strong aggressive counter puncher with explosive power, and that’s who Canelo is currently. Sure, moving and trying to keep space between he and Canelo will allow Plant to survive for awhile but eventually in order to win the fight and seize control, he’ll have to stand his ground. I seriously doubt he has the guns to accomplish that. In order to beat Canelo at 168 it’s going to take a fighter who can box and apply some physicality in more than spots in order to slow Canelo down.
Maybe Jermall Charlo if he moves up or David Benavidez have the needed strength and boxing skills to make Canelo have to take a step back and process his way in, and that’s no given. But Plant doesn’t. And because he doesn’t have the physicality coupled with Canelo being too solid, durable, confident and strong for him to box – he’ll go the same way Callum Smith and Billy Joe Saunders did, the last two undefeated title holders he fought.
In all honesty they were never in the fight and after the first or second round there was never a doubt as to who was going to win.
Let us applaud Canelo for staying active and keeping the sport interesting and alive while at the same time beating undefeated title holders in their prime even if they’re not considered murderers row. Then again, everybody critiques foes and no fighter is truly appreciated until they are long retired.
Lastly, Plant called Canelo a motherfucker, and it was the only time I saw Canelo really get angry (unless he was just pretending), but he said something to Plant about not ever saying anything about his mother.
Apparently he took it literally and personally.
I’ve noticed that Canelo doesn’t mind punishing opponents, and I think that’s what he’s going to do with Plant.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com