It was September 2013 and the Boxing world watched on as Las Vegas hosted yet another major pugilistic clash. Floyd Mayweather Jr stood opposite a man that just like him, entered the ring with zero losses on his record. His name? Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, a 23-year-old Mexican fighter that had been highly touted for years as a potential superstar in the sport. Though he was obviously the underdog, Alvarez’s size, youth, and undefeated record made him an interesting opponent for Floyd in the eyes of many onlookers with some even picking him to score the win, and finally dethrone ‘Money’ as the king of Boxing.
There was a lingering perception behind that enthusiasm though. Whilst a unification title win over Austin Trout had certainly convinced some people, there still was a lack of real quality names on Alvarez’s record and after 43 professional fights, many felt that he had been mostly protected throughout his rise to the sport’s highest level. Luckily, as is always the case with the sweet science, the truth would soon reveal itself inside the ropes and it was for that very reason that the Boxing world watched on so closely as Alvarez took on the sport’s finest. The truth awaited, or so we thought anyway.
For 36 minutes, the masterful Mayweather thoroughly outclassed Canelo in quite staggering fashion. He was a step ahead the whole time, faster, sharper and quite simply better for almost every moment of the box-office bout. There’s no shame in being beaten by Floyd Mayweather Jr regardless of who you are but Alvarez’s lack of success was rather startling and the question now really had become a matter of whether or not it was indicative of Floyd’s known brilliance or Alvarez’s own shortcomings. At just 23, Canelo had many fights remaining and it was now time to find out how much of Alvarez’s prior success had true validity or if it was all just smoke and mirrors.
Canelo quickly returned to the win column by battering Alfredo Angulo and was then matched with the classy Cuban Erislandy Lara in a non-title bout. The fight was extremely close after twelve rounds with both fighters having some genuine success throughout but in the end two of the three judges went with Alvarez’s forward pressure and rightly or wrongly, elected him as the winner. Many felt, myself included, that Lara deserved the nod but the fight’s undeniable competitiveness showed that Alvarez certainly belonged amongst the best 154lbs fighters in the world. The question was whether or not he was or could be the best of them.
With controversy still surrounding his status, Canelo next violently finished James Kirkland and was matched to finally fight long-time star Miguel Cotto for his disputed Middleweight crown. It was a fight that in the end split people with many disagreeing on the eventual scorecards. Alvarez applied pressure on Cotto’s older legs and landed sharp combinations whilst on the front foot but Cotto was game and well prepared which allowed him success of his own at range. Regardless of how close the fight was, the consensus very much seemed to be that Alvarez was the rightful winner and all three judges wholeheartedly agreed.
Beating Miguel Cotto is a feat that should never be underplayed and though the result may not have been as emphatic as some expected, it was a win nonetheless and with the WBC Middleweight title now around his waist, a superfight against Middleweight destroyer Gennady Golovkin seemed ideal for 160lbs supremacy. However, that wouldn't be the case with Alvarez instead KO’ing British Welterweight Amir Khan in a bizarre clash of weight classes that didn't do ‘Canelo’s public perception too much good. The Boxing public wanted him to fight Golovkin and the reason it wasn't happening didn't really matter. What mattered was that people wanted to see it and until then, nothing else was going to suffice.
In fairness, from a business perspective, Alvarez’s dominant wins over Liam Smith and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr were great successes but the real fight had only become increasingly clear and after his Chavez win, the fight with Golovkin was finally announced. ‘Canelo’s performances suggest that he’s genuinely elite but the truth is, his performance here will shape the perception surrounding him for years to come. Alvarez is only a +125 underdog as of this writing and that shows how credible he is considering the opposition but rightly or wrongly, a bad night in Vegas this Saturday would forever damage that. Quite simply, with a win Tomorrow ‘Canelo’ truly distances himself from that protected youngster so clearly unprepared for Floyd Mayweather four years ago. With an emphatic defeat though his whole career comes under scrutiny. Why? Because as silly as it sounds, that’s just how the fight game works.