LET’S not kid ourselves, the chances of Canelo Alvarez ever challenging Anthony Joshua at heavyweight are beyond slim. But throughout boxing history, far stranger things have occurred. If the Mexican superstar continues on his upward trajectory and rules at light-heavyweight, the leap to heavyweight then doesn’t seem quite as outlandish as it does today. So if Canelo were to go for the ultimate fight that would seal his legacy as one of the best of them, what better opponent than Joshua?
Size-wise Joshua is smaller than Tyson Fury, a fighter whose unorthodox way of doing things would be something that Canelo would want no part of. The massive Fury is absolutely out of the question, but Joshua might not be. Andre Ward recently said that before retiring as the light-heavyweight king, he had contemplated a one-off at heavyweight against Joshua. Ward saw weaknesses he felt he could exploit despite being at a physical disadvantage. Canelo, who likes a challenge, surely does as well.
Of course, plenty will scoff at the very idea of Canelo making so bold a move. Among them is revered international agent and matchmaker Don Majeski, who has spent over 50 years in the business and is considered by some as boxing’s premier historian. “It would be a mismatch,” opines Majeski. “Canelo is simply too small and his punches would have no effect on Joshua. Perhaps if Canelo fought a smaller heavyweight champion like Floyd Patterson he would have a chance, but not against someone the size of Joshua.
“What you must understand is that no matter how much weight Canelo puts on, he’ll never be a natural heavyweight, never carry the power he would need to hold off a much bigger man who has the skillset of Joshua. I’m not saying Canelo couldn’t beat some heavyweight contenders. Maybe he can beat the weaker ones, but certainly not Joshua. Bulking up in weight might hurt more than help, in that it could make him sluggish and not as sharp as he normally is.
“A more intriguing fight to me would be Canelo against [world light-heavyweight champion] Artur Beterbiev. I would not pick him to win that one either, but at least he would have a reasonable chance.”
Former belt-holder and respected analyst Paul Malignaggi concurs. “There is no way Canelo could beat Joshua. He is too light and small [Canelo stands 5ft 8ins to Joshua’s 6ft 6ins]. He could not put on enough natural weight to compete.
“The new generation of heavyweights like Joshua are so big. There was a time when a 6ft 3ins heavyweight was considered big, but not now.
“I just don’t think Canelo could keep Joshua off. I would not hold it against him if he took the fight and got knocked out, but I just don’t see it ending any other way.”
As pessimistic as Malignaggi sounds, he was once briefly tasked with the near impossible chore of helping to train boxing debutant Conor McGregor to face Floyd Mayweather. At the time, Malignaggi was realistic enough not to predict McGregor would win, but felt there would be pockets of the fight where the MMA star could acquit himself well. If the considerably more experienced Canelo were to be trained by Malignaggi what strategy would he employ? “Canelo would have to take chances right away,” feels Malignaggi. “He is the much smaller guy and probably could not withstand Joshua’s power for long. I would have him go after Joshua working off of the jab and the wonderfully terrific left hook he has. I would hope he could hurt Joshua and then follow up.” That said, Malignaggi feels it is a long shot at best. “Canelo might have moments of success, but I can’t see him winning under any circumstance.”
Before we discount Canelo’s chances completely, I’ve compiled 10 factors that might – and I say ‘might’ with both an open mind and a smile on my face – swing the bout in the Mexican’s favour.
CHIN: In Canelo’s long career he has barely been wobbled, let alone dropped. His punch resistance can arguably be regarded among the greatest in history. For that reason alone, it is reasonable to surmise that he would be able to withstand the occasional hard blow that Joshua would land.
DEFENCE: Canelo is an excellent defensive fighter. There have been fights where he has impressively made his opponents miss punch after punch. It is not the biggest of stretches to picture Joshua struggling to hit the Mexican either cleanly or regularly.
RING GENERALSHIP: There is not another fighter more technically sound than Canelo. He has no real flaws. Not so with Joshua. Canelo is great at exposing an opponent’s weaknesses. He would be fully capable of doing so with Joshua’s.
ANDY RUIZ: The former conqueror of Joshua joined Canelo’s camp last year under the direction of trainer Eddie Reynoso. Canelo has acted as a mentor to Ruiz since then. If any man can give Canelo insights into Joshua’s strengths and weaknesses it is Ruiz, the only man to have beaten him in the professional ranks. Furthermore, Canelo would take encouragement from the manner in which the much shorter Ruiz bullied Joshua in their first fight.
EXPERIENCE: Joshua has big fight experience (in the UK), but it pales in comparison to that of Canelo, who has spent his career facing many quality boxers with different styles. Simply put, Canelo is more battle-tested than Joshua and it is not even close.
HANDLING PRESSURE: Absolutely nothing phases Canelo. He could be facing Joshua in front of 90,000 people in Wembley and not be intimidated at all. Joshua can overthink things. How would he react if a Canelo match was not going his way?
MOTIVATION: Both men would be greatly motivated but for different reasons. Canelo’s would be to make history by defying the odds. Joshua’s would be to avoid the embarrassment of losing to a much smaller man. Canelo’s positive approach would serve him better than Joshua’s.
SIZE DIFFERENCE: Canelo weighed 174½lbs when he boxed Sergey Kovalev in a light-heavyweight title bout in 2019. Against Joshua he would not be required to bulk up to the point where his advantage in speed would be compromised. It is reasonable to think he would come in between 190lbs and 200lbs. For his last two bouts Joshua has weighed around 240. There have been other heavyweight contests where the weight disparity was greater, but the lighter man still prevailed.
JUDGING: Joshua is yet to be involved in a close fight that went the full distance. On the numerous occasions that Canelo has, the scorecards have always seemed to favour him. If the match with Joshua should go the distance Canelo might only need to be competitive to get the decision.
STAMINA: Canelo has proved, particularly in recent years, to have a great engine. In contrast, Joshua has struggled to pace himself on several occasions, often appearing utterly exhausted during the middle rounds before finding a second wind. That second wind may not be forthcoming against an operator like Canelo.
CONCLUSION: Okay, even considering all of the above, it’s still pure fantasy to actually pick Canelo to win. It would surely be a bridge too far, even for the Mexican. Joshua, a tremendous heavyweight and underrated technician, would win decisively but Canelo would surely have his moments along the way before the sheer size of the task became too great. But it all certainly makes you think.