Premium Feature Highlight 3 Issue

The Canelo Gamble

Tom Hogan/Hogan Photos/Golden Boy
Will Canelo Alvarez still have the same effect at light-heavyweight against WBO boss Sergey Kovalev, wonders Elliot Worsell

BOXING has given birth to many champions throughout its life, but few of its children have been adored and cared for quite like Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. In the eyes of his parents, Canelo, this angelic prodigy with vast money-making potential, can do know wrong. If he wants something, he gets it, no questions asked. The latest item on his wish list is a world light-heavyweight title, which will be Canelo’s to own if he can dethrone WBO champion Sergey Kovalev on Saturday (November 2) in his first fight as a light-heavyweight, having previously excelled at middleweight.

Gambles like this are usually predicated on the theory that a great small man beats a good big man and Kovalev vs. Alvarez is no exception. In this instance, Alvarez’s interest in Kovalev has more to do with the Russian’s age and supposed regression than his WBO world title or any potential Canelo reign at light-heavyweight. There are other belts at light-heavyweight, held by other champions, yet it is Kovalev the smaller man has pursued because it is Kovalev he considers the weakest of those available.

Such is Alvarez’s bargaining power, the choice is his. He can window-shop in multiple weight classes. He can pick his opponents and belts. He can essentially construct his own world within which to work.

Last December, Alvarez, boosted by DAZN pocket money, paid Rocky Fielding a large sum to put his WBA ‘regular’ super-middleweight title on the line at Madison Square Garden, New York. This was another fight in which Canelo was undersized, but the opponent, of course, was custom made. Alvarez swiped right on Fielding from his list of options and if the reason for his fondness wasn’t revealed beforehand it took just three rounds for it to become obvious.

Saturday’s fight, while exponentially better than the Fielding one, has still been built from the same instruction manual and again takes place within Canelo World, where Canelo rules the roost, where whatever he says goes. Here, if he wants to move to light-heavyweight and immediately challenge a champion, he can, and he will. Better yet, a sanctioning body like the WBO will be happy to help. They will install him as their number one contender and do away with the other light-heavyweights who for years endeavoured to scale their top 10. They will remove the need for Canelo to win an eliminator and simply pray he one day holds their title.

Canelo
Tom Hogan/Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions

In truth, boxing has been unofficially governed by Canelo since he emerged as the most marketable star the sport could offer in the wake of Floyd Mayweather’s retirement. Built for purpose, he had all the ingredients. He was Mexican, so had a pre-prepared fan base, he had been touched – outboxed – by Floyd Mayweather, the household name he was groomed to replace, and he also had skills and confidence resulting from turning pro at 15 years of age. He reached the summit on merit, doing so in exciting fashion, but was every inch the manufactured combat sports star.

When required, the industry was there to help. In March 2018, Alvarez failed a Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) drug test for clenbuterol but escaped with a measly six-month ban. Attributed to contaminated meat, the transgression was received by the fight fraternity, those with fingers in the Canelo pie, as little more than a clerical error, a glitch in the matrix. It was shamefully played down. He was somehow excused.

Not only that, by September he had contentiously outpointed Gennady Golovkin, his longtime middleweight rival, made millions of dollars in the process, and was being viewed not with suspicion but as boxing’s foremost superstar.

To his credit, Alvarez, 52-1-2 (35), never fled or cowered. Instead, he maintained his innocence and then rewrote his own story with some excellent performances, including a middleweight title win against dangerous American Daniel Jacobs. He has been abetted by short memories, yes, but it is still Alvarez doing the fighting and winning. It is Alvarez, 29, who has ultimately made everybody forget and Alvarez who, with a victory over Kovalev, now stands to win a world title in a third weight division (fourth if you value the WBA ‘regular’ super-middleweight title he snatched from Fielding).

Kovalev, at 36, settles for a well-paid supporting role this weekend. As well as Alvarez, he currently battles Father Time and has the entire boxing world on tenterhooks waiting for what they are convinced is an inevitable demise.

But he has defied them twice this year, first when avenging a loss to Eleider Alvarez in February and again in August when stopping Anthony Yarde, the young lion some tipped to dethrone him. Both times Kovalev, 34-3-1 (29), showed signs of deterioration yet, equally, traits suggestive of a great champion. Refusing to be retired, he displayed an impressive strength of character and this, combined with his size and effective jab, will ensure he is a far tougher test for Alvarez than Fielding was 11 months ago.

Moreover, you would like to think Kovalev, given all he has achieved, will resent having been cherry-picked for Canelo’s cameo appearance at light-heavyweight. Maybe his pride will be dented. Maybe he will feel offended by the little man moving up to chase him. And if he does feel this way, it could help his cause, for much of Kovalev’s best work as a pro has been fuelled by animosity and a desire to put hands on an enemy.

That said, early indications aren’t great. Kovalev, rather than aggrieved, seemed honoured to have been blessed with an invite to Canelo World when the pair gathered at an announcement press conference in September. To the horror of many, he smiled adoringly at the Mexican before bumping fists. He called him amigo, even asked for a picture.

Alvarez has that effect on people. Call it charm. Call it an aura. Call it power. Whatever it is, Canelo possesses it in spades. He has the boxing industry, including his opponents, eating out of the palms of two destructive hands and the cinnamon hair on his head appears more golden with each passing year. The stage, for him, is again set.

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