Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez takes the path of least resistance, swerving Munguia and Benavidez

 | February 19 | 

4 mins read

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A week ago, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez teased a “major announcement” surrounding his career. Not allowing the churning gears of speculation to grind for too long, the undisputed super middleweight champion revealed soon after exactly what his mystery missive was. Alvarez would defend his four-belt 168-pound stronghold on 4th May against an American opponent.

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As announcements go, it was hardly earth-shattering. ‘Canelo’ has fought on every Cinco de Mayo weekend since 2018. Even the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t stop the flame-haired one taking to the ring during the Mexican holiday. The idea of an American opponent raised eyebrows, though.

The reason for this is the fact that the two most deserving contenders at the weight are both of Mexican heritage. Jaime Munguia and WBC interim champion David Benavidez are head and shoulders above the rest of the division in terms of credentials. The emphasis on the unnamed opponent’s nationality seemed designed to lower expectations that Alvarez would be facing one of his unbeaten countrymen.

Jermall Charlo’s name was widely reported, including on these pages. Welterweight champion Terence Crawford is American and has been campaigning for a ‘Canelo’ match-up. But Alvarez poured cold water on that fight in an interview with Box Azteca, saying, “I have everything to lose and nothing to gain because if I win they’ll say, ‘Oh, he was too small.’”

The irony here is that is exactly what people said following Alvarez’s last fight. A 12-round decision win over Jermall’s brother, Jermell Charlo, did little apart from swell the bank account of ‘Canelo’ and his team. Charlo was the undisputed champion at light middleweight going in. Admittedly, he was bigger than Crawford, but ‘Bud’ is a far superior fighter and a bigger name commercially. 

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With Crawford, Munguia and Benavidez out of the picture, there really is only Jermall Charlo as a half-viable option. Even then, he is a champion at middleweight who is having to make a step-up in both size and class for this fight. It is a main event that thus far has failed to capture the imagination.

In truth, ‘Canelo’ could call it a day tomorrow and he would be a lock for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Among the gilded icons in Canastota, his achievements would glisten brightly. Alvarez is a four-weight world champion, from light middleweight all the way up to light heavyweight. He is the first and only undisputed super middleweight ruler in history. His trilogy with Gennady Golovkin is one for the history books. Wins over Miguel Cotto, Sergey Kovalev, Amir Khan, Daniel Jacobs, Caleb Plant and Shane Mosley stack up with almost any modern resume. 

What ‘Canelo’ has done isn’t in question. Only the most miserly detractors could deny his credentials as a modern great. But the thorny issue is how Alvarez chooses to spend his remaining years in the ring. He has previously cited 37 as the age he wants to call it quits. The Mexican is 34 in July. If Alvarez sticks to his own schedule, we are entering the endgame in his career.

In terms of mountains to climb, there are few left for a fighter who has done it all. Alvarez’s loss to WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol seemed to put paid to talk he would move up to cruiserweight to fight then-WBC champion Ilunga Makabu. Fanciful talk of a fight with WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk was quelled at that time too. It says a lot about Alvarez’s supremacy that these moves were even considered, however bizarre they seem in retrospect.

If he’s unwilling to fight Crawford and unable to undertake any weight-gaining alchemy, that really does leave two viable games in town for ‘Canelo’: Munguia and Benavidez. The former is a recent arrival at 168 pounds, so the fact Alvarez has not engaged him isn’t egregious. But Benavidez has been a championship-class fighter for years now. 

Alvarez has opted for a third fight with Gennady Golovkin, a battle with British fringe contender John Ryder and the aforementioned fight with Jermell Charlo in his last three fights. These aren’t the choices of a man striving for further greatness. Not meaning to insult the trio of boxers he faced, ‘Canelo’ went for the path of least resistance in his most recent fights.

As I said before, everything Alvarez has done means his legacy is secure. But if our last three or four years of Alvarez are the same as the last two, it would be a sad way for one of the all-time greats to go out. These sorts of fights will make him a rich man but nothing more. Chancing his arm against a Benavidez or Munguia-type opponent would show bravery, even in defeat. After all, isn’t that what champions are made of?

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