Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Hernandez: Canelo Alvarez faces a serious decision after the last triumph

What Canelo Alvarez did on Saturday night was tantamount to cutting a mahogany with a steak knife.

His TKO against an opponent the size of Caleb Plant was proof of his outstanding finishing ability. At the same time, the fact that it took him over 10 shots to stop the Restrained Fighter Plant indicated that he was moving uncomfortably close to his physical ceiling.

Because size matters.

This reality should be kept in mind by Alvarez as he makes difficult choices about what to do next in his career. There is no clear path.

He could stay in the 168 pound division, which no longer had belts to win and potential opponents to conquer. Or he may continue to gain weight, exposing him to the same dangers that ultimately undermined some of his former contemporaries in the pound-for-pound boxing rankings, including Roman Gonzalez, Mikey Garcia and Vasily Lomachenko.

Size was the only reason Plant held out for so long against Alvarez at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Alvarez impressed him in all other aspects.

Alvarez went through Plant’s pathetic blows. He moved forward with determination, pinning the leaning Plant against the ropes and corners. He hit Plant in the body with left hooks. He attacked Plant in the head, chopping off his right.

However, Alvarez, 31, stands at 5’8 ” and is very small for a welterweight. Alvarez won his first world championship at 154 lbs.

He gave Plant five inches, and when the two fighters entered the ring together, they looked like they should have been split by a pair of weight classes.

“It turned out to be more complicated than I thought,” Alvarez said in Spanish.

Size does it. Alvarez spent the early rounds figuring out how to close the distance against his taller opponent. Unlike the emaciated Callum Smith, whom Alvarez defeated last year, Plant had a solid physique that allowed him to withstand a certain amount of punishment. If Alvarez and Plant were the same size, the fight would have lasted four or five rounds. Instead, more than a minute passed until the 11th.

In the decisive round, Alvarez got a left hook from above. When Plant took a defensive stance, Alvarez struck a right uppercut. The plant fell to all fours.

Canelo Alvarez punches Caleb Plant in the head during their fight for the super middleweight title on Saturday.

(Steve Marcus / The Associated Press)

Plant got to his feet, but Alvarez jumped at him and delivered a flurry of powerful punches, including a short right punch to the side of Plant’s head, which ended the fight.

After his victory, Alvarez said he would probably fight next May, but was not sure against whom and in what weight class.

There is no obvious choice.

Staying at 168 pounds is risky. Take Saturday’s fight, for example: the advantage of fighting Plant was not that he fought Plant, but that he was about to become the first fighter in a division to ever win world titles for all four major sanctioning bodies.

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Which basically said everything there was to say about how competitive the fight would be.

In boxing, a belt doesn’t make a fighter. Rather, the fighter makes the belt.

When Alvarez fought, say, Gennady Golovkin or Floyd Mayweather, little attention was paid to which belts were at stake. These fights didn’t matter because of the belts. These belts were important because of who fought for them.

Alvarez fought four times at 168 pounds last year. A setting was included against an unbalanced player named Avni Yildirim. The other three fights, including the fight against Plant, were notable mainly in that they brought him closer to his stated ambition of competing for each of the four major championships for 168 pounds. It wasn’t easy, as the battle with Plant was expected to give way significantly to the million pay-per-view purchases that were once the standard for large promotions.

How many more times can Alvarez sell a fight in which the storyline is about equipment of dubious value?

His only worthy super middleweight contender would have been Golovkin, against whom Alvarez drew and won a controversial decision. But Golovkin turns 40 in April, which could diminish the public’s appetite for a third fight between them.

But the threat of indifference may be preferable to the danger that Alvarez will face at 175 pounds.

Canelo Alvarez with his title belts after Saturday's victory.

Canelo Alvarez with his title belts after Saturday’s victory.

(Steve Marcus / The Associated Press)

Two years ago, he fought at that weight and defeated Sergei Kovalev, a once formidable fighter that Andre Ward destroyed psychologically and physically. A win over Kovalev could convince Alvarez that he can do well at light heavyweight. He may be right. But when fighters advance too much one division or take on a heavier opponent too many times, they are reminded why they are divided by weight.

The diminutive Gonzalez may have been the best fighter of the last decade, with the Nicaraguan winning world championships in 105, 108, 112 and 115 pounds. The last jump was too big. He threw everything at Carlos Cuadras in their 2016 fight, but was unable to knock him out. Gonzalez lost a decision to Shrisaket Sor Rungwisai in his next fight. Rungwisai knocked him out in a rematch.

Garcia and Lomachenko were also dominant champions who gained weight in search of more serious challenges, but were defeated by opponents who were less experienced but heavier, Garcia – welterweight Errol Spence and Lomachenko – lightweight Teofimo Lopez.

The most attractive 175-pound contender for Alvarez will be Mexican American David Benavidez. Benavides, 24, is not as refined a fighter as Alvarez, but a physical freak. If Alvarez fails to break the Plant, he won’t stop Benavides.

Maybe Alvarez will fight Benavidez and win. But the consequences of fighting a heavier fighter are not always instantaneous. Manny Pacquio was in welterweight when he decided to move to another division to face Antonio Margarito. Pacquiao won, but not without prices. In retrospect, it can be said that the punishment he received from Margarito contributed to his subsequent decline.

With his history of inviting danger, Alvarez expects to fight Benavidez at some point. But if he doesn’t – just as Mayweather, the exploded lightweight, never fought Margarito – he shouldn’t be blamed for it. Weight categories are not in vain.

Nation World News Desk
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