Editor’s Letter: Canelo Alvarez and the precarious pinnacle

By Matt Christie

ONE OF the downsides of reaching the absolute top is that everyone else has an easy target to aim at, irrespective of whether those taking aim have any right to do so or not. Manchester United remain the football team everyone except Manchester United fans love to hate, largely because they had the audacity to enjoy being so untouchable for such a long time. The prime minister, however popular they may initially appear to be, will ultimately end up being the most unpopular person in the country.

Though our fistic heroes will never ever be confused with politicians in our hearts, boxers have the propensity to disappoint in a similar way. At all times we expect an awful lot from these people who fight for a living, surely too much.

Muhammad Ali, particularly during his second reign as world heavyweight champion, was met with plenty of criticism for a variety of reasons. For every Joe Frazier or Ron Lyle in the opposing corner there was a Chuck Wepner or Jean-Pierre Coopman. BN’s Jack Hirsch will tell a story about being at the press conference after the Leon Spinks rematch, when Ali had made history by winning the heavyweight title for a third time, and the widespread feeling among the media was that Ali was still a long way behind Joe Louis in the greatness stakes.

Roy Jones Jnr, though quite obviously all but invincible during his peak, was supposedly avoiding Dariusz Michalczewski and cheating fans out of a fight that probably wouldn’t have been that competitive anyway.

Floyd Mayweather Jnr came along and, once he’d become the indisputable leader of boxing, he was thought to have been taking the pee by handpicking opponents with little regard for what the rest of us wanted. For many fans, watching Mayweather fight was born of a desire to see him come unstuck.

That sense of expectations not being met is a common theme, one that is as much a symptom of the lack of overriding governance in boxing as it is the fault of the fighters who choose – or are allowed – to exploit it.

Canelo Alvarez is in that position of power now and, since his greatest triumph, the 2018 rematch victory over Gennadiy Golovkin, he has been accused of taking the easy route a little too frequently. Today, the widespread opinion seems to be that he’s ducking David Benavidez who, like Michalczewski, (and this might offend the Benavidez disciples) could well be overrated as a consequence. Benavidez, don’t forget, doesn’t exactly have an exemplary rap sheet himself. And though he’s defeated plenty of good fighters, he’s yet to step up to true elite level.

Does Canelo deserve the heat he’s getting? It’s generally my opinion that fighters who are that good, and have achieved that much, should only be judged when a sense of perspective can truly be gained from their career. But that’s only one opinion. The opinions of those who believe that champions of Canelo’s standing should seek out their closest rivals, every single time they fight, have plenty of merit. After all, one of the most important processes in sport is that the best competes against the best to prove they’re the best. Also, there should be little doubt that different rules apply to the most coveted champions in boxing; for example, sanctioning bodies, so keen to be associated with the cash cows, fall over themselves to please them. For evidence, one only must look at the WBC going out of their way to claim they’d investigated all the restaurants in which Alvarez had dined before he tested positive for clenbuterol in early 2018 – and ruling, after mere days and despite him receiving a six-month ban, that he was an innocent man. The WBA’s comment on the situation back then was even worse. That perceived preferential treatment will naturally frustrate the everyman who has never enjoyed such luxury.

Yet it’s lazy to suggest that Canelo, who turned professional at the age of 15, has lived a sheltered life. Our memories are short; a human malfunction not helped by elite boxers of today fighting only once or twice a year. And in the last 12 months, Canelo has fought only John Ryder, a legitimate but not leading contender at super-middleweight, and Jermell Charlo, the barely active champ all the way down at 154. Before that came the third fight with a past-it Golovkin which followed a somewhat humbling and convincing loss to Dmitry Bivol at light-heavyweight. Alvarez, though still the most marketable fighter on the planet, hasn’t made our pulses race for a long time. That just won’t do; fans who pay for tickets, pay-per-views and countless subscriptions have every right to voice their displeasure.

At the time of this writing, after unsubstantiated reports that Canelo was going to fight Jermall Charlo sent fans into a spin, the Mexican superstar appears to have turned his attention to Jaime Munguia for a May 4 showdown with Edgar Berlanga to follow. Should Munguia and Berlanga be exposed at the highest level – which is a possibility – expect the reaction to be a mixture of Canelo being a great fighter and Canelo being a bully who’s constantly picking on lesser opponents.

The Mexican’s career has been an impressive one, no question. Even his harshest critics would admit that the way he went back to the drawing board after his schooling at the hands of Mayweather in 2013 – and then went on to defeat Miguel Cotto and Golovkin at 160, Sergey Kovalev at 175, then drop back down to super-middle to gain widespread supremacy is the work of a very special talent.

Canelo’s place in history is far from certain, however. Even today, nine years after his last real fight, one suspects that we’re still a generation away from Mayweather being truly appreciated for all that he achieved. In truth, we’re only just getting around to rediscovering our appreciation for Jones Jnr now he at last appears to have stopped fighting for good.

True greatness is rarely gained in the here and now. Canelo, therefore, is still some way from achieving it, regardless of who he chooses to fight next.

#Editors #Letter #Canelo #Alvarez #precarious #pinnacle

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