By Michael Rosenthal
Canelo Alvarez is one of the best fighters in the world. No one would dispute that.
The Mexican redhead built himself into a star even though he had a limited amateur career and was guided by unproven trainers. He has been willing to take on dangerous opponents and has had hand raised in victory more often than not. And, to the detriment of other top middleweights, he seems to be getting better at 28 years old.
All of that is why Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 knockouts) is on every credible pound-for-pound list and deserves to be.
But No. 1? Uh, no.
Some boxing people I respect have begun to suggest that Alvarez is the best active fighter, particularly after his close, but unanimous-decision victory over formidable Daniel Jacobs last Saturday night in Las Vegas.
They’ll point to his body of work, including dominating victories over second-tier opponents and a winning record against elite foes.
For the purposes of this column, let’s say he has faced seven opponents who were given some chance to beat him – Austin Trout, Floyd Mayweather, Erislandy Lara, Miguel Cotto, Gennady Golovkin (twice) and Jacobs.
Alvarez is 5-1-1 in those fights, an impressive run that has allowed him to climb up the pound-for-pound ladder over the past several years and one reason some believe he has leapfrogged Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford.
But let’s take a closer look at those fights:
• Trout, UD: I thought the fight was much closer than at least one of the scorecards (118-109) indicated but it was a clear victory.
• Mayweather, UD loss: I scored the bout 120-108 – a shutout – for Mayweather. Enough said.
• Lara, SD: Kudos to Alvarez for facing the master technician from Cuba and he performed well but many believe Lara deserved the victory or at least a draw.
• Cotto, UD: The Puerto Rican star was on a nice little run but his victory over a gimpy Sergio Martinez to win the WBC middleweight title was misleading. Cotto was in decline.
• Golovkin, SD draw and MD: The first fight was competitive but the vast majority of observers thought Triple-G won. The second fight, a victory for Alvarez, also was controversial.
• Jacobs, UD: Alvarez turned in a good performance against a bigger man in a mildly entertaining fight. The scorecards reflected what happened in the ring.
Of course, Alvarez deserves credit for winning five of the seven aforementioned fights and performing well in the draw. The primary object of boxing is to win, after all.
At the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that he was fortunate that the judges handed him a record of 2-0-1 against Lara and Golovkin. Some knowledgeable observers would suggest Alvarez should be 0-3 in those fights, which obviously would’ve changed the way he’s perceived.
And in none of those fights did Alvarez dazzle anyone. He does just enough to win (or draw) in his biggest fights, which leaves him without that “wow” factor or a true defining fight to separate him from others contending for the top spot on the pound-for-pound list.
Consider two past pound-for-pound kings. Mayweather dominated almost everyone he faced, which made the best fighter of his era. Manny Pacquiao knocked out in succession Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto. Alvarez can’t match that level of dominance.
And let’s compare Alvarez to today’s top two fighters, Lomachenko and Crawford.
The original purpose of pound-for-pound was to compare fighters without regard to weight. And I’ve always seen the pound-for-pound formula as a balance between important victories and the eye test, meaning winning or eye-catching performances alone aren’t necessarily enough to land at No. 1.
The opponents of Lomachenko (13-1, 10 KOs) don’t rival Alvarez’s victims – it’s hard to top the challenges presented by Lara, Triple-G and Jacobs – but “Hi-Tech” has a strong resume, including victories over Gary Russell Jr., Roman Martinez, Nicholas Walters, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Jorge Linares.
And I would argue that Lomachenko has been more impressive than Alvarez in his biggest fights. A clear victory over Russell and knockouts of Martinez, Walters, Rigondeaux and Linares (after some trying moments for Lomachenko) were spectacular, a word few would use to describe Alvarez’s performances in his seven biggest fights.
Indeed, I believe Lomachenko blows Alvarez away in terms of the eye test. Alvarez is an excellent, unusually durable boxer but “Hi-Tech” has a skill set that leaves onlookers in awe.
Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) also falls short of Alvarez in level of opposition but he, too, has a strong resume. Among his opponents: Ricky Burns, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Ray Beltran, Thomas Dulorme, Viktor Postol and Amir Khan (at a natural weight for Khan).
And, like Lomachenko, the Nebraskan was more impressive – and certainly more dynamic – in these fights than Alvarez has been in his toughest challenges, meaning Crawford has earned a higher grade on the eye tests. There have been a lot of “wows” in the career of Terence Crawford.
This leads me to an obvious question predicated on the purpose of pound-for-pound: Do you seriously believe that Alvarez would beat Lomachenko and Crawford if they were legitimate 160-pounders? Think about that for a while and get back to me.
For the record, this column isn’t meant to demean Alvarez in any way. Again, he’s one of the best at what he does. He should take pride in that.
And one day he might climb to the No. 1 positition. For example, a dominating victory in a third fight with Golovkin might be that “wow” or defining victory that would help build a stronger case that he belongs at the top of the boxing heap.
But that time hasn’t come. Right now, Lomachenko and Crawford are the best fighters in the world.
Michael Rosenthal was the 2018 winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades. Follow him at @mrosenthal_box.