Superstar Canelo Alvarez, regarded by many as boxing’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, has won belts in four divisions from junior middleweight to light heavyweight, and says he is willing to fight in three of those divisions: middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight.
In fact, his last three fights have taken place each of them: a third-round knockout of Rocky Fielding to claim a secondary super middleweight belt in December 2018, a unanimous decision over Daniel Jacobs to unify three middleweight world titles in May 2019 and a spectacular 11th-round knockout of Sergey Kovalev to take his light heavyweight belt last November.
Alvarez is boxing’s money man. That means fighters in all three of those weight classes know a fight with him means their highest-profile fight and their biggest payday.
Until last week, Alvarez was three fights into a blockbuster five-year, 11-fight, $365 million deal with Golden Boy Promotions and sports streaming service DAZN that removed him from traditional pay-per-view. But he became a free agent last week despite eight fights and $280 million left on the deal.
Alvarez wanted out because he wanted to control his career, not to mention he’s had a very poor relationship with Golden Boy for the past few years and because DAZN, which desperately wanted a third fight between Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin, would not approve certain opponents for his full contract amount. Alvarez was willing to fight undefeated super middleweight titleholders Callum Smith and Billy Joe Saunders but DAZN would not approve either unless Alvarez agreed to take a dramatic cut from the $35 million he was owed per fight from the $40 million DAZN was supposed to pay Golden Boy to put on the events.
Alvarez claimed DAZN didn’t even have the contractual right to approve opponents, so things went south and was one of the reasons he filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Golden Boy, Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya and DAZN in September.
With no resolution in the offing, despite attempts at mediation, the parties reach a settlement last week that ended the litigation and made Alvarez a free agent, although Golden Boy and DAZN will continue to work together.
So, now what for Alvarez? It seems as though Saunders and Smith are unlikely to be opponents since they are aligned with DAZN’s other in-house promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, although Smith is supposedly on a fight-by-fight deal with Hearn. Still, while Alvarez against either Saunders or Smith would be notable, both come with hefty price tags but little recognition among the American boxing public to make for a big-time pay-per-view.
You can also probably eliminate middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade, who is with Hearn and DAZN and whom Alvarez has never showed much interest in.
Most notably Alvarez’s free agency also means there is likely no shot of a third fight with Golovkin for the time being because GGG is two fights into his own six-fight deal with DAZN, an agreement he signed in large part to get another fight at Alvarez and now finds himself out of luck.
As a 30-year-old still seemingly in his prime and the biggest star in the sport, Alvarez should have suitors as he plans to return to the traditional pay-per-view model rather than the monthly subscription model DAZN uses. But it seems unlikely Alvarez will sign with another promoter, at least not long term. He seems destined to go the Floyd Mayweather route of having his own company promote his events, though a deal with a network to market and distribute his pay-per-views makes sense.
Showtime, where Canelo has fought five times, including his biggest PPV against Mayweather, is definitely interested and has said so privately. Fox, which like Showtime works with Premier Boxing Champions, might also be interested. The same goes for ESPN and Top Rank, whose deal was supposed to include regular pay-per-views but has so far failed to deliver anything but a Terence Crawford-Amir Khan event that tanked and a joint PPV with Fox in February for the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder rematch that sold well but lost money, according to sources.
One person close to Alvarez also suggested that perhaps HBO, his home before it ended its involvement in boxing at the end of 2018, might be interested in his PPV fights, noting that when HBO announced it was ending its boxing coverage after 45 years it said, “As always, we will remain open to looking at events that fit our programming mix. This could include boxing.”
Wherever Mexico’s Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KOs) lands, however, who are his best options for opponents? He says he wants to fight Dec. 19 to make sure he gets in a fight this year, although that date is not set in stone.
Here are my five most preferred options, some more realistic than others, and not including the fighters mentioned above that seem highly unlikely:
1. David Benavidez (23-0, 20 KOs): For certain, Canelo against Benavidez would be a guaranteed action fight. Sign me up! It would be Mexican vs. Mexican-American and probably do well on PPV. Benavidez, 23, a two-time super middleweight titlist with PBC, makes great fights and has an outgoing personality that would be a plus for any promotion. He does come with some baggage, having missed weight for a defense against Roamer Alexis Angulo in August on Showtime, which caused him to be stripped of his title. But he did look good knocking out Angulo in the 10th round. Benavidez is strong, exciting, has no fight lined up and probably would fit the budget.
2. Jermall Charlo (31-0, 22 KOs): Charlo, who is with PBC, owns a middleweight title, as does Alvarez, so it would be a unification fight if Alvarez wants to fight at 160 pounds, if he even still cares about unifying. Of course, he might be able to have Charlo come up to super middleweight to challenge for his secondary title if he prefers to fight at 168 pounds. Either way, it would likely be a good fight and Charlo is a tremendous talker who would thrive promoting the PPV. He is also coming off his first foray on PPV, which he shared with his brother, Jermell Charlo, on Sept. 26. The card did a bit over 100,000 buys, which is by no means a blockbuster, but given the circumstances of the times, it wasn’t bad either. He certainly has room to grow as an attraction and would make a strong B-side to Alvarez.
3. Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs): If Alvarez, who taken on plenty of serious challenges, wants to return to light heavyweight he might as well fight the division king. Beterbiev is the lineal and unified champion and has massive punching power. It would be a dangerous fight for Alvarez without question. I love it. That said, this one has almost no chance of happening, at least in the near term. Beterbiev, who is with Top Rank and fights on ESPN, is not well known and has a defense scheduled against Adam Deines, which has been postponed but is due to happen in January.
4. Caleb Plant (20-0, 12 KOs): Plant, a super middleweight titlist with PBC, has been the rumored opponent for a Dec. 19 fight, though I’m not so sure it will happen. If it does, count me as interested. Plant is unbeaten, has a belt, is in his prime, talks a great game and is a versatile fighter. He’s been mentioned as a possible opponent for Alvarez for awhile too. It would probably be a good fight, although Plant tends to box more than bang.
5. Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs): Bivol owns a light heavyweight title but is small for the division. He has said repeatedly that he would happily fight Alvarez at 175 pounds or drop down and fight him for his belt at 168. Although he has had his last two fights on DAZN on Matchroom Boxing cards, he is not tied to either so could easily be available for Alvarez. Bivol has pound-for-pound level talent and is an outstanding boxer, but has almost no fan base in North America. It’s a fight diehards would probably be into but unlikely to draw big numbers.
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.