By Jake Donovan

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is free and clear to fight whomever he chooses for his next fight.

Within reason and still by sanctioning body rules, mind you.

The reigning World middleweight champion—fresh off of a 12-round win over Daniel Jacobs to unify three alphabet titles (in addition to his lineal championship)—was recently ordered by the International Boxing Federation to next defend versus his mandatory challenger, Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

A letter went out to both camps—Golden Boy Promotions for Mexico’s Alvarez (52-1-2, 35KOs) and promoter Lou DiBella for Derevyanchenko, who hails from Brooklyn by way of Ukraine—to begin a 30-day negotiations period for a bout that was initially due to take place on or before August 4.

That is no longer the case.

“Serg[i]y Derevyanchenko is his mandatory. However, since he is a unified champion there is a rotation,” IBF spokesperson Jeanette Salazar clarified with BoxingScene.com on Thursday. “Alvarez also has the right to request an exception.”

The latter part gives Alvarez the freedom to pursue the opponent of his choosing for his next ring adventure. 

Such practice is common among unified titlists, as is the case with Alvarez whom also holds the WBC and WBA titles in addition to the IBF and his genuine lineal championship. The timeline for mandatory title defenses under such circumstances can range anywhere from 12 to 24 months, depending on the number of belts currently in said champion's possession.

The fight that most fight fans seem to want is a third bout with Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, as does sports streaming service DAZN which has both middleweights under contract.

Alvarez and Golovkin (37-1-1, 34KOs) fought to a highly questionable 12-round draw in Sept. ’17, a verdict which many felt should have landed in favor of the knockout artist from Kazakhstan. Their rematch last September ended with Alvarez claiming a 12-round majority decision to win two titles and—depending on the viewpoint—either reestablishing or extending his lineal championship reign which originally began with a Nov. ’15 victory over Miguel Cotto.

Golovkin is due to next face Canada’s Steve Rolls—an unbeaten but unheralded middleweight prospect—at a contracted maximum weight of 164 pounds on June 8 at Madison Square Garden. It was hoped by Alvarez and Golden Boy to wait out that fight and possibly even WBO titlist Demetrius Andrade’s June 29 homecoming title defense versus Maciej Sulecki before making a decision on a next opponent.

That plan is now back into play.

Of course, Alvarez would still have to formally file for an exception with the IBF. However, because he’s not exclusively tied to a mandatory title defense for his next fight, there remains flexibility in what the sanctioning body will grant as acceptable.

Under normal circumstances, the lone loophole around a mandatory title defense would be a unification bout—and even those are often rejected if a mandatory challenge is overdue.

That’s not the case here, as Derevyanchenko (13-1, 10KOs) was just named the top contender following a dull 12-round decision win over Jack Culcay in their final eliminator this past April. The bout was his first since a 12-round split decision loss to Jacobs—for whom he’s served as a longtime sparring partner—in their vacant title fight last October.

That said, it doesn’t directly clear the lane for Alvarez-Golovkin III.

Alvarez has remained coy on embracing a third fight with his old rival. A year-long insistence of the prideful champion from Guadalajara, Mexico is that his 2019 campaign will be all about becoming undisputed champion.

That would still lean towards a showdown with the winner of Andrade-Sulecki, although their late June clash could hinder Alvarez’s desired time table for a September 14 appearance for his next fight, to coincide with Mexican Independence Day.

At the very least, his next opponent doesn’t necessarily have to be a mandatory title fight—just if he so chooses. That he has a choice in the matter without having to give up a title should be a sigh of relief for now.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox