By Cliff Rold
After what probably felt like forever in the unfulfilled role of mandatory contender to Adonis Stevenson, Colombia’s latest boxing hero finally got his title shot.
And he won.
As is always the case when a bigger name loses a fight, it’s easy to let the more familiar face become the dominant narrative. It’s the story we’ve watched unfold longer, the one we’ve all been more invested in. In the age of social media, scores from well before the latest fight need to be settled as well, setting framework of conversation for hardcore followers.
It is a story that will have another chapter.
Maybe it will be a final chapter.
For now, let’s allow the page to linger a moment longer on the one name it might be easiest to overlook since last Saturday.
34-year old Eleider Alvarez is the new WBO light heavyweight titlist.
It’s a safe bet that if you ask him, it was all worth the wait. There were believers in Alvarez before last weekend and almost everyone thought it was a competitive affair on paper. The reigning champion had lost only to one of the best fighters of this generation. What would Alvarez do when those thunderous fists found their mark?
The answer turned out to be a simple one: Alvarez stood up to them.
After a good first round, Alvarez started to fall into a scoring hole. He was keeping rounds close but he wasn’t winning them. Even worse, in round four he withstood a violent assault that seemed at the time to mark a permanent shift in the action. Alvarez didn’t drop, but he took a battering. At the end of six rounds, he’d tallied only two on one judge’s scorecard.
Both of the other judges gave him a single round.
Scores didn’t matter for Alvarez on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. In round seven, he landed a thunderbolt of a right hand for a hard knockdown. The champion rose, shaky but still with his senses. Alvarez didn’t squander the moment; he didn’t panic or rush.
With the same poise and patience he showed in his long wait for a title shot, Alvarez found an opening again, landing an absolutely nasty left hook for the second knockdown of the round. It was the sort of left hand fight fans will replay for years to come; the sort that will gain its own myth with people remembering it as the end of the fight.
Sports moments can be that way sometimes. How many people forget Team USA didn’t win the Gold medal in hockey in 1980 until after they beat the Soviets?
That second knockdown wasn’t the end last weekend. Alvarez had to put his man down one more time to firmly seize the moment. It was one of the better fights, arguably the best finish, and maybe even the most feel-good boxing story of 2018.
Alvarez shook off the rust of over a year out of the ring, an edge in experience, and the weight of being already at an age where if he didn’t get it done the first time there might not be a second.
That’s a feat worth celebrating.
In his native Colombia, it might also be a sigh of relief. The first stop across the Panama Canal has a long history in the sweet science. The great Antonio Cervantes and Rodrigo Valdez are enough to make any country proud.
Still, it feels like it’s been awhile since one of Colombia’s best really won the big one.
Edison Miranda came oh so close against Arthur Abraham for a middleweight title. Ricardo Torres is remembered more for his losses to Miguel Cotto and Kendall Holt than a brief title reign. Juan Urango won a belt because he got the right opponent with so many available. Breidis Prescott shattered the chin of Amir Khan but could never capitalize on it.
With his win last weekend, Alvarez may well have picked up the best win by a Colombian prizefighter since Mauricio Pastrana won a decision over Hall of Famer Michael Carbajal in 1997. At the least, it’s probably the best win since Carlos Tamara upset Brian Viloria lbs in 2010.
Both those upsets came in Jr. flyweight title fights. It’s probably fair to say more people might remember this one. When they do, they should remember it fondly.
Boxing is a sport that has always lent itself to a little bit of sap on its good days. The idea of a person making their fortune with their own two hands, coming from behind, suffering through lost paydays and the frustration of the wait, has an irresistible romance.
Living it probably wasn’t romantic.
The best moments let us pretend anyways.
Last weekend, Eleider Alvarez had one of those moments. The stage is his.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]