By Michael Rosenthal
Ah, it’s nice to have options. Canelo Alvarez would tell you that.
Alvarez in October signed a five-year, 11-fight deal worth at least $365 million with the streaming service DAZN, meaning money isn’t necessarily the principal factor in deciding who he fights going forward.
The Mexican superstar can take the fights he believes will most enhance his legacy or simply those he finds most interesting, which might or might not include great risk. Alvarez might have general agreements with DAZN on the level of his opposition – and a potential third fight with Gennady Golovkin – but I don’t believe he would ever give up his right to choose his foes.
That opens up all kinds of possibilities, including fights at 160, 168 or even 175 pounds. Alvarez obviously is intrigued with the idea of adding titles in more divisions.
Everyone has an opinion on who they believe Alvarez should fight when he returns to the ring on September 14 and beyond, the three leading candidates being Golovkin, Callum Smith (at 168) and Sergey Kovalev (at 175). And all those opinions have validity for different reasons.
Here are five Alvarez fights I would like to see in the order I’d like to see them:
1. Gennady Golovkin. If Alvarez is the fighter – and the man – I believe he is, he’ll fight Triple-G in September. Alvarez might not like Golovkin because of comments the Kazakhstani made after Canelo failed drug tests that resulted in the postponement of their rematch. And I understand that he might want to pursue fresh challenges. The reality is that fans want to see this fight over all other immediate possibilities, which I know is important to Alvarez. And whether he acknowledges it or not he needs a decisive victory over Golovkin to emerge as the better fighter in this compelling rivalry.
Plus, if it means anything, Triple-G has earned a third fight after two inconclusive meetings. Alvarez can make Golovkin wait, perhaps until May. That could work in Alvarez’s favor in one sense: Triple-G will have turned 38 by then and perhaps would be step slower. Alvarez shouldn’t put this off too long, though. The longer he waits, the less credit he’ll receive for a victory. The time is now.
2. Callum Smith. Alvarez probably believes he already has won a world title at 168 pounds but he hasn’t; no objective observer recognizes the ridiculous WBA “regular” title he won by beating Rocky Fielding. He would have to defeat the real WBA titleholder – Smith – to gain full recognition as a super middleweight titleholder. And it could happen in September, which would push a third fight with Triple-G back to May. I don’t think an Alvarez-Smith fight would resonate like Alvarez-Golovkin III would. Smith doesn’t have that kind of name recognition.
At the same time, one could argue that a move up in weight to face a legitimate champion – one he hasn’t faced before – carries caché. Make no mistake: Smith is a very good boxer and a genuine threat to anyone, including Alvarez. And get this: Smith is 6-foot-3, seven inches taller than Alvarez. Intriguing. The fight would sell in the U.S. but would be huge in the U.K., for what that’s worth to Alvarez. Smith in September and Triple-G in May isn’t a bad plan.
3. Sergey Kovalev. An Alvarez-Kovalev matchup, which reportedly is in play, is fascinating. The idea of moving up two weight classes – and 15 pounds (if there’s no catch weight) – to face an established, hard-punching veteran like Kovalev is bold to say the least. I think it would be a massive event for that reason. And a victory for Alvarez could be seen as defining moment. I just wonder whether the smaller man is reaching a little too high. Kovalev is 36 and only 3-3 in his last six fights, with two losses to future Hall of Famer Andre Ward and a surprise knockout against Eleider Alvarez last August.
At the same time, he’s naturally much bigger than Canelo, experienced in big fights and in my opinion still good enough to compete with any 175-pounder. He easily outpointed Eleider Alvarez in their rematch in February. Canelo could lose to the conqueror of Bernard Hopkins, which is exactly what makes this matchup so interesting. I think the boxing world would buy into this matchup in a big way.
4. Jermall Charlo. I think this matchup makes more sense than any of the others in some ways. The problem is that promotional/managerial loyalties – Alvarez is with Golden Boy Promotions, Charlo with Premier Boxing Champions – render it all but impossible to make. That’s why the WBC made the goofy decision to make Alvarez it’s “franchise” middleweight champion – whatever the hell that means – and lift Charlo from interim to what its full titleholder. Alvarez obviously had no intention of defending against Charlo. And that’s a shame.
Charlo is one of the most-dynamic fighters in the world, a young, excellent athlete with big-time punching power. A matchup between him and Alvarez would’ve been profoundly compelling, at least to those who understand the abilities of the fighters. I’d like to see this fight at least as much as a third fight with Golovkin or a move up in weight to face Smith. Alas, in all likelihood, this is one we’ll never see.
5. Demetrius Andrade. The WBC’s decision to “elevate” Alvarez made an Alvarez-Andrade matchup much less likely to happen. Alvarez had expressed an interest in unifying all four major middleweight titles but that’s out the window now that Charlo apparently is the full WBC champion. That’s too bad. Andrade hasn’t faced the tests of those listed above but he’s an unbeaten, talented fighter who would pose a much bigger threat than some of Alvarez’s recent opponents.
That probably is one reason he was never close to actually meeting Alvarez; he represented a sizeable risk with little benefit because he lacks name recognition. Alvarez still holds the IBF and WBA middleweight titles. So I suppose it’s possible that he’ll fight Andrade in a title-unification bout at some point if Alvarez stays at least part time at 160 pounds. I just won’t hold my breath.
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.