Column: Canelo Alvarez had a chance to elevate his ambitions, and it’s gone
Championship boxing match, glorified sparring session, whatever that was, it resembled the afternoon feeding of the red-bellied piranhas at the Los Angeles Zoo.
Canelo Alvarez walked down and whacked around a defenseless man for 12 rounds on Saturday night, each thudding blow he landed destroying the delusions of Callum Smith that were manufactured by a British sports scene that overrates its soccer players and really, really overrates its fighters.
Rather than elevate Alvarez, the lopsided decision victory confirmed what was already obvious before the opening bell sounded:
Alvarez blew it.
He once had a worthy adversary in Gennady Golovkin. They had two close fights that could have been scored either way. But instead of stepping into the ring with Golovkin for a third time, Alvarez argued the favorable jury verdict of the second fight served as the final word.
No athletes are judged more by singular moments than boxers. They are defined by how they confront their greatest obstacles and respond to their most intense crises.
Perhaps Alvarez didn’t realize it at the time, but his rivalry against Golovkin hung on that moment.
When Alvarez elected to move on and take on the likes of Daniel Jacobs and Sergey Kovalev, the moment vanished. Now, there’s nothing he can do to recapture it, not even fighting Golovkin again.
Four-division champion Canelo Alvarez made his long-awaited return to the ring Saturday, defeating Callum Smith by unanimous decision over 12 rounds at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Alvarez has the enthusiastic backing of the boxing industrial complex, which has taken to overstating his abilities in an effort to prop up its dead sport. But history will view him more objectively. Time has a sobering effect on perception.
As it was, whatever he did against Golovkin was always destined to be diminished. Alvarez waited until Golovkin was 35 to agree to their first fight, which ended in a draw. The initially scheduled rematch was called off because Alvarez tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
As the sport’s No. 1 attraction, Alvarez was convinced Golovkin needed him more than he needed Golovkin. From a financial perspective, that was true. But in terms of his legacy, Alvarez also needed Golovkin.
The 30-year-old Mexican now finds himself without the potential adversary who could help him realize his ambitions.
He talks about wanting to make history but has no way to make it. He promises to make fights the public wants to see, but the average sports fan has never heard of any of his prospective opponents other than Golovkin.
Golovkin, who beat someone named Kamil Szeremeta on Friday night, is technically available. The operative word in that sentence is “technically.” Golovkin is now 38, and he looked 38 against Szeremeta, which is probably why Alvarez is suddenly open to fighting him.
Alvarez and Golovkin could still pack an arena, but, in this case too, history will eventually see the spectacle for what it is: a fighter in his prime beating up on an old man.
Alvarez’s other options will produce more mismatches like the one in which he battered Smith, who on paper looked like a reasonable opponent.
Smith was the 168-pound champion of one of boxing’s credibility-challenged sanctioning bodies. Alvarez defeated Kovalev at 175 pounds but was known as a 160-pounder. Smith stands 6-foot-3, which is tall even for a super middleweight.
Of course, anyone with a rudimentary understanding of boxing who watched tape of Smith could tell he stood no chance. He threw straight punches and had a sneaky right hand but was slow and robotic.
Alvarez, although seven inches shorter than Smith, immediately started out-jabbing him. Alvarez worked at a measured pace but nonetheless battered Smith around the ring.
This was an unmitigated disaster.
DAZN, the streaming service that broadcast the fight, had promoted this as a serious challenge for Alvarez. If Smith was one of the better options available, that doesn’t speak well of the sport’s talent pool. As much as the network’s propagandist announcers tried to portray the blowout as a byproduct of Alvarez’s brilliance, the knowledgeable fans who watched this debacle will be less enthusiastic the next time Alvarez takes on another relatively unknown fighter, assuming they watch at all.
It would have been one thing if Alvarez had already defeated Golovkin convincingly in a third fight and secured his place as the unquestionable top fighter of his generation. These fights could have been sold as a legend’s ride into the sunset.
But he didn’t have that fight with Golovkin, which make these fights … what, exactly?
“The best of my career is coming,” Alvarez said in Spanish on the broadcast’s post-fight interview.
At least he’s aware his legacy still has to be established.
As many name fighters as Alvarez has on his resume, his record doesn’t look as formidable when examined closely.
His first major fight was against Shane Mosley, who was too small and too old. Miguel Cotto was too small. Amir Khan was too small and never as good as advertised. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. had his father’s name but nothing else. Kovalev was finished.
Alvarez has taken a number of legitimate gambles and deserves credit for that. But he was fortunate to be awarded victories over Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara, against whom he didn’t show well. He looked like an amateur against Floyd Mayweather. Golovkin fought him evenly. About the only high-risk fight he won convincingly was a tactical match against Jacobs.
Canelo Alvarez fought a punchless battle with Oscar De La Hoya to become boxing’s most prized free agent. Now he’s focused on beating Callum Smith.
Terence Crawford and Errol Spence should take notice. Crawford and Spence are the two best welterweights in the world. They might be the two best fighters in the world, period, regardless of weight class. They have spent a majority of the last two years circling around each other.
The potential showdown between them nearly disappeared last year when Spence was involved in a major car accident. The possibility re-emerged earlier this month when Spence dominated former champion Danny Garcia in his return bout. But Spence and Crawford don’t appear any closer to meeting in the ring. They don’t think the immediate financial rewards justify the risks.
They could be right. There could very well come a time in a couple of years when fighting each other would be more lucrative. By then, however, who knows how old Crawford will be? He is already 33.
By waiting, Spence and Crawford are taking a different kind of risk, the same one Alvarez took when he walked away from a third fight with Golovkin. They could be remembered not for the fights they took, but the fight they didn’t take.
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