Canelo Alvarez's Controversial Legacy
By Steven Weinberg | Contributing Writer and Photographer
Published: December 26, 2018
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Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is undoubtedly a great boxer. He’s currently one of, if not the biggest name in the sport with notable wins over Shane Mosley, Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, with his only official loss to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Canelo’s greatness, however, is not without controversy.
When Canelo faced Shane Mosely, he was 21 years old, and Mosley was 40 years old, in his 54th professional fight, after countless amateur bouts, and coming off losses in three of his previous four matches. Mosley was shopworn and hardly game competition, and there to serve one purpose: to provide resume building for Canelo. Simply, it was a fight that should never have been made.
Two fights later, Canelo faced Austin Trout. At the time, the WBC had “open scoring” where the judges’ scorecards were revealed after the eighth round. Most people in attendance had the fight even at that point. The judges, however, had Canelo winning by blowout, leaving most fans scratching their heads, wondering if they and the judges were watching the same fight. In the end, while Canelo legitimately won the fight, it was the start of scorecards oddly tipping in his favor.
The one official blemish on Canelo’s record is to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Over the course of 12 rounds, Mayweather frustrated Canelo, and in one instance, made Canelo widely swing and miss, instead hitting the top rope. There was no doubt that Mayweather won by a wide margin, and in fact, two judges scored the fight 116-112, and 117-111, respectively. The third judge, however, inexplicably scored the fight a draw, 114-114. The criticism was so harsh that the third judge retired shortly thereafter.
A year later, Canelo faced Erislandy Lara, an unheralded, but pound for pound boxer. Canelo moved forward but could not cut off the ring. The result was Lara moving backward at will, dictating the pace of the fight, and landing 55 jabs to just 9 for Alvarez. He also out-landed Canelo in total punches thrown, 28% to 23%. Despite the action in the ring, Canelo was awarded a split decision victory, even winning nine rounds on one scorecard. Many consider this fight to be Canelo’s second loss.
When Canelo faced Miguel Cotto, it was for the WBC Middleweight championship – yet they fought at a contracted weight of 155 pounds – 5 pounds less than the middleweight limit because Canelo claimed 155 was his “natural weight class.” If a new middleweight weight limit was not enough to talk about, Canelo once again was the benefactor of judges’ scorecards, winning 119-109, 118-110, and 117-111. Again, the scores were widely criticized as most people thought only two or three rounds separated the men and not the eight to ten rounds on the judges’ cards.
Weight was the controversy in Canelo’s next fight against Amir Khan. Khan, who began his career as a lightweight, was now jumping up to challenge Canelo for the Middleweight championship – again at the new 155 pound “Canelo weight class.” On fight night, Canelo dwarfed Khan, entering the ring at a reported 180 pounds. As the saying goes, there are weight classes for a reason - one solid punch to Khan’s jaw and Canelo won by devastating 6th round KO. It was a punch that would not have had the same effect on someone of the same weight class.
While Canelo fought a total of four fights at his new weight class of 155 pounds, he “somehow” managed to make weight at 164 pounds against Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. No one seriously expected Chavez to give Canelo any problems, and Canelo easily cruised to a 12 round unanimous decision over the visibly weight drained opponent. Again, Canelo was able to use the scales to his advantage for a win.
Arguably, Canelo’s career defining fights, thus far, have been against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. The prospect of the two facing each other “marinated” for three years and took two years to negotiate. However, when negotiations began after the Cotto fight, Canelo was only 24 years old and thought to be too young by his handlers to face the then 32-year-old Golovkin. Canelo and his team waited and let Golovkin age and slow down, to finally make the fight when GGG was 35 years old. Despite Canelo’s age advantage, the vast majority of the boxing world thought Canelo was outboxed by GGG. The judges, however, saw it differently, declaring a split draw. GGG out landed Canelo in 10 of 12 rounds, 218 to 169 in total punches, and 108 jabs to just 55. Yet one judge awarded GGG only two rounds for the entire fight. Canelo escaped his third loss.
While the world eagerly awaited the rematch with GGG, Canelo tested positive for steroids, resulting in a six-month suspension. In the meantime, GGG aged one more year, strengthening Canelo’s perceived age advantage. When GGG v. Canelo 2 finally happened, controversy again was front and center. As in their first fight, GGG out landed Canelo in total punches, 234 to 202, and in jabs 118 to 59. Yet, Canelo won by split draw, 115 x 113 twice, and 114x114. Just as in their first fight, if one judge had scored one round differently, Canelo would have lost. Instead, Alvarez was given another win as WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman enthusiastically cheered inside the ring.
Despite what could have been Canelo’s fourth loss, he was rewarded with a 5-year, 11 fight, $365 Million deal with DAZN - one of the richest contracts in sports. His first fight on DAZN was against Rocky Fielding who had previously lost to Callum Smith by first-round TKO. The fight was sold to the public as a risk for Alvarez because he was moving up to 168 pounds, despite walking around at around at 180 pounds. Canelo knocked down Fielding four times to earn a third round TKO. In doing so, Canelo became the WBA “World” Super Middleweight Champion and is being called a three-division champion. Make no mistake, the WBA “World” title is not what it seems, as the real WBA champion is “Super Champion” Callum Smith. The WBA “World” championship is merely a way for the organization to squeeze sanctioning fees from fighters and promoters.
At the end of the day, despite Canelo’s questionable scorecards and use of the scale to his advantage, he is still a highly marketable athlete who generates millions of dollars in revenues. In the business of boxing, promoters and advertisers do not care about wins and loses – they care about who sells tickets. Boxing fans, on the other hand, know better. Canelo’s ascent to stardom has been surrounded by controversy. He has benefited from questionable scorecards more than any other fighter in his era and to many, has four losses on his record. To call him a three-division champion simply adds to the controversy.
(Featured Photo: John Locher/AP)