LAS VEGAS — Canelo Alvarez stood in the center of the ring draped with four world titles. At long last, he was the undisputed super middleweight champion, accomplishing the goal he set out when he commenced his 168-pound campaign in December 2020.
The 11th-round TKO victory over Caleb Plant in November to win all four major world titles lifted the Mexican star to new heights. Already cemented as an all-time great with unified title runs at 154 and 160 pounds, an undisputed championship at 168 and a title victory at 175, what more was left to accomplish?
That question has become the guiding force to how Alvarez is currently navigating his career. His mantra: “Continue to make history.”
As boxing’s top attraction, Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 KOs) calls the shots and fights whomever he wants. He already has mapped out his 2022 campaign, a shift from past years when he often scrambled to maintain his choice fight weekends as negotiations dragged on.
First, Alvarez will embark on a quest to recapture a light heavyweight title on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena here against Russia’s Dmitry Bivol (8 p.m. ET, DAZN PPV), but the fight that will truly add to his legacy lies ahead. If Alvarez defeats Bivol — and emerges without injury — he’ll meet archnemesis Gennadiy Golovkin on Sept. 17.
“They want the fight with Golovkin, so I say, ‘Why not?'” Alvarez said. “Everybody wants the fight, right? Maybe a little late; maybe not.”
The long-awaited trilogy matchup — four years in the making — is “for the fans,” Alvarez said, but it also will serve to settle unfinished business after 24 rounds couldn’t separate the future Hall of Famers. The third bout with GGG is simply a detour from his ultimate goal, though. This fight with Bivol at 175 pounds sets him on a path to capture an undisputed championship in a second weight class, a feat no man has accomplished in the four-belt era (beginning in the early 2000s).
“I like the idea to be undisputed at 175,” Alvarez said. “I’ll fight everybody. I don’t f—ing care.”
WHEN ALVAREZ MADE his pro debut in September 2005, he was a scrawny 15-year-old who weighed 139 pounds.
Now, at age 31, he is ESPN’s pound-for-pound No. 1 boxer and the sport’s top draw by an equally wide margin, having won titles in four different divisions, only the fourth Mexican fighter to accomplish that feat.
His past four bouts — title victories over Caleb Plant, Billy Joe Saunders and Callum Smith — were contested at 168 pounds. More than 2½ years after making his light heavyweight debut in a victory over Sergey Kovalev, Alvarez returns to light heavyweight, and if he is concerned about going up in weight, he isn’t letting on.
“Always walking around 180 [pounds],” he said. “I don’t go up; I just lose less pounds.”
This light heavyweight title challenge comes against a lengthy fighter with an excellent jab. Unlike Kovalev, Bivol is in his prime at 31, but Bivol possesses neither the power nor accomplishments of Kovalev, now 39.
Bivol’s biggest win is a near-shutout decision over current titleholder Joe Smith Jr. in March 2019. Since then, Bivol (19-0, 11 KOs), has competed just three times, all decision victories over boxers ranked outside ESPN’s top 10 at 175 pounds.
So why pick Bivol over other, more recognizable fighters who could potentially deliver a bigger event? Lack of top-flight opposition aside, Alvarez insists Bivol, not unified champion Artur Beterbiev, is the best light heavyweight in the world.
“I think he’s a better boxer, he have more skills than Beterbiev,” Alvarez said. “Beterbiev’s a really good fighter; strong, always go forward. But I think Bivol is a really good fighter with a lot of experience.”
A win on Saturday — Alvarez is a 5-1 favorite, per Caesars Sportsbook — would move Alvarez one step closer to his goal. Beterbiev, ESPN’s No. 1 light heavyweight, is scheduled to meet Smith on June 18 in a three-belt unification.
“I like the idea [of fighting the winner],” Alvarez said. “My best weight is 168 … but I feel really good at 175 too. I feel strong.”
WHEN ALVAREZ MET Golovkin in September 2017, it was the biggest moneymaking event of Alvarez’s career. After a controversial split draw in the first fight and a close majority decision win for Alvarez in the rematch a year later, the bad blood was boiling.
Much of it can be traced back to the rematch. Golovkin (42-1-1, 37 KOs) — along with seemingly the consensus of the viewing public — believed he deserved the nod. Complicating matters was Adalaide Byrd’s outlandish 118-110 scorecard in favor of Alvarez. The rematch was set for May 2018, but Alvarez tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol, an adverse finding he blamed on tainted meat consumed in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Golovkin didn’t buy the alibi.
“I am comfortable knowing I won those fights,” Golovkin, 40, told ESPN in March before his ninth-round TKO of Ryota Murata. “I do not look back at the decisions.”
The stage was set for a third fight, but things changed rapidly.
Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, Alvarez’s then-promoter, signed Alvarez to an 11-fight, $365 million pact with DAZN. The deal all but guaranteed Alvarez and Golovkin would meet in a trilogy on the platform.
In March 2019, Golovkin signed a six-fight deal with DAZN worth approximately $100 million. The agreement contained a carve-out with terms attached for an Alvarez fight. It appeared to be a fait accompli the highly anticipated grudge match would land that year.
There was just one issue: Alvarez’s own deal with Golden Boy didn’t contain the same language regarding a trilogy bout.
“After the rematch, when everyone wanted to see a third fight, he did everything he could to avoid it,” said Golovkin, ESPN’s No. 2 middleweight.
Four years and eight pounds since their last meeting, the rematch appears to be set — an opportunity for Alvarez to cement his legacy with a clear victory over his archrival and end the controversy once and for all.
“A lot of bad things [Golovkin] say about me,” Alvarez told ESPN when asked why it’s personal. “Like Eddie Hearn say, just simple rule: Don’t f— with me.”
THE PATH THAT Alvarez has taken to get to this point has been anything but simple.
Alvarez’s long-term deal with Golden Boy Promotions ended in a lawsuit. His decision to become a promotional free agent has allowed him to secure some of the biggest fights he could imagine over the past few years, ultimately leading to this moment.
Even during that process, he passed on some tantalizing matchups at 168 pounds. PBC, which guaranteed Alvarez $40 million for the fight with Plant, offered Alvarez $45 million for a bout this Saturday versus middleweight champion Jermall Charlo. There was an offer on the table for a bout on Sept. 17 with super middleweight contender David Benavidez or welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. at a catchweight of 164 pounds that would have netted Alvarez $55 million.
“I just beat everyone at 168 — all the champions,” Alvarez said. “Right now, I can do whatever I want.
“For me, it don’t make sense because they have nothing to offer me. I just want to continue to make history, and they have nothing to offer.”
Bivol has something to offer: a light heavyweight title that will set Alvarez up for an undisputed title fight at 175 pounds next year. Golovkin has something to offer too: the chance to end one of boxing’s greatest rivalries for good.
After the Golovkin fight, Alvarez is expected to stay busy on Dec. 17 (perhaps his United Kingdom debut or a homecoming in Mexico) before he enters 2023 a free agent once more. (His current three-fight deal with Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing is worth up to $130 million.)
There remains plenty of history for Alvarez to make, and he’s just hitting his stride. Alvarez said he is interested in a cruiserweight title fight next year. He even teased a heavyweight title challenge of Oleksandr Usyk at 201 pounds. Maybe Alvarez will add to his Hall of Fame résumé with wins over Benavidez and Charlo. Perhaps even Spence, eventually.
New fighters are emerging all the time, but Alvarez said he isn’t going anywhere.
“I want to fight all my life,” Alvarez said. “Maybe six, seven years.
“I love boxing. I love what I do. Boxing is part of my life.”
Before he enters the next stage in his career, Alvarez has one task ahead of him: Defeating the man standing between him and the grudge match the sport has waited too long for. And what’s more history-making than definitively ending a great rivalry?