NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: CANELO, HERO AND VILLAIN

NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: CANELO, HERO AND VILLAIN

Only in boxing—a sport cursed with a perpetually crooked and/or befuddled media, as well as a supremely fickle, illogically biased fan base—can a fighter be both overrated AND underrated. 

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez falls into that category of being unfairly bashed in some quarters while being oddly coddled in others. Just look at the way his upcoming bout with light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev is being regarded.

If you back Team Canelo, this November 2 challenging of the big Russian is a mega-ballsy self-challenge from the red-headed Mexican, who is risking life and limb in pursuit of professional glory. It’s absolute proof that Canelo is no mere hype job with pure promotion propping him up.

If you’re a Canelo “hater,” though, the bout against the 36-year-old Russian is the ultimate in cynical, phony-baloney matchmaking against a well-past prime fighter who is 4-3 in his last seven bouts and clearly at the tail end of a world stage career.

And the funny thing about Canelo and this odd hate/love relationship with all of boxing is that both sides are right about him. 

Yeah, Kovalev is a spent bullet in a lot of ways with one foot out the proverbial door. He’s also, still, a very dangerous fighter with a well-earned spot on the main stage and, when stacked up against Canelo, someone very dangerous, very much not a fall guy. 

All of this means that, no matter how Canelo does against Kovalev, he’ll be hailed as a hero by some and derided as a fake by others—something par for the course when it comes to the 29-year-old.

In a lot of ways, Alvarez, his promotional team, and the machine behind his rise are very much responsible for this schizo take on who he is and what he represents. 

Canelo’s rise to national fame in Mexico was the stuff of legends. He was, literally, a kid coming out of nowhere, beating grown men and becoming a folk hero of sorts because of it. 

Then, big money/big influence latched on to him and he started getting the red carpet star treatment, essentially gifted a world title by the money-hungry Mexico City-based WBC, who sanctioned a junior middleweight title fight for him at 20 against a fringe-contending welterweight in Matthew Hatton and then allowed for several soft-touch defenses while he developed into a world class fighter “worthy” of a world title. 

But Canelo eventually did step up his level of competition and became “for real” with a string of fights against the likes or Austin Trout, Floyd Mayweather, Erislandy Lara, James Kirkland, and Miguel Cotto that proved him to be itching to win respect and prove the doubters wrong.

He would roller coaster-ride the rest of the way—fighting ridiculous soft touches like Amir Khan and Rocky Fielding, wrapped around a pair of Gennady Golovkin challenges with a cynical all-Mexico debacle against a big-fight-NOT-ready Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. thrown in for good (bad) measure. And you also may want to throw in the whole clenbuterol controversy as well.

With this up and down stuff, you can hardly blame there being many different, entirely defendable, contrary takes on the guy. 

My own coverage of the three-division champ has reflected this off-putting career trajectory— as I referred to him as a “rising superstar,” “red-headed step-champion,” “pound-for-pound elite,” and “jaded, self-important businessman” at various points of his career.

So, when do we finally hammer down an idea of who Canelo is and what kind of legacy he will leave in the sport? Honestly, there probably will never be a consensus on all of that, on how “good or bad,” “deserving or undeserving” he is. Truth has become subjective in the busted, broken world of boxing and boxing analysis. Some don’t know shit about boxing, others are wholly devoted to dishing out shit about boxing. Just like a lot of things with the sport, how Canelo is viewed is very subjective. 

He’s hate-friendly because of how he looks, how unlike a Mexican warrior he acts, and because of the red carpet ride he often took to the top. He’s also done plenty to make himself embraceable and worthy of praise. Personally, I lean towards the latter, but can easily fall back on the former and the upcoming Kovalev fight is a perfect example of how Canelo often courts this love/hate dynamic by his career choices. 

Kovalev is a legitimate challenge for Alvarez and the fight will not be a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination. But there’s enough on-the-surface weakness and vulnerability in Kovalev—along with a very real distraction hanging over Kovalev’s head via a November 25 jury trial for felony assault—to make the bout easily discreditable. 

The question is whether Canelo, himself, cares anymore about the “haters” or the “lovers” and whether he’s just written the whole bunch off as a ball of perpetually fickle shit talkers to be manipulated as seat-fillers and TV ratings (or DAZN subscriptions). That would probably be the only sane way for him to conduct boxing business in this I hate you/I love you world.

Got Something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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