Thursday, January 19, 2023

Canelo must seek new challenge after undisputed title run

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Canelo Álvarez came out of the pandemic determined to cross another frontier in boxing history.

His audacious plan required moves outside the ring just as graceful as his skills inside the ropes. To win the four fights necessary to claim all four super middleweight title belts while defeating three previously unbeaten champions in less than a year, Álvarez would have to push both his body and his matchmaking currency to their limits.

When Álvarez added the IBF’s 168-pound belt to the WBC, WBA and WBO straps already dangling from both of his weary arms Saturday night, the first undisputed champ in the super middleweight division’s history could finally relax.

“I feel great, but my body needs rest,” Álvarez said with a smile. “I need to recover.”

Álvarez’s 11th-round stoppage of Caleb Plant was the culmination of the plan set out by the boxer and trainer Eddy Reynoso when they decided Canelo should become the first Latino fighter to hold four title belts simultaneously in a weight class.

Álvarez’s place as the world’s top pound-for-pound boxer remains secure, yet he also set himself farther apart from his peers with this feat. While these four fights against uniformly bigger opponents were all challenges, Canelo’s feat of business acumen seemed just about as daunting as the challenges he faced in the ring.

Canelo’s plan started after his break with Golden Boy, his longtime promoter. The promotional rivalries that frequently prevent the best fighters from meeting each other were reduced in importance because Álvarez could sign short-term deals that took advantage of his unparalleled money-making power to entice the champions to fight him.

“I’m a free agent because I want to do the best fights out there,” he said.

Álvarez first won the WBA belt and claimed the vacant WBC belt while beating Callum Smith last December on a one-fight deal with Matchroom Boxing and DAZN. After taking care of an overmatched mandatory foe to keep his WBC title in February, Canelo broke Billy Joe Saunders’ eye socket and took the previously unbeaten Brit’s WBO 168-pound belt in May under a deal with promoter Eddie Hearn.

Álvarez then reached a short-term deal with Premier Boxing Champions, Al Haymon’s promotional outfit. Six months after he finished off Saunders, Álvarez wore down Plant and reached his goal in front of a raucous Vegas crowd.

With a steady, determined effort culminating in a brutal stoppage at the MGM Grand Garden, Álvarez sent another opponent to the first loss of his career. He also sent another opponent to the hospital: Plant was transported for observation after the beating laid on him by Canelo.

Álvarez largely controlled the fight, landing dozens of punishing shots that likely would have flattened smaller fighters. But Plant is bigger and rangier than the 5-foot-9 Mexican superstar, who has fearlessly moved up and down weight classes until he currently finds himself battling men big enough to absorb many shots that would end a bout against somebody Canelo’s own size.

No wonder Canelo was looking forward to taking the rest of the year off.

“I have nothing in particular in mind right now, but I love challenges, and whatever comes my way, we will see,” Canelo said. “We don’t have a time to sit down and think about it. Right now, I’m just enjoying the moment.”

Álvarez said he’s likely to announce his plans in January, and he would like to fight in May on the Cinco de Mayo weekend that’s a traditional showcase for Mexico’s stars.

Unbeaten David Benavidez is a popular choice for Álvarez’s next opponent, given his PBC ties and previous title run at super middleweight. Benavidez is the former WBC 168-pound champ, but was stripped of his belt.

Jermall Charlo also makes sense given his PBC connection and middleweight success, but Álvarez isn’t limited by the choices in any single promoter’s stable.

A third fight with Gennady Golovkin would be a popular choice among fans, but it’s unclear whether Canelo would agree to engage with his bitter middleweight rival after escaping their first bout with a fortunate draw and then earning a narrow decision victory in the rematch. Álvarez has said publicly he’s open to the rematch, albeit only if Golovkin moves up to 168 pounds.

Golovkin has taken an ultra-cautious approach to his ensuing career, while Álvarez has continued to face the best while accepting the biggest fights. Whoever Canelo chooses for his next showcase in May, he’ll likely do it with history in mind.

“Now I just need some time to rest and to prepare for the next challenge,” he said.

___

More AP boxing: https://apnews.com/hub/boxing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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