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What makes Canelo so compelling?

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4 days ago
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The list of the biggest pay-per-view stars in combat sports probably has Conor McGregor at the top, even now.

After that you could make an argument for a few other names: Jorge Masvidal, Gennady Golovkin, even Kamaru Usman.

However, I would make the argument for Canelo Alvarez, the Mexican middleweight who is about to fight at light heavyweight, just because he can.

What cannot be argued, however, is that Canelo is clearly the best and most famous boxer in the world. What is it that makes him so compelling?

When you think about it, what was the last truly great Canelo fight that you remember? Maybe the first Golovkin fight that ended in a controversial draw.

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That was a great fight no doubt, with both fighters landing some seriously heavy shots and boxing at the highest level we thought imaginable, but it wasn’t a toe-to-toe war in the vein of Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward or even Julio César Chávez versus Meldrick Taylor. 

Maybe we have to go further back to the James Kirkland fight. That was a war, and Kirkland had some pop to him, but from the opening bell it felt like Michael Corleone toying with Carlo at the end of Godfather 1 only to give him what we all knew was coming.

Really, for the biggest star in the world, Canelo has not been in many great fights.

Canelo Alvarez

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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There have been great showcases of his talent. The Miguel Cotto win was exceptional, even against a blown-up and ageing Cotto.

So was the Amir Khan win. But the Khan win set the template for his recent victories against fighters like Sergey Kovalev, Callum Smith, and Billy Joe Saunders.

Canelo wasn’t especially busy in those fights. Indeed, he isn’t an especially busy fighter nowadays (during his fights).

He presses forward, throws his pile driver of a jab less often than I would like, and potshots his opponents with heavy counters and short combos.

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What usually happens in the end is an extraordinary highlight, punctuated by his brutal knockouts of Billy Joe Saunders, Sergey Kovalev and, of course, Amir Khan.

But before that highlight, it’s Canelo pressing forward, chopping wood to the body, and potshotting his opponent with perfectly timed bombs off exceptional head movement and perfect footwork.

As a personal story, I watched the Canelo versus Caleb Plant unification fight with a group of friends who were very casual fans of the sport.

We watched most of the card and all of us were off the couch when Anthony Dirrell knocked out Marcos Hernandez in the co-main.

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Everyone was excited to see the man whom I sold as the best fighter on planet earth put his best foot forward. His walkout was extraordinary and the moment felt big, even on TV.

Then the fight started. Canelo was stalking, while Plant was jabbing and moving, flashing fast hands.

Canelo clearly won rounds because of his pressure and effective countering, but it was not an exciting fight.

By Round 10 or 11 you could feel Canelo’s pressure telling and it was clear that Plant’s resistance was fading.

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Unfortunately, so was the interest of my friends. As the fighters walked back to their corners after Round 9, a friend said, “This is kind of a boring fight”.

He was right.

Canelo Alvarez and Caleb Plant exchange punches during their championship bout.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Watching Canelo in that fight was like watching Schindler’s List. Exceptionally well crafted. Almost poetic in its movements, a foot so seldom put wrong. He’s clearly a master at his craft, operating at the peak of his powers. More than all of that though, the moment feels historic.

But you never want to see or experience that moment again.

I am not saying that Canelo is a boring fighter, like Schindler’s List is not a boring film, because his knockouts are so extraordinary and his skills are so sharp, his power is like a heavyweight, and his feet and head move in perfect unison.

He is an almost perfect fighter. But it’s that perfection that is almost monotonous.

He is not the first big-time pay-per-view draw to be a boring fighter. Indeed, the man that he took the mantle of the biggest pay-per-view fighter in the world off, Floyd Mayweather, was often accused of being boring.

But Mayweather was an English speaker, a great trash talker and a showman. He was also a pure villain, donning the black hat with impunity.

Canelo is not any of those things. His broken English is endearing in a way that Mayweather’s weaponisation of the language was confronting and often shrouded in darkness.

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Mayweather was credibly accused of horrific domestic violence, and regularly displayed regressive attitudes toward femininity and masculinity, whereas Canelo is a family man who exudes nothing but wholesomeness when he’s with his family.

Alvarez advised his son in an All Access on Showtime never to be afraid of crying or showing his emotion.

I am willing to bet Mayweather’s net worth that Mayweather has never had that conversation with any of his children.

Beyond that, Mayweather called himself ‘Money’ Mayweather and was obsessed with material wealth. By the end of his career he spent more time talking about his Rolex watches, Bugattis and mansions than he did about his fights.

Canelo does seem to like material things as well, but he is less obsessed with talking about it. He talks about legacy, greatness and family.

So what is it that makes Canelo so compelling? Next to his knockouts, it’s his ambition and his work ethic as opposed to villainy and controversy

In recent years, Canelo has taken on challenges with aplomb. Early in his career, when he was guided by Oscar De La Hoya, he was reticent to take on challenges.

He refused to fight Golovkin for multiple years, saying that he could not make the middleweight limit of 160 pounds. He is fighting this week at 175.

But since the Golovkin fight, and even immediately before it with the Cotto and to a lesser extent Khan fights, there is not a challenge that he hasn’t liked the look of.

Canelo GGG

(Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

He fought, and in my view won, the rematch with Golovkin and since then he has fought champion after champion.

Danny Jacobs was a potential concern that he disposed of easily if not decisively, then he went up to 175 and brutally knocked out Sergey Kovalev.

After that he tore Callum Smith’s bicep off the bone through pure blunt force trauma. The less said about Avni Yildirum the better.

But then he broke Billy Joe Saunders’ face with an uppercut and finally he unified the super middleweight division with an easy victory over Caleb Plant.

He is on a run at the moment that makes you think of Robert De Niro between 1974 and 1984, just ripping off classic performance after classic performance: Godfather 2, Taxi Driver, Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, King of Comedy and Once Upon a Time in America. That Avni Yıldırım fight is the New York New York equivalent.

In that run of fights, he has yo-yoed between 160 and 175, ultimately unifying 168, with ease and has consistently taken on the biggest challenges in a way that the later career Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather simply did not, and he has done it with ease and grace.

This week again he is taking on the biggest challenge, fighting the most talented light heavyweight in the world, other than potentially Artur Beterbiev.

Beyond that, he refuses to be beholden to a promoter or a broadcaster like Mayweather was, moving around promotional outfits as he sees fit, albeit knowing that he always has a home with Eddie Hearn and DAZN.

It’s that vaulting ambition that I love in fighters. Canelo is the purest example of it.

All he wants is the biggest fights, that’s what he cares about. He doesn’t talk like Paul Malignaggi, he doesn’t fight like Chavez and he doesn’t offend like Mayweather.

All that he does – all that he cares about – is fighting the best and beating them to within an inch of their lives.

The knockouts are just the cherry on top.

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