Who Will Canelo Alvarez Face Next After Beating Billy Joe Saunders?

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2021

Who Will Canelo Alvarez Face Next After Beating Billy Joe Saunders?

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    Another day. Another few million dollars.

    And another bullet point on a resume suggesting Canelo Alvarez is the world's best boxer.

    The red-haired Mexican superstar added another highlight to a 15-year career already full of them, wresting the WBO super middleweight belt from a previously unbeaten Billy Joe Saunders atop a pay-per-view event before 73,126 fans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

    It was the largest indoor boxing crowd in U.S. history.

    Alvarez, a pro since age 15, beat Saunders by TKO after eight rounds to capture a new bauble to go along with the WBA and WBC titles he already possessed at 168 pounds. It was his 56th career win against two draws and a single loss—to Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013.

    Saunders retired on his stool after suffering an eye injury during the eighth round.

    One judge had it 77-75 for Alvarez at the time of the stoppage. Two others had it 78-74.

    The B/R combat sports team also had it 77-75.

    "It was not as difficult as I expected," Alvarez said.

    Not surprisingly, given that he arrived to the ring as a 1-7 favorite, it also opens the door to even more combative windfalls for Alvarez. Now 30, he's also held belts at 154, 160 and 175 pounds and has said recently that his goal is to become the first undisputed champion in super middleweight history.

    With that as a cue, B/R digested Saturday's result and got to work on a list of choices for Alvarez as he ponders his next fight (or two). He's long been a stalwart of fight weekends adjacent to Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day (Sept. 16)—and is expected to return in 2021.

    Have a look at what we came up with, and leave a viewpoint of your own in the comments.

Caleb Plant (IBF Super Middleweight Champion)

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    It's all part of the master plan.

    And it has been for a while apparently.

    Tennessee-based slickster Caleb Plant holds the only piece of worthwhile 168-pound hardware not on Alvarez's mantel, and Team Canelo was already working toward seizing it before the introductions for Saturday's fight with Saunders had begun.

    Promoter Eddie Hearn told SiriusXM's AK & Barak Show he's initiated talks with Plant's management team about a would-be four-belt unification fight in September (via boxingnews24.com). Plant holds the IBF title at super middleweight and has for better than two years, defending it with a pair of knockouts and a 12-round scorecard shutout.

    "It's the only fight," Hearn said Saturday. "Hopefully Caleb Plant feels the same way. It's all up to Caleb Plant. What else is Caleb Plant gonna do?"

    A decision on a network is among the lingering sticking points, but the fight is an obvious necessity for Alvarez to fulfill his mission statement of becoming the division's first undisputed champion.

    Plant, in some ways, is a right-handed version of Saunders, whose M.O. is to win fights with foot and hand speed. He's shown KO power in two of the aforementioned defenses, but like Saunders before him, he hasn't registered a stoppage of a proven elite-level talent.

    "That's the plan, to go for the belt," Alvarez said after dispatching Saunders. "I'm coming, my friend. I hope the fight is made easy."

David Benavidez (2-Time WBC Super Middleweight Champion)

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    He isn't the highest-profile fighter at 168 pounds.

    But David Benavidez might be the biggest (literally) threat to Alvarez's super middleweight empire.

    Standing a shade past 6'0" with a pterodactyl-like 74 ½-inch reach, the 24-year-old from Arizona holds obvious physical advantages over his more decorated contemporary, but he's no slouch when it comes to championship-level street cred of his own.

    Benavidez became a world champion at the tender age of 20, rising from a 12th-round knockdown to secure a split decision over Ronald Gavril and with it the vacant WBC title.

    He defended with a near-blanking of Gavril a few months later but surrendered his belt and was suspended after a positive drug test by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association.

    Another reign began 19 months later with a defeat of Anthony Dirrell, but it was also short-lived because Benavidez missed weight for his initial defense.

    He's fought just one time since—defeating Ronald Ellis in 11 rounds in March—but it's not stopped him from banging the drum for a fight with Canelo once the Mexican has finished interim business, per TMZ Sports.

    "He's gonna try avoid me as long as possible, but I feel like at the end of the day, this fight is gonna be demanded," he said. "Not by just me, but by everybody. Everybody's gonna wanna see it because after he beats Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant, who else is there left for him to fight besides David Benavidez?"

Jermall Charlo (Undefeated 2-Division Champion)

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    Michael Owens/Associated Press

    Sometimes these things take a while to come together.

    Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee said he delayed a bout between Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns until the promotion got really big, and the most lucrative pay-per-view fight of all time—matching Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao—was talked about years before it was made.

    No one is guaranteeing a fight between Alvarez and WBC middleweight champ Jermall Charlo will reach those heights, but it would be tough to find a hardcore boxing fan who's not titillated by the idea.

    In fact, no less an authority than Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe, whose boss handed Alvarez his lone loss, said the unbeaten 160-pounder could become the pay-per-view stalwart's worst nightmare.

    "Jermall's style is all wrong for Canelo. They would never put him in there with Charlo," Ellerbe told Manouk Akopyan of Boxing Scene. "I don't think Canelo goes anywhere near Jermall. He's an animal. Canelo is a tremendous fighter, and I have so much respect for him. He has an impeccable resume. But Charlo is too big, athletic and too fast."

    A 30-year-old Texan, Charlo has 22 KOs in 31 fights across two weight classes, winning titles at 154 and 160 and racking up six successful defenses.

    Like Benavidez, he'd have significant edges over Alvarez in height (6'0" to 5'8") and reach (73.5" to 70.5"). But unlike Benavidez, he's fought a steadier stream of top-10-caliber foes.

    Count Bernard Hopkins among those looking forward.

    "There's one fight I want to see him fight, Jermall Charlo," he told Wil Esco of Bad Left Hook. "Let me tell you, nothing else matters to me right now. I want that fight now. I want that fight in the next year-and-a-half or earlier."

Gennady Golovkin (IBF Middleweight Champion; 2-Time Alvarez Foe)

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    They've spent several years as part of each other's lives.

    And though it's been more than 1,300 days since they fought the first time and nearly 1,000 days since their compelling rematch, precious little has changed in the relationship between Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin.

    Though GGG has an Olympic pedigree, a dubious title defense record and a better case to make to suggest he ought to be unbeaten in their rivalry, one other thing about him remains just as crystal clear.

    He still needs Alvarez far more than Alvarez needs him.

    It was that way while the Kazakh boogeyman was pining for Alvarez to climb to 160 pounds and rescue him from an endless treadmill of overmatched, uninteresting opponents. It was that way during a prolonged wait for a return bout after frustrating draw. And it was that way again in December when both men took center stage atop DAZN-streamed cards from drastically different venues.

    There was Golovkin at a hotel/casino in Hollywood, Florida, playing a Friday night gig opposite another no-hope foil at a fan-free venue. And there was Alvarez a day later, starring in a heavily produced show that featured Mariachi bands channeling '80s anthems for a crowd of 12,000 that sounded like twice that.

    The then-38-year-old was taciturn while steadfastly refusing to say his rival's name during fight week, but stood beaming as Hearn began beating trilogy drums once Kamil Szeremeta was sent packing.

    Problem is, while Canelo III is Golovkin's only path to the sort of high-end financial windfall that justifies the competitive risk, it's no sure thing after Saturday that he holds a similar place on Alvarez's radar.

    Given how comfortably fit and powerful Alvarez has looked at 168, there's no indication he would be interested in a third bout at anything other than super middleweight—where Golovkin has never fought. So if that becomes a take it or leave it, what choice would GGG have but to take it?

    Advantage Canelo.

Demetrius Andrade (Undefeated 2-Division Champion)

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Go ahead and file this one under "don't hold your breath."

    Though Hearn, who promotes them both, has done his best sales job to boost the viability of a fight between Alvarez and WBO middleweight champ Demetrius Andrade, neither the Mexican nor his core team has indicated much of an interest in seeing it happen.

    "Maybe he's a good fighter, but he's a boring fighter, and at the end of the day when there's a boring fight, people are going to blame me," Alvarez told Steven Muehlhausen of DAZN. "I like fights where there's action, where people can enjoy a good show. That's very important for me. But also, he doesn't represent a challenge for me, as well, because he hasn't fought against anybody."

    Andrade, in fact, is a two-division champion, having won three title fights at 154 pounds before moving to 160 and winning five more. He successfully risked his middleweight belt in April, when he dropped Englishman Liam Williams once and won eight, 10 and 10 rounds on the scorecards.

    Problem is, he's never beaten a foe ranked higher than ninth at either weight. And as Alvarez suggested, his style isn't exactly synonymous with fan friendliness.

    But it hasn't stopped him from banging the drum.

    And if he's still a thing after Alvarez knocks over higher-priority dominoes, maybe Hearn can strike a deal.

    Andrade was in the house Saturday wearing a shirt saying "Canelo and Billy Joe are scared to fight Boo Boo."

    "At the end of the day, I am a champion," he said. "I am undefeated. I shouldn't have to inspire anyone to get in the ring with me for a belt, an undefeated record and a whole lot of money on the table. Whenever we can sit down and make something happen, I'm willing to risk it all."