Who Should Canelo Alvarez Fight After Win vs. Caleb Plant?

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistNovember 7, 2021

Who Should Canelo Alvarez Fight After Win vs. Caleb Plant?

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    Steve Marcus/Associated Press

    It's good to be the king.

    Already a champion in four divisions and the sport's reigning pound-for-pound and pay-per-view monarch, Mexican star Canelo Alvarez added another bullet point to the resume Saturday night with an 11th-round TKO over comparative upstart Caleb Plant in a 168-pound unification bout in Las Vegas.

    The official end came at 1:05, when referee Russell Mora waved it off as Plant lay flat on his back following the second knockdown of the round.

    Alvarez's win, his 57th in a 60-bout pro career that began when he was just 15 years old, yielded the IBF title belt the previously unbeaten Plant had arrived with. Alvarez is just the sixth undisputed champion in an era that's included four sanctioning body crowns in each weight class.

    Now 31, Alvarez became a champion at 154 pounds a decade ago before adding laurels at 160 pounds in 2015, at 175 pounds in 2019 and 168 pounds in 2020. He won the WBA and WBC super middleweight titles with a defeat of Callum Smith, then added the WBO's jewelry by stopping Billy Joe Saunders on May 8. Plant had held the IBF championship since 2019 and had successfully defended three times.

    "He’s a very difficult fighter. He has a lot of ability. I do respect him," Alvarez said. "He was making it difficult for me. But (trainer) Eddy (Reynoso) told me to stay with the game plan. And at the end I got him."

    Eight years and 16 fights—including 15 wins and a draw—since losing to Floyd Mayweather Jr., Alvarez continues to have his pick of opponents only too eager to share a marquee with him. With that as a cue, the B/R combat sports team digested Saturday's result and got to work on a list of choices for the cinnamon-haired slugger 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 a good bet to return to those positions in 2022.

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

6. Kamaru Usman

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    It's the state of boxing in the 21st century.

    And as Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. showed in 2017, the spectacle of a top-shelf MMA fighter—especially one that can work a microphone—in the ring with a boxer is must-see pay-per-view TV.

    So why not a duel between pound-for-pound champions?

    Kamaru Usman is an apex predator in the Octagon, having won 15 straight UFC fights after a Saturday night rematch with chatterbox nemesis Colby Covington.

    He's been the promotion's welterweight champion since March 2019, is 4-0 against contenders currently ranked first, second and third, and has a pair of wins against the fighter ranked seventh, too.  

    He's looking for a new challenge. And he specifically mentioned Canelo.

    "It only makes sense because we're in an era to where people want to be entertained," Usman told Mark Lelinwalla of DAZN. "So, in order to entertain people, when have we in history ever seen the two pound-for-pound fighters in the world in combat sports at the top of their prime, when have we ever seen them compete?

    "This will be the greatest, the biggest event ever."

    Maybe so. But at least at this point, Alvarez seems uninterested.

    Instead, he rolled his eyes and simply responded "payday" to ESPN Deportes (h/t boxingscene.com).

5. Jermall Charlo

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    David J. Phillip/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 happened.

    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 isn't 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 at 160 for Canelo."

    A 31-year-old Houston-based fighter, Charlo has 22 KOs in 32 bouts across two weight classes, winning titles at 154 and 160 and racking up eight successful defenses.

    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."

4. Artur Beterbiev

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    While not the most likely, it might be the most intriguing.

    Artur Beterbiev, a Russian now fighting out of Montreal, is an unbeaten commodity in possession of the IBF and WBC title belts at 175 pounds.

    He's been a pro since 2013 and has logged just 16 fights, though he's won each and every one of them inside their scheduled distances at four, six, 10 and 12 rounds, respectively.

    So while he's not the most recognizable of the would-be foes, he does present the most daunting challenges among them, given clear edges in height (5'11.5" to 5'8"), reach (73" to 70.5"), and, perhaps most importantly, power.

    In fact, Beterbiev has averaged just 4.5 rounds per fight and has gone past the seventh just three times.

    By contrast, Alvarez has reached the eighth round in nine of his last 11 fights. He went to the 11th in a close fight against then-WBO light heavyweight champ Sergey Kovalev before winning by KO in 2019.

    But those very stats make it attractive, says Eddie Hearn.

    "He knows how hard Beterbiev punches, and Canelo's a competitor," the Matchroom Boxing boss told DAZN. "Now you tell him that's not the fight to take. You want to take it? You tell him that's a dangerous fight?

    "He'll want to do it."

3. Gennady Golovkin

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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 1,500 days since they fought the first time and close to 1,200 since their 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 their return bout after a frustrating draw. And it was that way again last 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.

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

    Given how 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 the ultimatum, what choice would GGG have but take it?

    Advantage Canelo.

2. Dmitry Bivol

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    On the flip side of Russia's dynamic duo at 175 pounds, there's Dmitry Bivol.

    Six years younger and less menacing on the surface than his light heavyweight countryman, the WBA champ is nevertheless a supremely skilled operator who's maintained an unbeaten record through 18 fights.

    He picked up his belt in 2017 and has since defended six times, defeating a slightly more impressive clientele that's included former two-belt champion Jean Pascal, current WBO claimant Joe Smith Jr. and longtime division contenders Isaac Chilemba and Sullivan Barrera.

    Bivol stopped 11 of his first 13 foes but has gone the distance in five of seven title fights, instead relying on a style that emphasizes defense and technique over a hell-bent-for-leather thirst for combat. 

    Still, like Beterbiev, he's both taller (6'0" to 5'8") and has a longer reach (72" to 70.5") than Canelo.

    He was on the Team Alvarez radar during the period where the Plant fight looked iffy and seems a prime candidate for a phone call should Canelo seek another 175-pound adventure.

    "The fight has been mentioned to us, but we have not finalized any type of agreement," Andrey Ryabinskiy, president of Bivol's promotional company, told Richard Damerell of Sky Sports. "We would be interested in the fight within adequate timelines, it's a great test for Dmitry."

1. David Benavidez

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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 74.5" reach, the 24-year-old from Arizona holds obvious physical advantages over his more decorated contemporary. However, 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 after the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association suspended him after a positive drug test.

    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, presuming he gets past a date with Kyrone Davis next weekend.

    "I definitely feel I'm the biggest threat because in order for a fighter to give a good fight to Canelo, he has to have the punching power to keep Canelo off of them and respect him," Benavidez told Steven Muehlhausen of DAZN.

    "I think 2022 is the year that's going to happen because you look at it (and) there's really nobody left standing for Canelo unless he goes up to 175. But there's still a lot of good fights right here at 168. So I really think it could be made next year."