B/R Exclusive: Canelo Alvarez Sets Lofty Heights for His Legacy

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2022

Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, celebrates after defeating Caleb Plant by in a super middleweight title unification fight Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)
Steve Marcus/Associated Press

When it comes to boxing, Canelo Alvarez doesn't want for much.

He turned pro as a teen, was a champion at 20 and has made more money across a decade-and-a-half in the ring than legends like Joe Louis, Ray Robinson or Muhammad Ali ever dreamed.

So it'd be natural to think—now 31 and with enough cash to support several generations—that the Mexican-born pound-for-pound ace would be content to rest on his laurels.

It'd also be wrong.

Rather than easing back and riding the mandatory defense train into a lucrative sunset, the undisputed king of the super middleweights is tilting at another weight-class windmill.

Alvarez will put his status as the sport's highest-profile star on the line this weekend in Las Vegas, where he'll face unbeaten Dmitry Bivol for the Russian's WBA light heavyweight title belt.

It's the second venture into 175-pound territory for Alvarez, who KO'd then-WBO champ Sergey Kovalev in 2019 but abdicated the throne to gather belts at 168. He finished that task with punishing KOs of Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant across six months in 2021 and already has a date with two-time middleweight foe Gennady Golovkin penciled in later this year to put a trilogy stamp on their rivalry.

Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

But first it's Bivol.

And, to Alvarez at least, the motivation translates to a single word.


"I love boxing. And I want to accomplish all the things I can in boxing," he told Bleacher Report. "The best things—fight the best, fight all the champions, different weight classes.

"For me, my legacy is important."

Always has been, in fact.

It's a product of the mindset forged across a career-long partnership with trainers Eddy and Chepo Reynoso, who've been in the corner for every step on a path that's seen him grow—literally—from a skinny 140-pound 15-year-old to the muscular physique he's morphed into at 168 and 175.

He had his 34th pro bout a week before his 20th birthday and snatched his first belt at 154 pounds three fights and eight months later, defeating Matthew Hatton by unanimous decision in March 2011.

And the quest for greatness was officially on.

"Everything comes because of the people around me," he said. "You never know what is going to happen but if you work hard and keep in the gym and stay disciplined, things come.

"Things come together. When you love something the things come together. We never knew this was going to happen and we were going to do this and this and this. But it's all come together."

That first title bout aired on HBO's second-tier Boxing After Dark program, but the network's longtime blow-by-blow man, Jim Lampley, got the chance to call several of the evolving phenom's fights on World Championship Boxing shows and remains impressed by where he's come from where he was.

"Far more cosmic and multi-talented than I at first envisioned," Lampley told Bleacher Report.

"And you can say exactly the same thing in exactly the same terms about Eddy Reynoso. Chicken/egg. Both about as good as it gets. Counterpuncher by origin nature becomes indomitable attacker when he wants to be? Fewer than a dozen in history of boxing. A superstar with epic historic impact."

Eric Jamison/Associated Press

He unified and defended titles six times over the subsequent months before making the one mistake of his career—or at least doing the one thing he says now that he'd change—fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr.

The two met in September 2013 when Alvarez, though a veteran of 43 fights, was still just 23 and hadn't been in an event that large, let alone against an opponent as good as Mayweather, even at 36. The older man befuddled him over 12 rounds, winning a majority decision that still stands as his only loss.

His then-promoter Oscar De La Hoya told Bleacher Report he advised Alvarez against taking the match, and Alvarez himself said the outcome might have been different had it occurred a bit later.

"I'm good with my career. But maybe the fight with Mayweather could have waited a little longer, when I got more experience and more fights on the biggest stages," he said. "Maybe that one. I think it could have been better for me. But I learned from that fight, too. So everything is in the correct time."

Indeed, he was a middleweight champion after defeating Miguel Cotto four fights after Mayweather and ultimately tamed—or at least held at bay—the boogeyman that was a then-unbeaten Golovkin, going 12 rounds for a split-decision draw in 2017 before returning exactly 364 days later to win a majority nod.

The aforementioned titles at super middleweight and light heavyweight have followed as part of a post-Golovkin run, in which Alvarez has won five of seven fights by KO while battling foes weighing anywhere from 160 to 175 pounds. He fought at 160 for the final time while defeating Daniel Jacobs in fight two of the series and a career-high 174.5 in beating Kovalev, who'd arrived with 29 KOs in 34 wins.

Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

And assuming he beats Bivol to regain a piece of the action at 175, he may stay a while.

"They were asking me before, on the road to becoming undisputed champion at 168, 'If you accomplish this, what else is out there?'" he said. "You never know. Things always come around. There's always something right there. Right now I'm going to fight at 175 for the world title, so in my mind maybe why not be undisputed at 175? We'll see."

Artur Beterbiev is 17-0 with 17 KOs and holds the IBF and WBC belts in the weight class. He's scheduled to fight WBO champion Joe Smith Jr., whom Bivol beat in 2019, next month at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Smith is 28-3 with 22 KOs.

As for Bivol, he's 19-0 has 11 KOs, but isn't perceived as nearly the power-puncher that Beterbiev and Smith are. In fact, he's gone the 12-round distance six straight times after scoring all his KOs in his first 13 career fights.

"He's a great fighter," Alvarez said.

"He's a solid champ at 175. Undefeated. He's a great boxer. He knows what to do in the ring. He's a beast and he's fast for his weight class. He's a really good fighter with a lot of experience."

Nevertheless, Alvarez is a significant favorite with the oddsmakers at DraftKings, who've installed him as a -475 pick (bet $475 to win $100) while Bivol is a +350 underdog (bet $100 to win $350).

Should those numbers hold out, and assuming a second Golovkin win in September, too, there'll be even more legacy talk for Alvarez—specifically about where he fits when it comes to all-time discussions.

But it's all premature, he said, because there's six or seven years left to build the resume, and he won't spend any sleepless nights thinking about it anyway.

"It doesn't matter for me where they put me," he said.

"I just work hard, fight hard and fight the best. And that's it."