For Canelo Alvarez, the grind simply never stops. The Mexican superstar has broken away from the modern mould of elite-level fighters, who get out once, maybe twice a year, embarking on a quest for everlasting legacy.
As if becoming undisputed super-middleweight champion last year wasn’t enough, the 31-year-old – who insists he has another six or seven years in the game – is now pushing the boundaries once more.
He leaves his newly-earned collection of belts at 168lbs behind for now, as he steps up to light-heavyweight to take on WBA (Super) champion, Dmitry Bivol, in what could well be his toughest challenge since Gennady Golovkin.
Canelo Alvarez (left) and Dmitry Bivol (right) go head-to-head in Las Vegas on Saturday night
Bivol puts his WBA (Super) light-heavyweight belt on the line against the pound-for-pound No 1
Though still hunting success as his glittering 17-year career continues, the sport’s pound-for-pound No 1 will struggle to match his extraordinary achievements in 2021.
Having already unified the super-welterweight division, middleweight division and stepped up to snatch Sergey Kovalev’s WBO light-heavyweight title, Canelo set his eyes on Callum Smith as he embarked on a 168lb demolition job.
The Mexican was dwarfed by his 6ft 3in counterpart, but it was the Liverpudlian who was outclassed as he relinquished both his WBA super-middleweight strap and his unbeaten record as Canelo claimed a wide unanimous decision victory – and the vacant WBC title.
After a short and sweet beatdown of Avni Yildirim just two months later, Canelo was on the title charge again, breaking another will – and another unbeaten record – as he handed a game Billy Joe Saunders a brutal first career defeat to claim the Brit’s WBO belt.
Finally, in November last year, Canelo completed his mission by stopping American Caleb Plant in the 11th round of their Vegas encounter to win the IBF strap and become the first-ever undisputed super-middleweight champion. History.
Canelo wiped out Britain’s Callum Smith (left) and Billy Joe Saunders (right) last year
The pound-for-pound star then dispatched of Caleb Plant in a historic evening in Las Vegas
Canelo became the first ever undisputed super-middleweight champion with the victory
The immediate question, of course, was what comes next? Being a fighter so willing and equally able to fluctuate between the weight classes, Canelo had multiple options on the table.
One package presented to him was from PBC, with Al Haymon offering over $100million for a double-header, first against WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo – who would have stepped up to 168lbs for the bout in May – and secondly against unbeaten super-middleweight David Benavidez in September.
Instead, Canelo agreed a multi-fight deal with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom, with a further two fights to come this year – which we’ll touch on shortly.
For now, another monumental task lies ahead for the already established all-time great, whose latest venture tells you everything you need to know about his state of mind.
‘I love boxing,’ he told TMZ, explaining why he has jumped up in weight again. ‘I love a challenge. I love that adrenaline.
‘I need to accomplish everything to be in the books of history of boxing. That’s why I’m here and I love what I do.’
And in Bivol – who offers an entirely different skillset to Kovalev, Canelo’s only other light-heavyweight opponent to date – the Mexican certainly has a challenge on his hands, against perhaps significantly sterner opposition than he has faced in recent fights.
As Floyd Mayweather showed back in 2013 – albeit facing a Canelo with a fraction of the ability and experience he possesses today – that if you make the Mexican knockout artist miss, you’re in with a shot.
Take a swift-footed Saunders, for example. He certainly enjoyed some success in the early rounds in their encounter last year, before Canelo steadily broke him down and ended the contest in the eighth round, with the Brit subsequently needing surgery to repair a fractured right orbital bone.
Canelo’s only defeat as a professional came against Floyd Mayweather Jr back in 2013
Billy Joe Saunders also enjoyed some early success before being stopped by Canelo last year
Height: 5ft 8in
Bivol – who was also a highly accomplished amateur, turning over with a record of 268-15 after winning two junior world championships and the Russian national amateur championship – will likely be another tricky target to hit.
With a significantly greater height and reach, his wicked jab and foot movement could make it a difficult evening for Canelo.
And though there are just 11 knockouts on his 19-fight resume – none in his last six fights – Bivol, who claimed wins over Britain’s Craig Richards in Manchester and Umar Salamov in Russia last year, certainly carries enough power to keep the Mexican honest.
Canelo himself has acknowledged the achievements of his impending opponent, and is very aware of the threats ahead.
‘[Dmitry’s] a really good boxer,’ he said. ‘He’s a solid champion at 175. It’s a dangerous fight. I like it, I love that kind of challenge. I really like it.’
However, such as his typical pre-fight confidence, Canelo also insists he will beat anyone put in front of him in this current vein of form.
‘It’s boxing, but nobody can beat me right now,’ he said on the Boxing with Chris Mannix podcast. ‘I feel in my prime.
‘And no disrespect to other fighters. There’s some great fighters. But I feel in my prime. I feel strong. I feel in my best.’
Bivol exhibited his skills in Manchester last year as he defeated Britain’s Craig Richards
Bivol, a significantly more respectful opponent, vocally anyway, than the likes of Plant and Saunders, remains convinced he will be the man to end Canelo’s hot streak, however.
‘I feel myself like it’s my division; it’s my belt. I’m here, the champion; I should win. I think only like that,’ he told Matchroom Boxing. ‘He comes to my division, and I have to beat him.’
‘Every fighter is different,’ he continued. ‘Maybe he met before speed like I have, power like I have, movement as I have, but I’m pretty sure he never met this combination as I have.
‘I think it makes it hard for him,’ Bivol said of Canelo. ‘I’m just different. If you want to succeed, it doesn’t matter in boxing or everywhere; you have to believe in your skills.
‘If you believe in your skills, you’re confident in your mind and with your body. Now, I have a chance to show my skills to many, many boxing fans. This is what I wanted when I came to professional boxing.’
Bivol insists, as the champion, he has the responsibility of ending Canelo’s latest venture
Unlike prior to Canelo’s crowning moment against Plant last year, we already know the next move should he extend his record to 58-1-2 with victory on Saturday – though promoter Hearn has confirmed it does very much rely on winning.
Those plans will see Canelo and his fiercest rival Golovkin go toe-to-toe for a third time. Their first encounter in 2017 was scored a highly controversial draw, with most believing it was ‘GGG’ who should have been handed the decision.
Their rematch almost exactly a year to the day later saw Canelo claim a majority decision victory, in another nail-bitingly close encounter.
Now, after Golovkin beat Ryota Murata in April to unify the IBF and WBA middleweight titles, providing all goes to plan, the pair will meet at 168lbs with Canelo putting his super-middleweight belts on the line.
Though looking closer to his fearsome best against Murata after a succession of somewhat subdued performances – alongside an extended spell out of action – the momentum would all be with Canelo going into an enticing trilogy – with the large majority of the boxing world favouring the Mexican once more.
And should Canelo prove successful again, he intends on fighting in London for the first time in his career this December, with the likes of Joshua Buatsi, Craig Richards and John Ryder all possible options.
Also on the agenda for the highly accomplished star is claiming all the belts at light-heavyweight. To do so, he’d have to beat the winner of WBC and IBF champion Artur Beterbiev and WBO title holder Joe Smith Jr, who fight in June, a target he has set for 2023.
But even for a seemingly unstoppable Canelo, 100 per cent focus must be on the task at hand, however.
Certainly, though, the fight being billed as ‘Legacy is Earned’ feels appropriate. Should Bivol win, a new star is born overnight. But should Canelo prevail, as expected, boxing’s biggest star would edge ever closer to another historic feat.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism