When the time comes twice a year to see Saul Alvarez back in the ring, nobody’s more excited than I am. I can’t think of another fighter whose style and composure I enjoy watching more, and those are the real reasons I watch boxing. Sure, I like knockouts, brawls, and pure technicians, but what I really watch for is the guy whose identity is more than the logos on the back of his trunks. These are guys who respect the sport, and in moments of extreme conflict, show the fans something that is at once viscerally human and divinely inspirational. These guys aren’t always marked by immaculate records. The Miguel Cottos, Micky Wards and Jerry Quarrys, who didn’t always look so pretty after a fight and didn’t have much success at the top level, gave fans performances that meant more than a win.
That’s what I see when I watch Saul Alvarez. A man whose sense of discipline is as strong as his hook, whose ability to improvise is as robust as his dedication to a plan. It’s just an added bonus for us that this guy is gifted and skilled enough to keep winning. On the other hand, that’s why it’s so disappointing to see a money-first, sports-second matchup like the one coming May 7 against Amir Khan.
Khan is very tall and long for his weight class, undeniably talented, and he’s exciting in the ring. He’s also been consistently proven to be well below the top-level competition in the sport. He struggled at 140 pounds because his speed was less of an advantage and because he got knocked down a lot. He moved up to 147 pounds and beat B-level guys like Devon Alexander and Luis Collazo with superior reach and speed, but struggled in his most recent fight, at 147 pounds, against Chris Algieri. Granted, Algieri is a talented, though not elite fighter, but he’s not even ranked in the top ten for the weight class. Khan is ranked at number 5 in the world for welterweights, but you know who else beat Algieri? This past weekend Errol Spence Jr., ranked at number 7, two spots below Khan, knocked Algieri down three times on his way to a TKO victory. Spence is fairly fresh in the sport having just won his 20th bout, while Khan is a seasoned veteran at 34 total fights. Saul Alvarez is not listed in the welterweight rankings at all. That’s because he’s not at 147 pounds anymore; he’s moved past 154 pounds, too, and is now ranked number 1 in the world at 160 pounds.
You would think that between the two of them, the small guy with the weak chin should be the most worried for his career. But when Alvarez is expected to take for his next opponent a man many consider the most feared or avoided in the sport (for good reason), this kind of distraction could be detrimental. In Khan, Alvarez has a warm-up opponent who began his career 20 pounds lighter than Canelo’s next opponent, Golovkin. Khan has a slight advantage over Alvarez in hand speed, height, and reach, whereas Golovkin has a slight advantage over him in hand speed and height himself, but is also expected to have a huge advantage in power and mobility, while simply neutralizing some of Canelo’s other strengths.
This foregone conclusion will be entertaining for big Canelo fans and for fans who just don’t like Khan (I’m both), but this single W on Canelo’s record may be a disservice overall to his career. A fight more akin to preparation for Golovkin might be a fight against another ranked middleweight like Peter Quillin or David Lemieux. Hell, if they really want to get him ready, give him a catch-weight fight against a less experienced super middle. We’ll take it one fight at a time for now, and hope that Alvarez knows what kind of a fight he’s really giving his fans, and himself.