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45 Greatest Fighters Of The Last 45 Years – 24: Saul Canelo Alvarez

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In the history of boxing, there have been fewer boxers who’s legacy has been both heralded and derided by both boxing fans and the media than Saul Canelo Alvarez. Despite his incredible work ethic and opposition that includes a who’s who of many of the greatest fighters of the last decade, Canelo constantly is criticized for choosing who and when he fights. The fact is, choosing who and when to fight has long been the tradition of the top drawing cards in the history of the sport. Canelo is the 24th greatest fighter of the last 45 years because he has only one time in his career been completely dominated in a fight.

Canelo, the youngest of seven brothers who all boxed, turned pro in his native Mexico at the young age of 15. Trained by the famed Reynoso father and son team, Chepo and Eddy, Canelo won 21 of his first 22 fights in Mexico. The one blemish was a draw that occurred very early in his career. In his 23rd pro fight, he made his American debut on October 24, 2008 against fringe welterweight contender Larry Mosley at the United States legal age for a fighter to box, 18. After defeating the cagey Mosley via ten round decision, Canelo then won his next 12 fights and secured his first ever world title shot on March 5, 2011. Canelo totally dominated Ricky Hatton’s brother Matthew in winning the vacant WBC super welterweight title by 12 round decision. At the age of 20, Canelo began his first of many reigns as a world champion.

On April 20, 2013, in front of over 39,000 fans at the San Antonio Alamo Dome, Canelo won a hard fought 12-round decision against the slick boxer and WBA 154-pound champion Austin Trout. In defeating Trout, Canelo unified both the WBC and WBA 154-pound titles and gained the prestigious Ring Magazine 154-pound title as well. Not only did Canelo’s victory over Trout make him a unified world champion, it placed him amongst Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather as the biggest box office attractions in boxing at the time. It also gave him the biggest fight of his career which was a matchup against the defensive mastermind Mayweather.

Despite what Canelo defenders and Mayweather detractors have stated, Canelo was not a green fighter going into his blockbuster fight with Floyd on the night of September 14, 2013. Although only 23, Canelo had been a pro for eight years and had defeated several top flight contenders. Mayweather was 36 at the time and had lost a step . What Mayweather did that evening was give Canelo the boxing lesson of his life. Mayweather shut down Canelo’s main weapons, which were his body punching and counterpunching. In what many regard as Mayweather’s greatest performance, he completely dominated to win by, and this is a head shaker in itself, a majority decision. Judge C.J Ross puzzlingly scored the fight a draw. It would be the final fight the incompetent judge would ever score. Floyd showed that night why he was the greatest fighter of his generation.

Following his loss to Mayweather and then giving Mexican brawler Alfredo Angulo brutal a one-sided beating, Canelo squared off against another great defensive fighter in the Cuban stylist Erislandy Lara. On July 12, 2014, Lara gave Canelo hell as Canelo was unable to land his potent left jab. Canelo, however, was able to land several hard shots to Lara’s body. In a fight that could’ve gone either way, Canelo won by a surprisingly wide margin on the scorecards. It would be the last time Canelo would be outboxed in such a manner.

After the Lara fight, Canelo destroyed middleweight power-puncher James Kirkland inside of three rounds in front of over 31,000 fans at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. This was a tuneup before fighting WBC and Ring 160-pound champion Miguel Cotto. Canelo’s constant pressure was too much for the recently International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee as Canelo won a comfortable 12-round decision on November 21, 2015 to win his second division world title. After three dominating defenses of his middleweight crown, Canelo would face the division’s boogeyman Gennady Golovkin.

On September 16, 2017, Canelo faced Golovkin to unify the WBA, WBC and IBF 160 pound titles. Canelo did his best to try and keep the aggressive GGG off of him, but was unable to keep the fight in the middle of the ring. Canelo spent far too much time on the ropes the first 10 rounds of the fight. Canelo made a huge comeback down the stretch of the fight which enabled him to escape with a draw. Many Canelo critics and members of the media felt GGG was robbed. To be honest, GGG blew the fight by not attacking Canelo’s body when up against the ropes and fading down the stretch. GGG blew a golden opportunity to make this list of the greatest fighter of the last 45 years by his inability to close the show against Canelo.

Canelo and GGG’s May 2018 rematch was postponed because of Canelo testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol. Instead, the rematch took place on September 15, 2018. Canelo shocked me that night. He came roaring out the gate and took the fight to GGG. In a complete 12 round war in which both men landed nuclear bombs that didn’t faze each other, Canelo deservedly won a very close unanimous decision to secure the single biggest win of his career.

After a brutal 11th round knockout of WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, Canelo focused his efforts on becoming the very first 168-pound undisputed world champion. In an 11 month period, from December 2020 to November 2021, Canelo accomplished this goal by thoroughly battering Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant. After his 11th round systematic stoppage of Plant, Canelo has decided that his next goal is to win a world title at cruiserweight, which would make him a five division world champion. Regardless if he’s successful or not, Canelo is already firmly entrenched as the 24th greatest fighter of the last 45 years. With a record of 57-1-2 with 39 knockouts, Canelo can only rise in the rankings of the all-time greats as he is only 31 years old and is at his ultimate fighting prowess.

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