Canelo Alvarez, still just 25 years of age, has become one of boxing's biggest stars over the last five years, ever since he made his U.S. TV debut in the Mayweather-Mosley co-feature in May 2010.
That night, Canelo turned some heads as a 19-year-old prospect, beating down veteran Jose Miguel Cotto, the older brother of the man he'll face next Saturday night, Miguel Cotto. Alvarez has had one fight bigger than this one, and it resulted in his only loss, a September 2013 outclassing at the hands of Floyd Mayweather.
For Canelo, this fight with Cotto is important. A win will put him in line to become the next big star in the sport, following in the footsteps of Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, two fighters with wins over Cotto in their careers. A loss could have some wondering if Canelo is "merely" a good and popular fighter, rather than one who can be an era-defining star.
Here are my picks for Alvarez's five biggest wins to date.
5. Alfredo Angulo (2014-03-08)
Right away, with Angulo in the fifth spot, it becomes clear that Alvarez doesn't have a lot of really big wins, or at least not wins over serious contenders. Angulo, a rugged brawler with one speed, was pretty much tailor made for Alvarez to look good after Canelo was outclassed by Floyd Mayweather in September 2013, and he filled his role as a punching bag, giving some spark back to the perception of Alvarez as an action fighter or knockout puncher. After nine rounds and an additional 47 seconds, referee Tony Weeks finally saw enough, ending the mismatch to the protests of the durable and proud Angulo, doing his job and saving a tough fighter from himself. Angulo was a carefully selected opponent meant to rehab Canelo and give him his confidence back, and it worked.
4. James Kirkland (2015-05-09)
Hey! Pretty similar to the Angulo fight, really, except Canelo didn't really need rehabbing this time around. But it was his first fight in 10 months, easily the longest break of his pro career, and it was his homecoming fight at HBO after a stint with Showtime from 2012-14.
Kirkland, like Angulo, was an opponent who presented danger only if Canelo did something silly, and Canelo is not a dumb fighter. If anything, he's far more calculated and measured than he is any sort of action star, but like Angulo, Kirkland has the sort of fearless, face-first style that makes Canelo's precise counter punching look truly devastating. Alvarez isn't much of a bull, but he's a terrific young matador, and he savagely beat Kirkland down inside of three rounds at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
3. Shane Mosley (2012-05-05)
Going in, I felt that Mosley was a shot fighter and that Canelo would make him look like a shot fighter. Mosley was, and Canelo did. But even past his best and considering that he was never exactly known as a cerebral fighter, Mosley has far better ring IQ and skills than guys like Angulo, Kirkland, or others I could have subbed in instead. When you consider that leading up to this fight, Canelo had been given fights with Alfonso Gomez and Kermit Cintron, with Ryan Rhodes as probably his career-best win to date, you see why Mosley probably ranks here, even at 40 and having looked lousy in his previous two fights.
Alvarez, to his credit, did what he needed to do. For his win over Mosley to look good, he had to dominate. Ideally, he would've been the first man to stop Sugar Shane, but that's a big ask. Canelo took what Mosley gave him, beat him to the punch constantly, and made Shane look like he was boxing underwater for much of the fight.
(Mosley also says he was fighting injured in this bout, for whatever that's worth.)
2. Austin Trout (2013-04-20)
Canelo was slated to face Miguel Cotto in 2013, or at least that was the working hope for Golden Boy, Alvarez, and Showtime. Then Austin Trout messed all that up by beating Cotto convincingly in December 2012. While Richard Schaefer attempted immediately to salvage the idea of Canelo-Cotto, the fire had died, and Alvarez himself demanded that Golden Boy make the fight with Trout, wishing to face the best at 154 that he could.
Alvarez and Trout met at the Alamodome in San Antonio in front of a big ol' crowd of people, and Alvarez won the fight. It wasn't exactly beautiful or thrilling or anything, but he won the fight. Trout himself made no excuses and called Canelo "the better man," so I'm not going to argue, and I thought he'd done plenty enough to win, though it was a competitive bout against a good fighter.
1. Erislandy Lara (2014-07-12)
Similar to the Trout fight we'll get to in a moment, this was a matchup of Canelo against a crafty southpaw boxer, one that not many other fighters were exactly lining up to fight. (In fact, nobody's really lined up to fight Lara since this, either.)
Like the Trout fight, there was some hemming and hawing about the scores, which saw Alvarez take a split decision win on scores of 115-113, 117-111, and 113-115.
Like the Trout fight, I thought this was closely contested with a good amount of swing rounds. Unlike the Trout fight, I had this one for Lara on the night of the fight, 115-113. It was debatable. And if the fight hadn't stunk to high hell, maybe there would've been a rematch. But it did.
The reason I have this one No. 1 is that I think Lara was a better fighter at this point than Trout was when he fought Canelo. Is Cotto in 2015 a better fighter than last year's Lara? Maybe. Maybe not. But this would certainly be Canelo's biggest win to date, and by far his most important. Nothing else on his résumé really compares in that sense.