When Saul "Canelo" Alvarez announced last Wednesday he was vacating the WBC middleweight title instead of signing to fight the division’s resident assassin Gennady Golovkin, the collective groan from boxing’s rank-and-file could be heard around the globe.
It was a move straight from Floyd Mayweather’s playbook: slip your biggest threat by inventing an imaginary conflict - in Canelo’s case, the WBC’s May 24 negotiating deadline - so you can pursue some other course, leaving millions of frustrated fans in your wake. It’s particularly exasperating when one believed, as I did, that Mayweather’s exit from the sport freed us from this sort of bullshit, if only for a little while.
I should have known better.
Still, you can’t blame me for hoping Alvarez was different. In the two-and-a-half years since he was so thoroughly beaten by Mayweather, the 25-year-old Canelo has amassed five victories in as many fights, against (mostly) appropriate opponents. Those wins have fueled a meteoric rise, and aside from Manny Pacquiao, the ever-present brawler in the sunset of his own career, Canelo is likely the most recognizable figure in boxing. Many, including myself, believe Canelo's good looks and brickbat fists will eventually make him a household name.
Unfortunately, that seems to be a mantle the Mexican is hesitant to inherit. And with the news he’s abandoning the belt, the chance of seeing him and Golovkin share a ring this year gets slimmer and slimmer.
Alvarez, apparently, sees it differently. "For the entirety of my career, I have taken the fights that no one wanted because I fear no man. Never has that been more true than today," he said in a press release. "I will fight ‘GGG,' and I will beat ‘GGG' but I will not be forced into the ring by artificial deadlines."
Ah yes, my heart bleeds for young Canelo! Artificial deadlines, the bane of every boxer! They are surely more terrifying than the Kazakh Sword of Damocles dangling about his head.
But I admit I would not want to face Golovkin either, what with his unblemished record and 32 knockouts in 35 fights. If I was in Canelo's position, I too might seize the most convenient excuse to avoid the man who's only allowed three fighters to go the distance with him in his decade-long career.
But then I am not Canelo Alvarez, boxing's Next Big Thing. In truth, this whole controversy carries some degree of sadness for me, because I badly want Canelo to become the fighter we all hope he could be. The bigger his fights, the more fans he’ll bring in. And his bouts, with their sometimes dramatic knockouts, are sorely needed if boxing is to repair a public image crippled by the Mayweather-Pacquiao catastrophe.
There is no ceiling for a young, talented, good-looking kid who's willing to mix it up - ask Canelo's own promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, whose own career was similarly propelled.
But De La Hoya, who many are blaming for delaying the Golovkin bout, won the mob's adoration not just for his skill, but his gameness. He fought the best of his generation, and catapulted from weight class to weight class to do it. He never feared taking risks, and the people loved him for it.
Meanwhile, his own charge refuses to fight for the middleweight crown at anywhere near 160-pounds. One might think an old warrior like De La Hoya would shake his head at that, and mutter something about how "that's what's wrong with this sport today." And one would hope De La Hoya himself wasn't encouraging it, telling his prodigy to wait a year or two for Golovkin to slow down, lose a step, before Canelo climbs into the ring with him.
Regardless, one thing is certain: Alvarez's road to stardom travels straight through Gennady Golovkin, and every second he is perceived to be "ducking" the 34-year-old mauler is another body blow to his legacy. And we fans are watching closely, for the path Canelo charts here offers a glimpse of how he plans to handle the rest of his career ... for better or worse.