This Saturday night on HBO PPV in the U.S. (9 pm ET) and BoxNation in the U.K., Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez returns to the ring to face Liam Smith at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in a fight that’s supposed to be a big deal, but just isn’t.
Here’s a look at why it’s not.
Canelo Alvarez vs Liam Smith
Record: 47-1-1 (33 KO) ... Streak: W5 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'9" / 70½" ... Age: 26
Thoughts: Canelo Alvarez was supposed to be different. That’s what his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, kept telling us. De La Hoya has always been anxious to find someone to dethrone the Mayweather/Pacquiao tandem at the top of boxing, in part because the two of them beat him and Pacquiao forced him into retirement with a savage mauling.
He almost comically backed every fighter that his company threw at Mayweather. Marquez and Mosley, Ortiz and Cotto, Guerrero and Alvarez himself. All of them were, for a moment, Oscar’s vessel. All of them failed, just as he had.
Perhaps none of those failures was more disappointing than Canelo’s. Young and daring, Alvarez took a fight with the best in the world at the age of 23. He didn’t need the fight. He wanted it. He wanted to test himself against the top pound-for-pound fighter of his era. He wanted to be "the one" in Mayweather’s record.
Whether it was bad game planning or bad execution, Alvarez attempted to stay at center ring and box Mayweather, refusing to take advantage of his youth or his advantages in size and strength. Predictably, Mayweather outboxed him handily.
Before he fought Mayweather, Alvarez had taken on Austin Trout, who had just upset Miguel Cotto. That was a fight Richard Schaefer, then the head of Golden Boy, had tried to steer the fighter away from. But Alvarez insisted, and he got it, and he won a competitive fight at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
After Mayweather, it was a mixed bag, but with two fights so commendable that the two that weren’t don’t matter much. He gave Alfredo Angulo a brutal beating in a fight that was tailor made for him against a slow, predictable foe, but as a comeback, it was fine. He took another big risk next time out, and edged past Erislandy Lara.
Moving back to HBO from Showtime, Alvarez faced James Kirkland at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Like the Angulo fight, the outcome was predictable. Miguel Cotto followed, again a great matchup, and Alvarez once again got through with a decision win.
This year has been a different story. In May, Alvarez faced Amir Khan in a fight nobody was asking to see, its only appeal coming from either its novelty or the inevitable brutal knockout that would and did come to pass. And on Saturday, he faces Liam Smith, a man with less chin issues than Khan, but no more of a chance to win.
If this were a case where there’s just nobody to fight, this would be more forgivable. But he should be fighting Gennady Golovkin. I know it, you know it, Golovkin knows it, Oscar knows it, and Canelo knows it. Maybe it’ll happen in September 2017. Maybe it won’t. But for now, Canelo as Boxing’s Biggest Star is picking up right where the last two left off, not delivering the fight that fans want.
Record: 23-0-1 (13 KO) ... Streak: W18 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'9½" / N/A ... Age: 28
Thoughts: Liam Smith is a "world champion," for whatever that’s worth. Let’s delve into what it’s really worth, in this specific case.
"Beefy" won the vacant WBO belt against John Thompson in October 2015. Thompson wasn’t a serious contender — frankly, Smith wasn’t either -- but a game fighter who had won a "Boxcino" tournament, something that if given any weight at all is given too much. Thompson fought well for a bit, then Smith stopped him in the seventh round.
Two months later, Liam made his first defense against a grossly overmatched Jimmy Kilrain Kelly, winning every round and stopping the unproven Kelly in the seventh round. A second defense came in June of this year, when Smith faced Predrag Radosevic.
Radosevic might actually have been a step back from Kelly, which is remarkable at the world title level. His only other fight against a notable opponent had been a TKO-4 loss to Felix Sturm in 2013. Predictably, Smith knocked him out in the second round of a farcical bout.
This is not to say that Liam Smith can’t fight. He can. The question, though, is still very much open: how good is he? Is he world title good for real, or just on paper?
As always, don’t take BoxRec rankings for gospel, but even BoxRec have Liam Smith, with a world title and two successful defenses, ranked 15th in the world at junior middleweight. If Canelo were fighting Ishe Smith or Charles Hatley or Tony Harrison, the 12-14 fighters, or Jack Culcay (17) or Brian Rose (18), would that be interesting?
Of course not. And neither is this, quite frankly. It’s slightly more interesting than those fights (maybe not Hatley or Harrison, actually), but only because of what Smith represents on paper. He is still completely unproven at the actual world class level. There is a chance that Canelo-Smith will wind up looking like Smith-Radosevic, only in reverse for "Beefy."
Maybe Liam Smith will prove that he is this level of fighter. But the odds are definitely against it.
Matchup Grade: D. Nobody asked for this fight. Nobody wanted this fight. Nobody wants it now. None of the blame goes to Liam Smith here. All he’s doing is taking a huge opportunity and he’s going to do his best to win this fight. But we should be two days away from Canelo-Golovkin. We’re not. This fight is perhaps the single greatest example of what 2016 in boxing has been like for fans of the sport, and asking $60 for this is a slap in the face.