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Canelo Alvarez and the path to undisputed at super middleweight: Saunders, Plant, and the wild cards

Canelo Alvarez wants all four major titles in his division, and for once the fighter saying that might really be on the path to do it.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Ethan Miller/Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

With Caleb Plant’s win last night over Caleb Truax to retain the IBF super middleweight title, the 28-year-old Tennessee native kept his place in line for the real prize at 168 pounds, and in boxing overall: a fight with Canelo Alvarez later this year.

Canelo officially moved to 168 to stay in December, beating Callum Smith to win the WBA title and claim the vacant WBC belt, becoming a four-division titlist. Just a few weeks after, he made his intentions clear, that he wanted to unify all four belts and become undisputed champion.

Fighters in lots of weight classes say this, of course, but Canelo is in a particularly unique situation. By getting out of his promotional contract with Golden Boy Promotions and also his broadcast deal with DAZN, Alvarez is not only arguably boxing’s biggest star, but he legitimately and fully calls his own shots. He’s still open to working with DAZN, but it’s fight-by-fight if the deals are to his liking.

Right now, Alvarez is working on a two-fight deal with Matchroom Boxing and thus with DAZN, for his Feb. 27 bout with WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim, a fight he’s expected to win easily, and an early May fight with WBO titleholder Billy Joe Saunders, which isn’t official but will be happening assuming Canelo beats Yildirim and doesn’t suffer any injuries or the like.

So the path to undisputed for the 30-year-old Mexican superstar is very clear:

  1. Take care of business against Yildirim, get that out of the way;
  2. Fight Saunders in May;
  3. Fight Caleb Plant — or whomever holds the IBF title — sometime between September and December, most likely.

It’s a simple thing, really. Canelo would probably have to do business with PBC and FOX for the Plant fight, but that’s useful for him, as it would absolutely be a pay-per-view and thus have pay-per-view revenue. Or, if DAZN are willing to spend the money, they might be able to work with PBC to let Plant fight Canelo on that platform. Either way, there shouldn’t be any interference other than the chance of the Plant side deciding not to do it, which I don’t think will happen. In short, if Canelo wants to do this, he will be able to do it.

Saunders (30-0, 14 KO) and Plant (21-0, 12 KO) are not pushover foes by any means, both are skilled boxers who bring their own strengths to the table. But Alvarez would/will be a strong favorite against either man. He has proven himself an elite fighter, and while both of them are obviously very good, they haven’t had the chances Canelo has had to prove their quality on that tip-top level.

Saunders is basically set, a May return should suit him fine without an interim fight, as he just beat Martin Murray in early December. Six months isn’t a crazy long break so long as Billy Joe stays in shape, and for this kind of fight and this kind of money, one figures he’ll be focused.

As for Plant, he fears he suffered a broken hand against Truax, but if it’s not in need of a major surgery and he doesn’t have any big setbacks, he would certainly be ready for September, and the fight could absolutely be happening later than that.

There is some belief that maybe Plant should fight someone else, but honestly, just being logical about it all, I don’t see why he’d take that risk.

No matter how much David Benavidez calls him out, there’s really nothing for Plant to gain there with a Canelo fight waiting. The small audience of hardcore boxing fans might see major value in it, but it’s not really a big fight, and frankly Benavidez has nobody to blame but himself for not just being in this mix already. He’s twice been stripped of the WBC title, including last August when he missed weight for a scheduled defense. Benavidez also is not ranked in the top 15 by the IBF, and right now is scheduled to fight Ronald Ellis in March on Showtime.

As far as IBF-ranked possibles if Plant does want to take an interim fight to stay sharp, he just beat his top-ranked contender, as Truax was No. 3, with the 1 and 2 slots currently vacant. Zach Parker is at No. 4, followed by Evgeny Shvedenko, Aidos Yerbossynuly, Juergen Braehmer (who is 42 and won’t be fighting outside of Germany), Leon Bunn, Daniel Jacobs, and Anthony Dirrell, who returns Feb. 27 on FOX, rounding out the top 10. The most likely fight there would be Dirrell, it would seem, but who knows, maybe Bunn or Shvedenko might find their way to Los Angeles.

Now in the event that Saunders were to upset Canelo in May, then this all changes, obviously. Canelo and Billy Joe would likely run it back in a rematch, which would delay Plant’s big chance by one or two more fights at the very least, and would probably force Caleb to fight someone else in 2021. This could all go haywire and we could be waiting into 2022 or who knows when to see all four belts on the line in one fight.

But the basic point is that for once, this is all actually pretty simple to plot and lay out, and it isn’t difficult to get done. We could very easily see this go down in 2021, which given that it’s boxing, is not a guarantee, but for once it’s not just wild hoping and scenario creation.

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