When Canelo Alvarez wins a fight on a Saturday night, we always talk about what might be next for him on Sunday morning. Every time, we throw in the reminder that now and then, Canelo likes to throw everyone for a loop and do something unexpected.
Sometimes, that’s been a fight with Amir Khan or Rocky Fielding where he’s expected to completely dominate, and then he does. Sometimes, though, it’s a surprising move up in weight to challenge for a world title. He did it against Sergey Kovalev at light heavyweight in 2019, a move nobody thought was coming. Now, he appears set to do it again, making a bold move to cruiserweight to face WBC titleholder Ilunga Junior Makabu.
The WBC have approved Canelo’s request for the fight, and Makabu has accepted the challenge. It’s not 100 percent official just yet, in that it hasn’t been fully announced or anything, but the two have already shared a stage at the WBC convention, had a little face-off, and talked about the matchup.
For the moment, it really appears that Canelo (57-1-2, 39 KO) will be facing Makabu (28-2, 25 KO) on May 7, 2022. Even the fact that Makabu has ties to promoter Don King probably won’t stand in anyone’s way; Canelo’s the power broker now, not the 90-year-old promoter decades removed from any real relevance, and power brokers tend to get what they want in boxing.
If the 31-year-old Alvarez does make this move, we have to wonder whether or not he’ll ever fight again at 168 lbs, where he just became undisputed super middleweight champion of the world over the last 11 months, steamrolling through Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders, and Caleb Plant to collect all four major titles.
The reason to wonder is not so much about Canelo possibly staying at cruiserweight, where he’s going to be a small fighter, it’s about coming back down to make the 168 lb limit again. Maybe he can, but if you look back at a fight the WBC are openly comparing Canelo-Makabu to, it simply might be a bad idea.
Back in 2003, light heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr, who was pound-for-pound king of the boxing world at the time, went up to heavyweight for a fight with John Ruiz, who held the WBA belt. Jones, then 34, made the tactical decision to weigh in at just 193 lbs, giving up 33 lbs on the scales to Ruiz. It kept Jones’ speed and elusiveness way too much for Ruiz to handle, and Roy added another major accomplishment to his already Hall of Fame-bound career.
Eight months later in November 2003, Jones moved back down to light heavyweight for a fight with Antonio Tarver. Roy got the majority decision that night, but it was plenty controversial, and he just didn’t look like his old, fully dominant self. He was just clearly not the same, and he had appeared gaunt at the weigh-in for the bout — it was quite obvious that coming back down to 175 had affected him.
“I was very tired because of the weight,” Jones admitted after the fight. “It was a tough fight because of the weight. I had to lose 25 pounds, and it was a tough 25 pounds to lose.” He said he wanted a heavyweight fight with Mike Tyson “or I’m done.” That, of course, did not pan out.
Instead, Jones rematched Tarver at light heavyweight in May 2004, got knocked out in the second round, and his career never truly recovered. Glen Johnson knocked him out four months later. Tarver beat him again in late 2005. From there, Jones kept fighting for about 12 more years, becoming something of a veteran traveling act with the occasional big opportunity given because of his name value, all of them resulting in losses other than a 2008 win over a retired, bloated Tito Trinidad. But he was never Roy Jones Jr again.
Canelo, you might say, is a careful, calculated fighter. But that was said of Jones, too. Lou DiBella once called Roy “the most careful great fighter I’ve ever seen,” and there was a sense for a long time that Jones was simply not going to do a fight that he wasn’t 100 percent certain he would win. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it sounds a lot like what many think of Canelo right now — that he takes matchups at the right time, against the right opponents, and won’t risk a fight where he thinks the other guy is truly dangerous.
Certainly, in a case like fighting Makabu, you have to believe that Canelo and manager/trainer Eddy Reynoso are fully confident of victory, or they wouldn’t do it. But there’s winning that fight and then there’s what you do after.
He almost certainly won’t stay at cruiserweight, because there just isn’t that much money in the division, and what else is he going to do? Mairis Briedis and Arsen Goulamirian, two other titleholders, are not any bigger names than Makabu, they just don’t have the WBC belt that Canelo and many star fighters most covet, and often quite openly. Lawrence Okolie is 6’5”, Canelo’s not fighting him.
Super middleweight, meanwhile, is almost entirely cleaned out. The only serious challenger currently in that division is David Benavidez, whom the WBC approved to fight for an “interim” title while Canelo does business with Makabu.
Benavidez might want to look at the longer game here himself, because it might be time for him to move up to light heavyweight soon, anyway, and there’s a good chance Canelo will be settling in at 175 following the Makabu fight, no matter what happens. He’s won one title in that division, and the current titleholders there — even the mauling Artur Beterbiev — are all sort of a notch below that true elite tier, the sort of guys Canelo might fancy picking off and trying to go undisputed in another division.
Perhaps Canelo will return to 168 and then figure out his future, but I’d hedge my bets on a serious run at light heavyweight coming after the Makabu challenge. Alvarez is not an old fighter, but 31 isn’t 23, either, and dropping that much weight from one fight to the next could prove a terrible idea. He’s smart, and he and his team surely know well the lessons Jones taught the boxing world 18 years ago.