In boxing, with big money and big attention comes the wrath of haters, critics, and the generally jaded.
The rise of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is really no different than the rise of other cash cow superstars in the past, like Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather. Serial critics claim that the rise to the top was too smooth, too calculated. They weren’t “real” fighters, not like the old school pugs who bled and worked through in-ring hardship to achieve greatness. Their opposition was too well-picked– a bunch of older guys on the downside, one-hit wonders, paper champions, etc.
Alvarez has been slammed with all of the above criticisms and more. But, while there’s usually some truth to every critic’s lament, there’s also a lot of missing the trees for the forest.
The Mexican superstar and top boxing draw is 2021’s fighter of the year– and a well-deserved Fighter of the Year at that. Two decisive, dominant stoppage victories over reigning, unefeated world champs (Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant) and a blowout of overmatched fringe contender Avni Yildirim earned him the honor.
But what we’re witnessing with Canelo is something special and if fans and media are still pouting over Canelo hype and the red carpet treatment he’s received in the past, they’re really missing out.
With Alvarez’s eleventh round TKO of Plant this past November, he not only became the first-ever 4-belt unified world super middleweight champ and the first Latin American to unify 4 belts in a division, he also capped off a uniquely spectacular 11-month run.
In those eleven months, the Guadalajara native notched decisive victories over three of the top four super middleweights in the world, as well as a WBC mandatory contender. This, in an era where most top fighters only get into the ring once or twice a year and rarely in consecutive bouts against true top three opposition.
Alvarez’s rise to world stage prominence, however, is not just about what he did in a year’s time. There’s a reason he was Fighter of the Year in 2019 and a runner-up to the honor in 2020. He’s been THAT good. And it’s not just hype and clever matchmaking fueling his rise to the top.
Unlike many superstars of the past– like De La Hoya and Mayweather, who had stellar amateur pedigrees and were groomed to be professional stars– Alvarez came up in the game with little fanfare and only limited amateur experience. He made his pro debut in Mexico just three months after his fifteenth birthday and learned his craft fighting (and beating) grown men. All the while, he managed his own promotion and guided himself into becoming a marquee attraction in his home country.
In the beginning of his star run on the boxing main stage it could’ve been said that he was a good-to-very good fighter given the red carpet treatment because of his general marketability as a white-skinned, red-headed Mexican phenom. The thing about Alvarez, though, is that he has extreme ambition and an otherworldly work ethic.
After his loss to Floyd Mayweather in 2013, at the age of 23, he went back to the gym and tirelessly worked on eliminating the technical and tactical flaws that led to that first career loss. He emerged an all-around better fighter and has been developing his next-level skill ever since.
And that’s the other thing that makes Alvarez special– he was not born to be special.
Not gifted with elite-level athleticism or reflexes, Alvarez’s level of dominance is 100% due to the hard work of perfecting his craft. He’s, literally, willed himself to stardom and then to greatness. And, in doing so, he’s proven how far hard work and clear-headed focus can take you in this sport.
Critics and cynics should learn to appreciate what Canelo Alvarez is doing in the present tense because it is truly special.