Hernández: Canelo Alvarez had a chance to elevate his ambitions, and it's gone
Four-part champion Canelo Alvarez made an excited return to the ring on Saturday, defeating Callum Smith by unanimous decision over 12 rounds at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Championship boxing match, glorified sparring session, whatever that was, it was like afternoon feeding the red-bellied piranhas at the Los Angeles Zoo.
Canelo Alvarez went down and hit a defenseless man for 12 rounds on Saturday night. Every punch he landed shattered the Callum Smith delusions made by a British sports scene that overrated their soccer players and really, really overrated their fighters.
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Instead of raising Alvarez, the unilateral decision-making victory confirmed what was already evident before the opening bell rang:
Alvarez screwed it up.
He once had a worthy opponent in Gennady Golovkin. They had two close fights that could have been scored either way. But instead of stepping into the ring with Golovkin for the third time, Alvarez argued that the jury's positive verdict on the second fight was the final word.
No athlete is judged on unique moments more than a boxer. They define themselves by how they face their greatest obstacles and how they react to their most intense crises.
Perhaps Alvarez did not notice it then, but his rivalry with Golovkin hung in that moment.
When Alvarez decided to move on and take on the likes of Daniel Jacobs and Sergey Kovalev, the moment vanished. Now there is nothing more he can do to retake it, and not even fight Golovkin.
Alvarez has the enthusiastic support of the boxing industrial complex, which has made it their mission to overstate its skills in order to sustain its dead sport. But history will see him more objectively. Time has a sobering effect on perception.
Whatever he did against Golovkin was always meant to be diminished. Alvarez waited until Golovkin was 34 to agree to their first bout, which ended in a draw. The originally planned rematch was canceled because Alvarez tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
Alvarez was convinced that Golovkin needed him more than Golovkin. From a financial point of view, that was true. But in terms of his legacy, Alvarez needed Golovkin too.
The 30-year-old Mexican is now without the potential opponent to help him achieve his ambitions.
He talks about wanting to write history, but has no way of writing it. He promises to fight fights the public wants to see, but the average sports fan has never heard of any of his potential opponents other than Golovkin.
Golovkin, who took out someone named Kamil Szerementa on Friday night, is technically available. The operative word in this sentence is "technical". Golovkin is now 38 and he looked 38 against Szerementa, which is probably why Alvarez is suddenly open to fighting him.
Alvarez and Golovkin could still pack an arena, but even in this case, history will at some point see the spectacle for what it is: a fighter in his prime beating up an old man.
Alvarez's other options will result in more mismatches like the one he beat Smith, who looked like a reasonable opponent on paper.
Smith was the 168-pound champion of one of boxing's credibility-challenged sanctioning bodies. Alvarez defeated Kovalev by 175 pounds but was known as a 160 pounder. Smith stands 6-foot-3, which is tall even for a super middleweight.
Of course, anyone with a rudimentary understanding of boxing who looked at Smith's tape could say they had no chance. He was throwing punches and had a devious right hand, but he was slow and robotic.
Alvarez, though seven inches shorter than Smith, immediately started poking him. Alvarez worked at a measured pace, but still beat Smith for the ring.
This was an absolute disaster.
DAZN, the streaming service that aired the fight, had advertised this as a serious challenge for Alvarez. If Smith was one of the better options, that doesn't speak well for the sport's talent pool. As much as the network's propaganda announcers have tried to portray the blowout as a by-product of Alvarez's brilliance, the knowledgeable fans who saw this debacle will be less enthusiastic the next time Alvarez takes on another relatively unknown fighter, provided they even watch.
It would have been one thing if Alvarez had convincingly defeated Golovkin in a third fight and secured his place as the undeniable top fighter of his generation. These fights could have been sold as a legendary sunset ride.
But he didn't have that fight with Golovkin that started those fights ... what exactly?
"The best of my career is coming," Alvarez said in Spanish in an interview after the fight.
At least he knows that his legacy has yet to be built.
As many namesake fighters as Alvarez has on his résumé, his record doesn't look that impressive on closer inspection.
His first big fight was against Shane Mosley, who was too small and too old. Miguel Cotto was too small. Amir Khan was too small and never as good as advertised. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. had his father's name but nothing else. Kovalev was done.
Alvarez has played a number of legitimate gambling games and deserves credit for them. But he was lucky enough to have victories over Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara, against which he did not do well. He looked like an amateur against Floyd Mayweather. Golovkin fought him evenly. About the only high risk fight he won convincingly was a tactical game against Jacobs.
Terence Crawford and Errol Spence should be aware of this. Crawford and Spence are the two top world champions in the world. They could be the top two fighters in the world regardless of weight class. They have spent much of the past two years orbiting each other.
The potential showdown between them almost went away last year when Spence was involved in a serious car accident. The possibility re-emerged earlier this month when Spence dominated former champions Danny Garcia in his second leg. But Spence and Crawford don't seem any closer to meeting in the ring. They don't think the immediate financial benefits will justify the risks.
You might be right. There might very well come a time in a few years when fighting each other would be more lucrative. Then who knows by then how old Crawford will be? He's already 33.
By waiting, Spence and Crawford take a different risk, the same risk that Alvarez took when walking away from a third fight with Golovkin. One could not remember the fights they had fought, but the fight they had not fought.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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