It was an odd sort of thing ahead of Canelo Alvarez vs Caleb Plant, seeing the former in People magazine (of all places), talking about his daughter applying eyeshadow to her father (of all activities).
It’s not that there’s anything inherently un-masculine about being a proud “girl dad” who gets his nails painted. We’re past that, gratefully. Nor is it terribly strange, if you think about it for a second, that the most popular and best boxer alive would appear in the pages of so conventionally mainstream a publication as People.
It’s just that… jeez, contrast all that warm and fuzzy publicity with what Alvarez did to Plant this weekend.
In a sport where contestants can lose their lives, phrases like “killer instinct” can come off as a little crass. But as he demonstrated once more on Showtime pay-per-view Saturday, he’s as brutal a finisher as they come, and has plenty of the figurative stuff. When Canelo put Plant down for good in the 11th, he did it via three full-force, almost pneumatic rights in an act of considerable violence.
Doing so made Alvarez THE champion at super middleweight, by any measure. This writer prefers the Transnational Boxing Rankings version. Plenty of outlets pointed to the history Alvarez made, becoming the first man to unify all the major titles at 168 since the division’s genesis in 1984. As little respect as the sanctioning organizations are due, the focus is understandable. Everyone Canelo beat to earn those straps are due nothing but respect. It’s just that, securing all those belts at the same time was more a feat of managing the politics of mandatory challengers and arbitrary decisions to strip fighters who compete for other organization’s belts.
Alvarez did it partially by staying busy; the sport’s top earners haven’t, in about forever, fought four times in 11 months like he did. There’s but one cushy name among them, with all of the others resting comfortably in the top 10. Plant was probably the best of the lot.
In typical fashion, Alvarez began slow on Saturday. He hardly threw a punch in the first minute and a half of the fight (maybe he threw zero? it wasn’t an interesting enough round to bother with going back and rewatching to see), stalking his evasive foe. Plant won several early rounds merely on the strength of his jab. For the entirety of the fight, jabs would make up nearly half of the punches he even landed: 42 of 101, by CompuBox count.
By the 2nd Canelo looked like he had figured out Plant’s path, backing him into unfavorable territory against the ropes. He began to establish the right uppercut, which allowed him to fire other combos. But Plant wouldn’t be cornered so easily. He rallied from a bad 3rd and even appeared to back Canelo up with a right in the 5th. Plant’s movement might have goaded Alvarez into frustration in the 6th, as he switched tactics and tried to lure Plant into throwing shots so he could counter him. Or maybe not and Canelo was toying with him, knowing he could count on his power to bail him out as it often has, as he didn’t throw much in exchange.
Opinions vary about whether Canelo or Plant were winning at the time of the stoppage — close rounds were plentiful — but the tide was clearly shifting toward Alvarez, even as Plant might have shoeshined his way to winning the 9th. Maybe one day, Canelo’s casual and/or feeling out approach to early parts of fights will hurt him; it wasn’t going to this time, as the judges had him ahead, something judges have done for him in basically every close fight he’s ever had. He was comfortably ahead with them this weekend.
The 11th round was the moment for Alvarez’s bailout power to shine. Plant never recovered from a left/right uppercut combo that dropped him. The pneumatic business did the rest.
That People appearance smack of a well-executed plan to sanitize Canelo for the masses. He’s gotten to the point where if you’re going to maximize his financial potential, seeking out new markets makes sense, and there are some dark marks on the Canelo resume. Better to have a story about him getting a makeup job than reminding of his failed drug test, or the allegations that, during a street brawl, he beat the boxing career out of a comparatively puny 108-pound man.
Perhaps — and that word is going to do an awful lot of work in this sentence — you can forgive someone for, or at least consider it far enough in the past to shrug off, something Canelo might have done when he was practically a kid. The clenbuterol incident is a little fresher, 2017, and therefore still a little less easy to overlook.
The People article also made clear that Canelo wants to be considered warm and fuzzy outside the ring, at least, and so does his taking such offense to Plant bringing up his 2017 incident.
What its post-fight write-up made less clear to said masses is Canelo’s place in history. Canelo “is the greatest Mexican fighter to ever live,” it reads. “That’s not hyperbole either.” Yes, it is. If one ponders who he’d have to exceed to take that title, he’s a ways off from Julio Cesar Chavez. That said, it’s not hyperbole to begin discussing him as someone worthy of putting in the top five, say.
And there’s still plenty of room for him to climb. Seeing how he turned pro at 15, it feels like Alvarez has been fighting for forever. Yet he’s still only 31, and looks to be at the physical peak of his powers. There aren’t many all-time greats for him to dust off at super middleweight and light heavyweight. There is, however, a steady diet of exceptional opponents for him to try to feast on, from Jermall Charlo to Artur Beterbiev, as well as long-time foe Gennady Golovkin, a win against whom would be less impressive these days given that he’s pushing 40.
Alvarez plans to take a long rest, fighting next in May. He’s given us enough memorable moments lately to coast on, with his finish of Plant arguably the best of them, depending on whether you consider his 2019 slaughter of Sergey Kovalev “lately.”
Have a look. Oh, also, then have a look at a knockout that, on the same card, somehow upstaged it on aesthetics if not significance.
(Photo: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Canelo Alvarez [gold/white trunks] and Caleb Plant [white/gray trunks] box during their super middleweight championship boxing match at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)