Thursday, 5 August 2021

Promise Fulfilled, Canelo Heads To Miami With Greatness on The Agenda

Ask any parent and they’ll recite the mantra:

“It all goes by in a blink.”

Seems kind of appropriate for we boxing types this week, too.

Wasn’t so long ago that Canelo Alvarez was a 22-year-old with a big record and a bigger hype machine, sharing summertime stages across the U.S. pumping up an imminent bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr.

And though they’d concede in private moments he was over his head with a still-prime “Money,” not a single member of the Alvarez promotional apparatus veered from a breathless mission statement:

“This kid is going to be the biggest thing going.”

Here we are – nearly eight years after that long hot summer – and whaddya know:

Canelo Alvarez is indeed the biggest thing going.

Now 30 and a legit four-weight belt collector, the Mexican brings his Cinnamon-haired drama show to South Florida this weekend, when he’ll face competitive speed bump Avni Yildirim in a mandatory title defense that figures to be long on spectacle and short on pretty much everything else.

For those unaware, Yildirim is 0-for-2 in past bids at 168 pounds, having been splattered by IBO champ Chris Eubank Jr. in 2017 and outpointed by a bloody Anthony Dirrell for the vacant WBC belt in 2019.

Still, he’s somehow ranked No. 2 by the WBC, perhaps powered by the impressive roster of victims he ran up between the title losses – sarcasm intended – which boasts a combined record of 99-60-5.

Needless to say, he’ll be in with a different animal in Alvarez, who’s won 54 of 57 bouts in a career that stretches back to 2005 and has included belts on the line in 17 of 21 outings since 2011.

“I’m not surprised he’s at the level he’s at,” said Kermit Cintron, whom Alvarez stopped in five rounds at 154. “But I am surprised (at him) fighting at 175 then to 168 and looking the way he does. I’ve never seen any fighter go up in weight and look like a silverback gorilla.”

Alvarez holds the WBA and WBC titles at super middleweight, is slotted first in the division by the Independent World Boxing Rankings and sits No. 1 on the latest pound-for-pound list in Ring Magazine.

Yildirim, incidentally, is not among the magazine’s top-10 fighters in the weight class.

Not surprisingly, it’ll take a $10,000 outlay on Alvarez to draw a mere $100 profit at Bovada.

“I have enjoyed watching his growth, both inside and outside the ring,” said Randy Gordon, former Ring editor and current host on SiriusXM. “He faced Floyd Mayweather before he was ready to, but learned from the fight. He has a full arsenal of weaponry, outstanding defense, top conditioning a solid chin and patience. He is as close to a flawless fighter as I have ever seen.”

Heady words from a guy who knows of what he speaks.

So, given the praise in the champ’s direction and the folly of charting a course to a Yildirim victory, we’ll turn instead to the company Alvarez may keep before he ends an already Canastota-worthy career.

Beating fighters at or near the top in each of the four classes where he’s reigned earns him at least “also receiving votes” inclusion on a list of history’s best multi-division champions, who were able to translate success at one rung into more titles up or down the weight ladder.

And while it’s true simply dominating one division and never leaving it is no vice, some of the best fighters of all time at lighter weights have shown their stuff against challengers of all shapes and sizes.

Boxing’s most dogged and opinionated observers determine the top fighters by projecting their skills against those of heavier or lighter foes via subjective “pound-for-pound” lists.

There have been fighters along the way, however, who took that responsibility upon themselves.

Though it’s much more common these days with in-between weight classes and myriad sanctioning body belts, one of the measures of greatness through the years has been whether or not a fighter could translate success at one weight into more titles up or down the weight ladder.

And while it’s true that simply dominating one division and never leaving it is no vice – particularly among heavyweights – some of those viewed as the best fighters of all time at lighter weights have shown their stuff against challengers of all shapes and sizes.

10. Bob Fitzsimmons
The record: 66-8-5 (59 KO)
The titles: Middleweight (1891), heavyweight (1897), light heavyweight (1903)
The context: The oldest of the top-10 entries was a three-division champ when being a three-division champ was far more of an accomplishment.

In fact, the turn-of-the-century Brit was the first boxer to pull off the feat and remained the only former middleweight champ to win a heavyweight title until Roy Jones Jr. did so in 2003. Fitzsimmons was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as an old-timer in 1990. Far from a giant, he would be more suited to super middleweight or light heavyweight in modern times.

9. Alexis Arguello
The record: 89-8 (70 KO)
The titles: Featherweight (1974), junior lightweight (1978), lightweight (1981)
The context: One of the staples of CBS boxing coverage in the early 1980s, Arguello earned more public acclaim through television appearances at lightweight – including a 14th-round TKO of then-unbeaten Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini – than he had while conquering 126 and 130 pounds.

He ultimately fell short in two bids to become the sport’s first four-time champion, losing twice to Aaron Pryor at 140. A strong technical fighter with good power, Arguello could be troubled by fleet-footed boxers in his prime but little else.

8. Manny Pacquiao
The record: 62-7-2 (39 KO)
The titles: Flyweight (1998), junior featherweight (2001), junior lightweight (2008), lightweight (2008), junior welterweight (2009), welterweight (2009), junior middleweight (2010)
The context: The Filipino was a favorite of the hardcore fans for his entertaining style in the early years before becoming an international phenomenon with an unprecedented climb up the weight-class ladder.

Though he hasn’t always fought the premier fighter in a given division to capture his belts, no one can deny his remarkable rise from flyweight dynamo to welterweight punisher. A loss to generational nemesis Mayweather hurt the brand, but it’s remarkable he’s still a top-flight fighter at 42.

7. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The record: 50-0 (27 KO)
The titles: Junior lightweight (1998), lightweight (2002), junior welterweight (2005), welterweight (2006), junior middleweight (2007)
The context: The top man in most legitimate pound-for-pound debates when he exited, Mayweather began his career with an Olympic bronze medal in 1996 and was a professional champion at 130 pounds two years later.

He became the top man in four subsequent weight classes in a five-year stretch between 2002 and 2007 and beat an unbeaten Alvarez in 2013. His fast hands, defensive prowess and ring smarts would make him a tough out for any of history’s best fighters.

6. Henry Armstrong
The record: 150-21-10 (101 KO)
The titles: Featherweight (1937), welterweight (1938), lightweight (1938)
The context: The first fighter to hold three weight-class titles simultaneously will remain the only one for as long as modern sanctioning bodies dictate that champions give up one belt to defend another.

Armstrong held three belts when there were only eight overall weight classes, and he narrowly missed gaining a fourth when his bout against middleweight claimant Ceferino Garcia was judged a draw in 1940. His perpetual motion style and good chin would have served him well against frustrate opponents from any era.

5. Roberto Duran
The record: 103-16 (70 KO)
The titles: Lightweight (1972), welterweight (1980), junior middleweight (1983), middleweight (1989)
The context: One of the fiercest fighters at any weight, Duran was a menace at 135 pounds before skipping up to 147 to bully a then-unbeaten Ray Leonard. His career seemed doomed when he surrendered in a rematch, but he reinvented himself with a massacre of Davey Moore at 154 and went on to stun Iran Barkley at 160 six years later.

His actual boxing skill was often undervalued because of his persona, which was enough to unnerve all but the heartiest of opponents.

4. Ray Leonard
The record: 36-3-1 (25 KO)
The titles: Welterweight (1979), junior middleweight (1981), middleweight (1987), super middleweight (1988), light heavyweight (1988)
The context: The second greatest “Sugar Ray” of all time was a superstar before he threw a professional punch, but he quickly proved his mettle and captured his first title at age 24.

A memorable pair with Roberto Duran and a classic showdown with Thomas Hearns all occurred at 147, but Leonard cemented his legacy by returning from hiatus to shock middleweight Marvin Hagler in 1987. His belts at 168 and 175 are less legitimate given his opposition and the catchweight at which the dual-title coronation took place, but he earned every bit of his overall acclaim by performing his best against his best opposition.

3. Thomas Hearns
The record: 61-5-1 (48 KO)
The titles: Welterweight (1980), junior middleweight (1982), light heavyweight (1987), middleweight (1987), super middleweight (1988), cruiserweight (1999)
The context: In a comparison based solely on a given fighter’s body of cross-divisional work, few can compare to Hearns, who was a fearsome puncher in his early days before utilizing superb boxing skills to engineer several later victories.

The 154-pound KO of Roberto Duran was as vicious as any on a big-fight level, and he outboxed Ray Leonard in their 1989 rematch at super middleweight only to be denied by the judges in a disputed draw. His range of 43 pounds between titles (welterweight and cruiserweight) is rivaled only by Pacquiao (112 to 154) among the multi-title greats.

2. Roy Jones Jr.
The record: 66-9 (47 KO)
The titles: Middleweight (1993), super middleweight (1994), light heavyweight (1997), heavyweight (2003)
The context: Though he’s better known to younger fans as a declining 40-something who wouldn’t let it go, Jones was far more than that while establishing himself as the sport’s best over a decade-plus. His one-sided defeats of champions like Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, Mike McCallum and Virgil Hill set a standard of athletic greatness.

His 2003 defeat of 226-pound heavyweight titleholder John Ruiz was his last truly spectacular moment in the ring. The victory improved him to 48-1 as a pro and made him just the second ex-middleweight champ to win a heavyweight title.

1. Ray Robinson
The record: 173-19-6 (108 KO)
The titles: Welterweight (1946), middleweight (1951)
The context: The measuring stick for a half-century’s worth of great fighters and the inspiration for a few that have followed him into the ring, Robinson mixed pure boxing artistry with breathtaking one-punch power. He won the welterweight crown as a 25-year-old before making the jump to middleweight and holding that division’s title on five separate occasions.

His rivalries with brawlers Jake LaMotta and Carmen Basilio are the stuff of bull vs. matador legend, and only heat prostration kept him from capturing the light heavyweight crown in 1952 – when he retired on his stool after 13 rounds with Joey Maxim while far ahead on the scorecards. No less an authority than ESPN labeled him as the greatest fighter of all time in a 2007 article.

* * * * * * * * * *

This week’s title-fight schedule:


IBF mini flyweight title – General Santos City, Philippines
Pedro Taduran (champion/No. 11 IWBR) vs. Rene Cuarto (No. 3 IBF/No. 51 IWBR)
Taduran (14-2-1, 11 KO): Second title defense; Eleven KOs in 15 fights in Philippines (14-1)
Cuarto (18-2-2, 11 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight vs. above-.500 foe with 10-plus wins (2-1)
Fitzbitz says: The challenger is young and has a nice record with a respectable KO ratio, but a close inspection reveals a distinct lack of high-end opposition. That’s the difference. Taduran in 9 (90/10)

WBA/WBC super middleweight titles – Miami, Florida
Canelo Alvarez (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Avni Yildirim (No. 2 WBC/Unranked IWBR)
Alvarez (54-1-2, 36 KO): First title defenses; Held title belts at 154, 150, 168 and 175 pounds
Yildirim (21-2, 12 KO): Third title fight (0-2); Lost previous tries for IBO (2017) and WBC (2019) titles
Fitzbitz says: We’re all happy that Canelo is embracing the throwback mentality, but if you’re looking for a long night from a guy stopped by Chris Eubank Jr. you surely won’t get it here. Alvarez in 3 (100/0)

WBC flyweight title – Miami, Florida
Julio Cesar Martinez (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. McWilliams Arroyo (No. 1 WBC/No. 4 IWBR)
Martinez (17-1, 13 KO): Third title defense; Third fight in the United States (2-0)
Arroyo (20-4, 15 KO): Third title fight (0-2); Three of four career losses in the United States (2-3)
Fitzbitz says: Arroyo has been around awhile and is certainly capable of giving a push to a world-class talent, but he’s not succeeded on that level the way Martinez has and will. Martinez by decision (90/10)

Last week’s picks: 0-1 (LOSS: Berchelt)
2021 picks record: 3-1 (75.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,159-376 (75.5 percent)

NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.

Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.