Last night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 knockouts) stopped the IBF super-middleweight champion Caleb Plant (21-1, 12 knockouts). Going into the mega-bout, “Canelo” whose nickname is a reference to his cinnamon-colored hair, owned the WBA, WBC, and WBO belts but after defeating Plant, he became the first undisputed super-middleweight champion in history.
In the early rounds, Plant, the 29-year-old cagey boxer from Tennessee, presented puzzles for Canelo. Plant used lateral movement, clinched when necessary, worked his jab, fired combinations, and was initially able to stay free of the left-hook artist stalking him.
But as Caleb Truax, the last man to fight Plant before Alvarez, told me, “Plant is quick and elusive but he didn’t have enough power to make me hesitate to attack and he certainly won’t have the punch to keep Alvarez off him.” And as last night’s denouement revealed, if you can’t keep Canelo off you, you are in dire straits.
The full house at the MGM Arena wildly cheered on Canelo as he methodically walked Plant down and planted his rangy foe with concussive single and double-left hooks.
The beginning of the end came three rounds later than Alvarez predicted. About a minute into the eleventh frame, Alvarez crushed Plant with a left hook followed by a right uppercut—dropping Plant to the canvas for the first time in his career.
Plant beat the count and bravely tried to soldier on but Canelo has always known how to finish his fistic business. After tagging his helpless opponent with a barrage of straight shots and knocking him through the ropes, referee Russell Mora wisely called a halt to what turned out to be a fairly competitive contest. After the tenth round, one judge had Canelo up by a mere two rounds.
In his post-fight remarks and still in the ring, an exuberant and unscathed Canelo told commentator Jim Gray that becoming the first Latino undisputed champion meant everything to him.
For the casual boxing buff, it should be noted the adjective “undisputed” carries heavyweight significance. In the glory days of the sport, there were only 8 weight divisions. However, during a lull in the business, promoters recognized that world championship contests are magnets for fans. Beginning in late 1960s, the sanctioning bodies in professional boxing began adding divisions between divisions.
The super-middleweight world title (160-168 pounds) Alvarez has taken sole possession of sits between the middle and light-heavyweight classes. Before his historic victory, Alvarez held slices of world titles in four weight divisions. As a footnote, the recently retired Manny Pacquiao collected title belts in a record eight weight divisions.
There was, however, another title on the line at the MGM last night—namely, recognition as boxing’s pound-for-pound champ. In 1951, perhaps in response to the mind-boggling supremacy of Sugar Ray Robinson, Nat Fleischer, editor of Ring Magazine, proclaimed Robinson to be “greatest all-around fighter, pound for pound, in any division.”
In 1990, Ring Magazine, the bible of Boxing, established a new category of rankings which included anointing the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world.
Today, rather than attention being monopolized by the supersized division the boxing public wants to know: Who is the pound-for-pound champ?
With last night’s stellar performance and his 57 victories, many against elite competition, Canelo has rightfully been crowned boxing’s king of kings. He is the face of the sport he has devoted his life to.
Growing up on a farm outside of Guadalajara, the 31-year-old Mexican who rides horses for relaxation made his pro debut at 15. With his extensive experience of sixty pro fights, and the family boxing business (he has six brothers who are either active or former professionals), Canelo pitches punches with the intensity and aplomb of an all-star major league pitcher.
A rare combination of passion and patience, Canelo, like former champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., has learned to take in the data, figure his foes out, and make adjustments in the white heat of the fray.
Though he lacks the one-punch power of a Golovkin, Canelo is explosive and as the saying in the dark trade goes, he “throws punches in bunches.” More than that, he is precise in his placement of those punches. After all, a shot to the liver or chin wreaks more havoc than a punch to the gut.
Canelo is a matchless counter-puncher and a virtuoso body snatcher. Last night, when Plant was managing to roll under Canelo’s right, Canelo started snapping jabs to the head and following his straight lefts with punishing wide rights to the body.
While most boxing champions are content to tussle once or twice per year, Canelo is hoping to be back under the klieg lights three to five times in the next twelve months.
Pressed as to where he finds his motivation, Canelo answers with conviction: “History.” Last night, in the post-fight press conference, the undisputed champ made it clear that he sees his boxing legacy as a work-in-progress. Canelo said, “The goal is to be an all-time great. I’m so proud of the journey I’ve taken to achieve that. I’m not going to stop until I’ve tried my best to reach that goal.”