Senior Boxing Journalist @JamesDielhenn
Kovalev vs Canelo: Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is king – who can dethrone him?
Last Updated: 04/11/19 9:44am
It is getting harder and harder to begrudge Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez the type of defining accolades that he claims he "doesn't care about". But an emphatic knockout of the much larger Sergey Kovalev and the target he now carries on his back mean that Canelo must be in the conversation to be the world's No 1 boxer.
"He is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world today, and we have to give him that acknowledgement," Oscar De La Hoya, his promoter, said. "You can't tell me Terence Crawford or Vasiliy Lomachenko or anyone else in boxing is daring to be great like Canelo."
Crawford and Lomachenko, who regularly vie for the status as the top dog, are three-weight world champions and so is Naoya Inoue, the Japanese pocket-rocket who should also not be discounted. Canelo claimed gold in a fourth division on Saturday night by winning the WBO light-heavyweight title and, although his achievement at super-middleweight did not come against one of the division's long-reigning champions, the Mexican must finally take his credit.
There have long been reasons to bash Canelo, the once-prince and now king of his sport - the perception that things come easy, that his Mexican fan-base means opponents are always inconvenienced by fighting on dates that suit him. Kovalev, for instance, had a 10-week turnaround from a bruising win over Anthony Yarde. There is also the failed drug test, and the theory that the judges bailed him out of a defeat to Gennadiy Golovkin by scoring a draw.
"What I care about is creating history," said Canelo when asked if he wanted recognition as pound-for-pound No 1.
He is doing that in abundance and always has been. At just 29 he is now at his peak - with 56 fights and 402 rounds under the belt. The youngest of six brothers has been a professional boxer for just months shy of 50 per cent of his entire life.
Perhaps praise will never be as forthcoming as it is for, say, Lomachenko whose dancing feet make him a unique attraction. Canelo is far more conventional but, against Kovalev on Saturday night, he showed elite-level defence to not be seriously stung in 11 rounds by a feted knockout artist who is naturally 20 pounds heavier than him.
Canelo's thumping body punches have become a trademark weapon, as important to him as the right hand is to Deontay Wilder. But what impressed about Canelo against Kovalev is that when those body punches didn't work he found another answer.
"Obviously he is a much larger fighter than I am so I did feel him hitting me, but I was able to deal with it," Canelo said. "It was very difficult to get to the body."
The race for Cinco de Mayo in May is now on. Opponents from three divisions are hoping for the nod. Logic suggests that Canelo's fellow light-heavyweight champions Dmitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev, younger and with less damage accrued than Kovalev, may be an unwise move for Canelo.
So super-middleweight champions Callum Smith and Billy Joe Saunders (who told Sky Sports that he would "love to ruin Cinco de Mayo for the Mexican fans) and WBO middleweight title-holder Demetrius Andrade come into consideration.
But perhaps the only way that Canelo can once-and-for-all gain the appreciation that he deserves is by removing all doubt about his rivalry with Golovkin in a trilogy fight.
"It is not a challenge," Canelo bragged, but the test would be to end the fight before the final bell. Golovkin prides himself on never having hit the floor, been knocked out or even seriously hurt in 392 combined amateur and pro fights plus, so he claims, countless sparring sessions. He's now 37 years old.
Canelo is well on his way to the status of generational great but, if he's seeking a classic moment to be remembered for, then stopping Golovkin in a legacy-defining trilogy fight would be it.