Canelo Alvarez's homecoming went according to plan on Saturday night.
In front of more than 50,000 raucous fans at Akron Stadium in Guadalajara, Mexico, Alvarez defeated John Ryder to remain the undisputed super middleweight champion. Canelo floored Ryder in the fifth round and had the Englishman in trouble on several occasions but couldn't put him away and ultimately won by unanimous decision.
It was the latest victory for boxing's highest-paid fighter (No. 5 on Forbes' list with $110 million in earnings last year). Alvarez, the No. 5 fighter on ESPN's men's pound-for-pound rankings, made his second successful defense since he picked up all four belts in November 2021 by defeating Caleb Plant.
But the string of wins doesn't mean Alvarez (59-2-2, 39 KOs) hasn't escaped criticism. Has Alvarez been as impressive as advertised? Should he be pursuing greater heights? ESPN's boxing insider Mike Coppinger and Ben Baby look at both sides of the polarizing fighter.
Baby: First, let's get this out of the way. Alvarez should be praised for the risks he has taken throughout his career. We're talking about someone who fought Floyd Mayweather early in his career, took on Gennadiy Golovkin at a time when many happily avoided him -- the same can be said when he fought Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout -- and even tested his limits in a pursuit of Dimtry Bivol's WBA light heavyweight belt.
He deserves a lot of credit for winning the undisputed super middleweight championship during a blistering 11-month stretch that featured wins over Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders and Plant.
However, I am in the camp that believes Canelo could be pushing himself a bit further. Over the past few years, he has been in full legacy mode. He became the first Mexican undisputed champion in the four-belt era. He convincingly defeated Golovkin, Alvarez's biggest rival, in a trilogy fight and wanted to win a second light heavyweight belt against a truly great champion in Bivol after he already brutally knocked out a past-his-best Sergey Kovalev in 2019.
But let's acknowledge the obvious. Alvarez has never really been in jeopardy of a loss in any of his recent bouts at 168 pounds, with the Bivol fight a no-lose situation for Alvarez since he was moving up to a weight class that was too big for him.
On Saturday night, Alvarez was a -2000 favorite over Ryder. That is a massive number. Copp, you and I were both at Jerry's World (AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys) in 2021 when Alvarez told off Demetrius Andrade in his famous "payday" monologue. But that being said, is it fair to want Alvarez to take bigger risks?
Coppinger: I'm surprised Canelo is still being questioned after all these years, but perhaps I shouldn't be -- this is boxing, where expectations are always outlandish. The same Canelo who fought Lara and Trout when nobody wanted to face them needs to take bigger risks?
The same guy who just last year went up to 175 to fight one of the trickiest boxers in the sport in Bivol? It's not like anyone was screaming for Canelo-Bivol. Alvarez wanted to test himself. Which is why he's again trying to fight Bivol -- and once again at Bivol's weight, no less.
Bivol insists the rematch must take place at 168 pounds, but Alvarez said he's not interested in fighting Bivol at that weight because he'll be accused of trying to drain him -- and he's right. Just look at what you're saying -- he's not taking enough risks.
This comes just after Gervonta Davis pulled Ryan Garcia down from 140 to 136 pounds and didn't allow him to weigh more than 146 the next morning. And while we're at it, Canelo remains the face of boxing. This guy is selling out football stadiums in both the U.S. and Mexico -- look at that atmosphere on Saturday. And I bet he could do the same thing in the United Kingdom, too. Who else is doing that?
Baby: Well, for starters, I'd like to see Canelo sell out a stadium in the U.K. before we ask if any non-Commonwealth fighters are pulling off that accomplishment.
Nobody is disputing Canelo's early résumé. He will always get credit for taking on tough opponents early in his career. Canelo should receive more credit for not protecting his undefeated record by challenging Mayweather, the best fighter of his generation.
That's a different argument, however. None of those aforementioned bouts came after 2015. Canelo's victory over Golovkin in the third fight of their trilogy could be argued as his best recent victory. That was in 2018. And that is the heart of the conversation and criticism that Canelo has received recently, even before he beat Ryder.
One could argue Bivol wasn't a massive risk for Canelo. A loss proved one of boxing's oldest adages -- weight classes exist for a reason. The first fight wasn't close enough to warrant a rematch at 175 pounds, and a potential rematch at 168 is a no-win situation for Alvarez because of the reasons you mentioned.
As someone who has always rated Canelo highly and thinks he doesn't get enough love from casual sports fans, is it too much to ask for a true opponent that illustrates his quality as one of boxing's best?
Coppinger: Of course it was a risk -- Canelo was routed by Bivol and lost his longtime position as the top pound-for-pound boxer in the world. And now he has to hear that he's past his prime and deal with debates like this.
How can you reasonably say that he needs to fight a foe that shows his quality when he just challenged Bivol and is trying to fight him again in September?
What tougher challenge is out there than moving back up to 175 pounds to face a guy who just dominated him? A fighter in Bivol that no one seems to believe Canelo can beat.
Everyone I've spoken to in the boxing industry believes Canelo shouldn't be pushing so hard to fight Bivol a second time. Your favorite fighter would never.
Baby: Now there's something we can agree on. Canelo is ambitious for wanting to try Bivol again, considering how it went the first time. But I understand why he wants to take on that challenge and add another bit of greatness to his legacy.
However, it does feel like Canelo doesn't move the needle like he once did. We were both in Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena for Canelo-GGG III and Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia. Yes, Canelo was dealing with a hand injury that later required surgery, but I don't know if a fully healthy Alvarez against that version of Golovkin brings the same juice that Davis-Garcia carried. That was the biggest crossover fight in the sport in several years. It's also why I think Davis is poised to become boxing's top star.
I know you feel very strongly about this, so explain why I'm wrong and why fighting David Benavidez isn't more entertaining, exciting and just as impressive as potentially beating Bivol in a rematch.
Coppinger: There's no debate when it comes to boxing's top star. Only one man is selling out football stadiums in various countries and that's Canelo Alvarez. He even packed out the home of the Miami Dolphins for a stay-busy fight against Avni Yildirim during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday, he sold out another stadium in Mexico. He's the biggest star in a country most obsessed with boxing and easily the sport's most reliable revenue generator.
Over 2 million PPV buys against Mayweather in 2013 when Alvarez was just 23 and still scratching the surface of his potential as both a fighter and an attraction. Over 1 million for the first GGG fight -- a fighter fans and media claimed Alvarez was ducking -- and they passed that mark again for the rematch.
He even approached 1 million for the TKO11 victory over Plant to become undisputed. Longevity is vital and Canelo has it in spades. Let's not also forget the sold-out stadiums in Texas and he also has far more social media followers than "Tank" Davis, too.
Would I love to see a Canelo-Benavidez fight? Absolutely, and I think we will see it next year. But Alvarez wants revenge against Bivol first and it's hard to fault him for that, especially when the Bivol matchup is far tougher stylistically than a bout with Benavidez.
But back to the face of boxing argument. I don't see any debate there until further notice. At some point, Canelo will retire and someone else will inherit the throne and those two sacred boxing weekends -- Cinco De Mayo and Mexican Independence Day -- just like Alvarez lifted it from Mayweather, who was the successor to Oscar De La Hoya.
Davis is an excellent fighter and he did massive business last month, but that was because he was sharing the ring with another star. On his own, he hasn't proven able to carry a big PPV without a proper dance partner, and that's OK -- no one else can besides Canelo.
It's mighty impressive that Davis has sold out arenas all over the U.S., and maybe one day he'll surpass Canelo or take over from him when Alvarez's fighting days are over. Like Canelo said last week, Davis is elite and doing great business, but you need more than just one win over Ryan Garcia to be the face of boxing.
Right now, Canelo is head and shoulders above the rest, and I would place heavyweight champion Tyson Fury No. 2 on that star list. Fury is more recognizable worldwide and packed over 90,000 into Wembley Stadium just last year. Davis is No. 3 and is the biggest American star in boxing. That's no small feat. But Canelo remains the king.
Baby: Heavy is the head that wears the crown, as the saying goes. What Canelo does next -- fighting Bivol in a rematch, taking on Benavidez or another option -- will give a great indicator as to where he is in the current stage of his career.
Regardless of where we both stand on this, there's no debating his standing and legacy within the sport. It's just a matter of seeing how much more he wants to accomplish over the next few years.