LAS VEGAS -- Canelo Alvarez heard what was being said. In all reality, he's heard it all after 18 years in pro boxing, five of those as boxing's top star.
Formerly the recognized pound-for-pound king, Alvarez lost that status when he was defeated by Dmitry Bivol at 175 pounds in May 2022, Alvarez's first loss since 2013 when he was routed by Floyd Mayweather.
Alvarez returned to defend his undisputed super middleweight championship with a victory over Gennadiy Golovkin to conclude their storied trilogy last September, then defeated John Ryder in May in Mexico. Still, the comments persisted from fans and media alike: Alvarez, at age 33 and after 60 pro fights, wasn't the same fighter anymore.
Alvarez successfully proved -- with each punishing left hook and overhand right -- over 12 rounds against Jermell Charlo on Saturday that he is indeed still elite, still the face of boxing and still an all-time great.
"Nobody can compete with this Canelo," said Alvarez, ESPN's No. 4 pound-for-pound boxer.
Alvarez (60-2-2, 39 KOs) didn't score the knockout he so desperately wanted, but it was evident that he was at the top of his game. His movement, combination punching and trademark ability to cut off the ring all appeared in peak form as he dominated Charlo en route to the third defense of his four 168-pound titles. Sure, Charlo was moving up two weight classes and had never fought on this stage before, but he's an elite fighter who had defeated every boxer he's ever faced.
Alvarez neutralized his offense and made Charlo feel his power. Alvarez forced Charlo to take a knee in Round 7 after he connected on an overhand right and announced defiantly that he's still the same fighter who earned all-time great status.
"I agree that a couple fights I don't look the same, but that doesn't mean other things," Alvarez told ESPN on Wednesday. "I feel fresh, I feel young and I feel strong. I feel in my prime, and you will see Saturday."
Indeed, we did. Alvarez fought Bivol and GGG with a serious left wrist injury. He underwent surgery in October and said he wasn't 100% confident in his lead weapon against Ryder, whom he dropped but didn't finish.
Just like he did against Ryder, he was able to drop Charlo, who also heard the final bell. But this time, Alvarez didn't feel disappointed.
"Charlo is a savvy fighter, someone who can move around the ring...," Alvarez said. "I'm happy with the work I did. I did my job."
At this moment, the biggest question for Alvarez surrounds his future opponents. He was originally slated to fight Jermell's twin brother, Jermall, on Saturday, and maybe that fight can be revisited when Alvarez returns on Cinco De Mayo weekend. Jermall Charlo is set to return after a two-and-a-half-year layoff on Nov. 25 against Jose Benavidez Jr.
A far more intriguing option for Alvarez is Benavidez's younger brother, David Benavidez, the volume-punching former super middleweight titleholder coming off a win over Caleb Plant. Benavidez is scheduled to fight Demetrius Andrade in the Nov. 25 main event. "[Benavidez] has demonstrated he's the best," Benavidez's promoter, Sampson Lewkowicz, told ESPN. "He deserves the opportunity. The sport of boxing deserves to see the best."
But the most intriguing bout of all, perhaps the biggest in all of boxing, is a matchup between Alvarez, the face of boxing, and Terence Crawford, the sport's top pound-for-pound fighter, who's said he would like to face Alvarez.
Canelo vs Crawford is the biggest fight in boxing. There's no fighter out there that's a bigger fight then us.— Terence Crawford (@terencecrawford) September 8, 2023
"I always say if the fight makes sense, why not? But [Crawford's] not in the plan," Canelo said at the postfight news conference.
Pressed further about a potential fight with Crawford, Alvarez said: "If it makes sense, maybe. I don't know right now. Let me enjoy this fight and then you're going to know what's next."
Alvarez might not know who is next, but he is sure of one thing: He's back. In all likelihood, he's peerless at 168 pounds and below. It's going to take a special fighter to beat Alvarez.
Bivol qualifies as one such boxer but even that fight took place at 175 pounds. Alvarez has now cleaned out the super middleweight division -- his division -- save for David Benavidez. And even he would be an underdog against this reinvigorated, healthy version of Alvarez.
"Finally, I'm back," Alvarez said. "I feel confident right now. I feel great. I'm happy because I didn't feel like this for a long time. But now I'm back."