On Saturday night, Saul Alvarez knocked out undefeated WBO junior middleweight title holder Liam Smith in Round 9. I had predicted he would stop Smith within the first eight rounds, so that Smith made it into the ninth provided me with a very minor surprise.
But it was not hard to see how this one would play out. Smith was a completely untested paper champion. He had won the WBO vacant belt by stopping the obscure John Thompson, a decent, but limited, talent who belonged nowhere near a world title fight.
Smith was made-to-order for Canelo. He is a pressure fighter who was ceding Alvarez big advantages in speed, size and defensive ability. Alvarez has very good head and upper body movement, which allows him to slip and counter with brutal efficiency. Smith is a workman-like, catch-and-return fighter. It was inevitable that Alvarez would overwhelm him.
Canelo sold out Cowboy Stadium and provided his loyal fan base with an exciting, action-packed bout. But for those of us who are fans of the sport, rather than simply fans of Canelo, there was little to cheer about in any of this.
Alvarez is without question the sport’s biggest active star. He has shown a willingness in the past to face true challenges, such as Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara. But in 2016 he opted for Amir Khan, a welterweight (and former lightweight) and Smith. Neither opponent posed any threat at all to Alvarez.
Alvarez should have fought Gennady Golovkin this year. Alvarez captured the lineal middleweight belt from Miguel Cotto at the end of 2015. Canelo comes into the ring for his fights weighing over 170 pounds. There is no good excuse for him to not fight Golovkin, the biggest star at middleweight, in what would have been the biggest fight of the year.
But even setting aside Golovkin, there was no shortage of very deserving opponents for Alvarez. At 154 pounds, he could have faced Demetrius Andrade, one of the Charlo twins, or Julian Williams.
Instead, he fought Khan and Smith. And in the space of one year, he has gone from a fighter who deserved to be hailed as a warrior to one who deserves the label of cherry picker.
It is a big fall for Canelo. And it is a shame for the entire sport.