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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: THE CANELO FIGHT WEEK BLUES

By Paul Magno | September 12, 2022
NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: THE CANELO FIGHT WEEK BLUES

Another Canelo fight week is upon us...and with each one, I kinda lose a little bit of my love for the sport of boxing.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit on the dramatic side. What the hell would I do without boxing? How could I afford this lavish lifestyle here in the mountains of central Mexico? The whirlwind around all things Saul “Canelo” Alvarez-- on Canelo fight week-- does, however, highlight all of the worst instincts, drives, habits, and blind spots present in fans and some of the boxing media. 

Alvarez and his presence atop the boxing box office food chain has been a polarizing factor ever since he became the big deal that he is. 

His dedicated haters have not budged an inch from their hardline positions. He’s a fraud who was guided carefully to the top and gifted world titles at each rung up the ladder. He’s a perpetual and shameless cherry-picker who works his way around the best opposition and fights beatable, stylistically tailor-made foes. Oh yeah, and he’s also a cheater, a PEDs cheat whose clenbuterol bust in 2018 is proof positive that he’s a dirty fighter. 

The Canelo true believers don’t buy into any of the above. They see the criticism as entirely the product of jealousy and frustration from the Mexican proving himself superior time and time again in the face of the critics’ assaults. They’d take a gigantic swig from his spit bucket if they were offered the opportunity. 

As is usually the case, the truth falls somewhere between the two extremes. 

Alvarez HAS been maneuvered wisely around the chess board. It was absolutely shameless when he first started to emerge as a young draw. Recently, though, that has been less and less the case. His eleven-month run from December 2020 to November 2021 was especially impressive as he dominated and beat three of the top five super middleweights in the world to become the unified 168-lb. champ and also walked through a WBC mandatory challenger. In a world where top boxers usually fight only once or twice a year, Canelo’s feat was oustanding. Also impressive was his work from 2013 to 2018, where he emerged 9-1-1 through a run that included names such as Floyd Mayweather, Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara, Gennady Golovkin (twice), and Miguel Cotto. Yes, there’ve been some soft touches sprinkled in among his recent work, but I defy you to show me any top fighter who hasn’t benefited from strategic matchmaking.

As for the PEDs stuff? Alvarez just may be the most supervised top fighter in the world at the moment, because of what happened in 2018. He’s also been VADA-compliant since 2018. Of course, that doesn’t absolutely guarantee that he’s clean and not using performing enhancing drugs. The testing protocol in boxing is far from perfect. But, at the very least, he’s following the rules everyone else does and remains under a large microscope. And, this might be a topic for another day, but I’m still not even all that sure that the clenbuterol bust back before his second Golovkin fight was an attempt to cheat. There were just trace amounts of the banned substance in his system (consistent with accidental ingestion) about three months from the fight. A subsequent hair follicle test pretty much confirmed Canelo’s assertions that he wasn’t using the weight-burning clenbuterol for an extended period of time or in amounts that would indicate an intentional cheat. But, like I said, this is a topic for another day. 

At this point (and among this generation of fighters), only an agenda-wielding fool or a flat-out idiot would deny Alvarez’s place among the elite of elite. But the 32-year-old finds himself on the shakiest ground of his career coming into this particular fight week. 

He’s coming off a decisive, borderline dominant defeat at the hands of Dmitry Bivol in May in a bid for Bivol’s WBA light heavyweight title. And now he’ll be coming into his third bout with Gennadiy Golovkin this Saturday in need of a knockout or a marvelously dominant showcase shutout. Even Canelo’s mighty drawing power won’t survive another controversy-heavy points win over the Kazakh or, worst case scenario, a second straight loss. 

That’s what makes this particular fight week especially interesting and compelling. He has to win and impress-- against a fighter who, even at 40, will be a tough nut to crack and who has yet to be convincingly beaten or even so much as buzzed in a fight. 

The dedicated Canelo critics have already constructed a no-win dynamic for the target of their derision. Golovkin is old, Canelo is in his prime, Canelo MUST knock Golovkin out. For them, anything less than a KO win will be a loss for Alvarez. And even a KO win will really be a non-win because Canelo is SUPPOSED to knock out old man Triple G. 

This, of course, is an unfair setup for Alvarez. But that’s what “haters” do. Every hurdle is smaller after it’s leapt, every obstacle overcome was never REALLY an obstacle. Everything not yet achieved is what REALLY matters and, after it’s achieved, it wasn’t what needed to be achieved, anyway. Perpetual no-win situations are stacked one upon the other until time eventually eliminates the object of their scorn. And then they piss on their target’s legacy.

One would think that none of this matters to Alvarez, but few fighters in recent memory seem as sensitive about the subject of their boxing legacy as he does. So, maybe the critics do get to him to a certain extent. 

What we do know is that this “rip them down, piss on them” attitude among fandom (and media, which, in boxing, really is just an extension of fandom) is not a positive for a sport that is already deeply immersed in cynicism and relegated to niche status. Being critical is important, but it’s not the same as being cynical and certainly not the same as being petty and bitter. 

The attention given to Alvarez-- good and bad and hyper-exaggerated as a big fight closes in-- spotlights everything wrong in boxing fan culture, which pretty much sets the tone for the spot’s flow in general. 

My suggestion?

Just watch the fucking fights. Enjoy the action. Criticize when appropriate. Praise when appropriate. Stop taking this shit so personal, like these guys just knocked up your sister and skipped town with 500 bucks they owe you. 

Who knows, maybe when we stop tearing the sport down from the inside, we can start building it to be what it should be.

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@hotmail.com

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