COMMENTARY | Saul "Canelo" Alvarez has taken some lumps in the media lately, mostly due to his less-than-stellar list of recent opposition. As the reigning WBC world junior middleweight champion, more is expected of him and patience is running thin in terms of a title reign that is now twenty months and five defenses long and boasts Ryan Rhodes as its opponent high water mark.
But there is a road to redemption for the 22-year-old fighter from Guadalajara, Mexico. Here's Alvarez's path to world title respect:
The Winner of Erislandy Lara-Vanes Martirosyan
Officially, the winner of the Lara-Martirosyan "final" eliminator this Saturday is supposed to have a direct path to a shot at Alvarez's title, but we all know about the WBC and their "flexible" rules and regulations. What Alvarez needs to do is make sure that the winner of this eliminator actually gets his shot. A failure to deliver on this promise will have a massive negative effect on Alvarez's reputation and turn an otherwise honest, earnest fighter into a punchline to a twisted boxing joke. Surely, the winner of Lara-Martirosyan will be a legitimately tough opponent, but the young champion will need to bite the bullet and accept this challenge, head-on.
Assuming "El Canelo" beats Lara or Martirosyan, next on the list should be a solid follow-up against a veteran champion with somewhat of a marketable name. "K9" Bundrage definitely fits that bill and could provide for a solid match-up. Ideally, Alvarez-Bundrage should be a showcase on CBS, provided the network is still interested in airing live boxing. The popular Mexican star will deliver solid numbers and, best of all, be provided with a platform for mainstream growth. A win over Bundrage gives Alvarez an IBF belt to add to the WBC strap and a real road to superstar status and hardcore credibility. If Bundrage is upset by Gabe Rosado by the time an Alvarez fight can be made, just substitute Rosado for K9.
After a Bundrage win, it's time for a real step forward. Miguel Cotto has the biggest name of any full-time competitor in the division and is one of the sport's most respected warriors. Merely signing a bout with Cotto will put Alvarez on another level and immediately earn him plenty of boxing street cred. As for the bout, itself, the contest will be fierce and close. Alvarez will have to answer questions that he has never be asked before and will likely have to dig deep down inside for those answers. The kind of courage he'll have to display in pursuit of the win will turn him from talented media darling to a real, hardcore fighter. Provided he scores the victory, Alvarez will emerge from a Cotto fight as a bigger star with more legitimacy among boxing's most loyal fans. Also, if Cotto is WBA titlist by then, Alvarez would also add a third belt to go along with his WBC and IBF titles.
Next, if Alvarez runs the gauntlet and defeats the list of opponents mentioned above, he'll be ready to move up to yet another level. Competitively, he may not be ready for a fighter as smart and as technically gifted as the 5-division world champ and pound-for-pound top dog, but that's beside the point at this level of the sport. Just the very fact that he's sharing a ring with a guy like Mayweather could be enough to turn Alvarez into a mainstream superstar. If he accounts well for himself and puts in a competitive performance, fans will be very understanding of a loss and will be willing to overlook the mark on his record. Much like Oscar De la Hoya helped launched Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao to that next level, Mayweather could do the same for Alvarez. And, if "El Canelo" were to somehow win? Well, then boxing would have its next major league cash cow.
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing.
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