The knee-jerk reaction among fight fans is to cast 22-year-old Guadalajara native, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez as a protected, pampered fighter picking apart faded veterans and hapless dupes.
A look at Alvarez's recent opponent list might support that classification and, as the reigning WBC junior middleweight titlist, there's no doubt that the freckled, red-headed battler has not faced an adequate level of opposition for his position as world champ.
But forget the silly world champ designation. What about Canelo as a developing fighter? Is the Golden Boy hot property really an ultra-protected hype job?
First, to answer that question, one has to compare Alvarez to other top fighters at similar stages of their development.
At 22 years of age, Andre Ward, with an extensive amateur career and an Olympic gold medal in his past, was facing fighters such as the 7-7-1 Kendall Gould and the 9-0 Andy Kolle. Filipino Flash, Nonito Donaire, was still chest-deep in club fighters at 22, facing unknowns like Kahren Harutyunyan and Jose Luis Cardenas. Another pound for pound fighter, Juan Manuel Marquez, was buried on undercards at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California against low-level opposition.
Compared to these three pound-for-pound fighters, Alvarez is actually ahead of the curve when it comes to his overall level of opposition and his development as a fighter. Other superstars, like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather had just ventured into the area of world class opposition at Alvarez's current age.
The world title currently in his possession complicates matters greatly and, really, was a public relations mistake. As a world champion, fans have a right to expect him to defend against the division's very best. Alvarez's championship opponent list of Matthew Hatton, Ryan Rhodes, Alfonso Gomez, Kermit Cintron, Shane Mosley, and this upcoming Saturday's Josesito Lopez is pretty weak. Actually, among the weakest of all sitting champions.
But as a developing 22-year-old fighter, Canelo Alvarez is doing well. He's facing the opponents that he should be facing at this stage of his career development. Unfortunately, the affable fighter has found himself in a bit of a Catch-22 situation-- Continue his career progression and have his star brought down to Earth by criticism or step up his level of opposition and risk losing to fighters who may be above his current skill level.
After this Saturday's fight we'll find out if it's sink or swim time for El Canelo.
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 BoxingTribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing.
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