LAS VEGAS — One of the things I guarantee will happen is if someone ever says a modern boxer would have been good in any era, a certain segment of the fan base will have a conniption and question your sanity. They’ll bring up a fighter from the 1930s that they never saw and insist that fighter was markedly better than the one you happen to be touting at the moment.
It happened as recently as 10 days ago, when some had the audacity to suggest that Tyson Fury would have been a difficult out for any heavyweight in history.
This happens despite the fact that in virtually every other sport, there is little argument that the athletes are vastly better now than they were in days gone by.
In baseball, hitters hit the ball harder than ever before. There were no pitchers in the 1930s who could consistently hit 100 mph, and on Sunday, a college kid from Tennessee threw a pitch 105.5 mph.
In the NFL, Mean Joe Greene is considered one of the greatest defensive linemen who ever played, and he’s unquestionably regarded as the greatest Pittsburgh Steelers player in that franchise’s glorious history. But Greene, who was the fourth overall pick by the Steelers in the 1969 NFL draft, was 6-foot-4, 275 pounds. Titans running back Derrick Henry is 6-3, 250.
Jordan Davis, a defensive lineman from Georgia who is 6-foot-6 and weighs 341 pounds, was drafted in the first round by the Eagles on Thursday. Davis runs the 40 in 4.78 seconds, faster than many running backs who played during Greene’s era.
The point is, athletes are bigger, faster, stronger and more agile now than ever. Some, though, act like it’s a heresy to suggest a modern boxer is an all-time great.
That talk will ramp up this week, as we boxing journalist types will begin to try to put into perspective what it is that Canelo Alvarez is doing on this incredible run of his.
Alvarez will headline a pay-per-view card at the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday when he challenges Dmitry Bivol for Bivol’s WBA light heavyweight title. Alvarez is a -400 favorite at BetMGM, with Bivol at +300.
Alvarez was a great fighter — yes, great — even before he fought Gennadiy Golovkin in 2017. But what he’s done since then should significantly change the perception of him from an all-time perspective.
Since 2017 Alvarez has:
Gone 9-0-1 with five knockouts.
Beaten eight men who held a world title at some point in their careers.
Won versions of the middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight titles.
Became the first undisputed super middleweight champion.
Fought opponents who entered fights against him with a combined record of 320-10-3, which does not include Bivol’s 19-0 mark.
Fought four opponents with a perfect record and five with zero losses.
If he gets past Bivol, there’s a chance he’ll fight twice more this year, a third bout against Golovkin and a bout for the undisputed light heavyweight title against the Artur Beterbiev-Joe Smith winner.
Alvarez has an inordinate number of critics for a fighter so successful. Many will minimize his 1-0-1 record against Golovkin by criticizing the judging and suggesting Golovkin won both bouts. But pick virtually any great from history and the same is true of them.
Muhammad Ali went 2-1 against Ken Norton but could easily have been 0-3. Yet, he’s still regarded as "The Greatest."
There are people who will go to their graves insisting that Jose Luis Castillo won the first fight with Floyd Mayweather, but that was rarely mentioned when Mayweather retired from the sport.
That kind of criticism has followed great boxers from every generation.
One of the things that perhaps holds others back from putting Alvarez into a proper historical perspective is that he isn’t known for one division, the way we know Ali as a heavyweight, Marvelous Marvin Hagler as a middleweight and Mayweather as welterweight.
Alvarez has been a mercenary, moving from division to division in search of the best fights (and, let’s be honest, the highest paydays). That pursuit has left him without a long tenure in one division. That hurts his perception a bit.
But Alvarez is a brilliant technician, a punishing body puncher and a competitor without peer.
He won’t turn 32 until July, and he’s showing no signs of slowing. It would be no shock if he fought 15 to 20 more times before retiring.
If he fights 15 to 20 more times, that’s probably 14 to 18 more wins. On the conservative side, that would give him 71 wins and the likelihood that he was undisputed at both 168 and 175.
If he remains as successful as he’s been, he’ll no doubt finish as a Top 20 all-time fighter and perhaps a Top 12 or Top 15 fighter.
It’s been remarkable stuff from a remarkable man, and the big top rolls into town again this week.
It is a show not to be missed.