LOS ANGELES – Finally, some answers.
Well … sort of.
Canelo Alvarez—middleweight champion, box office star, arguably the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world—reemerged Wednesday and stepped into a firestorm of his own making. For weeks, the boxing world has buzzed with speculation about Alvarez’s next opponent. His refusal to face Gennady Golovkin for a third time created a scramble to see who would punch the Canelo lottery ticket. Demetrius Andrade, SD and Jermall Charlo were considered. But it was Sergey Kovalev, a light heavyweight titleholder, who got the nod.
In between his last fight and the Kovalev announcement, Canelo was stripped of one of his middleweight belts and publicly feuded with his promoter. So there were plenty of interested people eager to hear Canelo’s side of the story at the promotional press conference for his November 2 bout with Kovalev.
And he told it … kind of. On Golovkin, Alvarez was blunt. “He doesn’t represent anything for me right now,” he said. “He doesn’t represent a challenge that I haven’t had already.” Indeed, Alvarez and Golovkin have faced each other twice already. But nothing is settled. The first fight was a controversial draw that most believe Golovkin won. Alvarez squeezed out a decision win in the rematch, another fight that could have gone either way. DAZN, the subscription-based streaming service that signed Alvarez to a deal that could be worth as much as $365 million last year, pushed hard for a Golovkin trilogy. Alvarez pushed hard back.
But why? The steady improvement of Alvarez and the age (37) of Golovkin suggests that Alvarez would enter a third fight as the favorite. Those close to Canelo believe his deep disdain for Golovkin is at the root of the decision. Specifically, Golovkin’s reaction to Canelo’s claim that tainted meat was what caused a positive drug test in 2018—he called the assertion “nonsense,” accused Canelo of “using drugs” and decried “everybody just trying to pretend it’s not happening.” The comments enraged Alvarez, who now isn’t inclined to give Golovkin a fight that will guarantee him a career-high payday.
Will it ever happen? Alvarez’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, believes so. “It has to,” De La Hoya told SI.com. “Golovkin has to be an opponent in 2020.” Informed of De La Hoya’s statements, Canelo told a small group of reporters, “Oscar says many things that make no sense.”
De La Hoya says everything is fine between him and his star. The eye test suggests otherwise. The two didn’t interact much on Wednesday. At a nearby hotel, between interviews, Alvarez breezed by De La Hoya in a hallway. On stage, Alvarez was stone-faced while De La Hoya spoke. Alvarez was livid that a deal didn’t get done to allow him to keep his preferred September date, and that he lost a title in the process. He sided with Ryan Garcia during Garcia’s public spat with De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions last week, telling SI.com he believes more could be done to promote the rising lightweight star.
Rival promoters are circling Alvarez, and De La Hoya knows it. Bob Arum, who was De La Hoya’s promoter in his fighting days, has lavished praise on Canelo in recent weeks. De La Hoya responded by telling SI.com that he was worried that Terence Crawford, one of Arum’s top fighters, would be shut out of the Hall of Fame because of the weak opponents Arum was lining up for him. Alvarez is under contract with Golden Boy, but he is one of the rare stars that doesn’t need a promoter, thanks to a massive broadcast deal and a rabid, loyal fan base.
For now, Alvarez is keeping his relationship with Golden Boy professional. “It’s work,” Alvarez said. “We’ve always worked well together.” The friction is a distraction he doesn’t need. Alvarez will be the favorite when he steps in the ring against Kovalev despite the fight taking place two weight classes north of what he’s used to. Alvarez, 29, is the younger, faster fighter with a relentless body attack, an area Kovalev, 36, has been vulnerable. Kovalev is the biggest name in the 175-pound division, but he is far from its best fighter.
Still—Kovalev is dangerous. He has looked revitalized under new trainer Buddy McGirt. He has an excellent jab. It’s long, sharp (he knocked out Anthony Yarde, his last opponent, with it) and the best way to keep Canelo from working inside. And the power is still there. In 1988, Sugar Ray Leonard, then the middleweight champion, moved up to challenge light heavyweight titleholder Donny Lalonde. Leonard scored a ninth-round knockout—but not before paying a heavy price. “I just remember the power,” Leonard told SI.com. “He hurt me a number of times. The first punch, a jab, it was boom, and I said, ‘This is going to be a long night.’ Every punch he hit me with, he hurt me.”
Canelo could be in for some of the same. On his Instagram page, Kovalev posted a picture with Canelo, from 2012, when Kovalev was climbing the light heavyweight ladder and Alvarez was a cinnamon-haired 154-pound prospect starting to make moves. Neither could have envisioned themselves sharing the ring today. “This is what motivates me,” says Alvarez, “taking these types of risks.”
It’s what motivates Kovalev, too. He knows Canelo chose him for a reason—that he sees him as a big name with a soft midsection, a shell of the fighter who steamrolled the division a few years ago. And Kovalev is fine with it. It’s not often he’s a clear underdog. As he walked off the dais on Wednesday, he glanced back at a reporter. “The old Krusher,” Kovalev said, referencing his nickname, “is coming back.”