Boxing fans and media ask a lot of fighters — fight the best, unify championships and seek new challenges. For years, Canelo Alvarez has been doing just that, still drawing criticism from many for not doing “enough” or fighting the wrong champions or chasing the wrong challenges.
After unifying four world championships at super middleweight and with plenty of other possibilities on the table, Alvarez chose to return to light heavyweight, seeking out a far more compelling and difficult opponent than his first trip to 175 pounds when he knocked out an old and faded Sergey Kovalev. That decision turned out to be a risk too great for Alvarez on Saturday night, when the Mexican superstar was thoroughly outworked by WBA champion Dmitry Bivol, who retained his title by unanimous decision.
Let’s take a look at some of the main takeaways from the night Canelo’s risks produced no reward and Bivol truly broke onto the world stage.
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1. This was no fluke for Bivol
Bivol is a respected, technically adept fighter who posed real problems for Alvarez heading into the fight. Knowing this, and despite the Las Vegas odds suggesting otherwise, CBS Sports expert Brian Campbell predicted a Bivol victory. Alvarez looked baffled by Bivol at times. Not only did Bivol stick to a tight, disciplined gameplan, but Alvarez was not the stronger man in the ring and when he connected with heavy power, it never seemed to shake Bivol in the least.
As Bivol stuck to the playbook, landing quick combinations and a sometimes seemingly-endless string of jabs, Alvarez began to look lost. He couldn’t play the bully, he couldn’t overwhelm his opponent and he seemed to have no idea how to shift to a new strategy on-the-fly when those old standbys were taken away.
On this night, there was no doubt that Bivol was better than the man considered the greatest pound-for-pound fighter on Earth.
2. Can Canelo fix his game for the rematch?
There are simply some things Alvarez can not change should he make good on his promise to execute his rematch clause and fight Bivol again. Alvarez can not get bigger, nor can he realistically get physically stronger in a way that would be productive in a boxing ring. Bivol proved he was not a man who would be pushed around by Alvarez and his jab was deadly effective, and that tool benefits tremendously from a height and reach advantage.
The path for Alvarez to beat Bivol would largely have to come down to a more effective type of aggression than Alvarez executed on Saturday night. He can not afford to be the man being pushed backward as Bivol unleashed punches in numbers that simply dwarf what he is putting out. Instead, Canelo needs to throw more punches and make sure Bivol isn’t able to dictate the action. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
3. Should Canelo even take the rematch?
Given that fixing the issues he had against Bivol is a huge task, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Alvarez to return to super middleweight, a division where he is still the undisputed four-belt champion. There are plenty of big fights waiting for him south of light heavyweight, including the trilogy fight with Gennadiy Golovkin that was already being planned for the fall. The Golovkin fight, which is already well overdue as Alvarez has seemingly decided to wait out his great rival’s remaining competitive years, has a somewhat firm expiration date as Golovkin’s days as an elite fighter seem limited by the reality of age.
A rematch with Bivol could easily come down the road and lose none of the prestige. So, why not return to super middleweight or middleweight and tick off some of the boxes his detractors have stated are necessary to prove he isn’t “ducking” the most dangerous fights around while also putting the Golovkin rivalry to bed once and for all? Bivol is a young 31, he’ll be around for the rematch sometime in the future.
4. The judges almost tainted another night
When the official scorecards were read and all three judges turned in the same 115-113 scorecards, boxing fans the world over felt that old twist in their gut. That feeling usually comes when you know someone is about to be on the receiving end of a terrible loss dictated by bad judging. Instead, Bivol was given the unanimous decision win, though by scorecards that did not adequately reflect the dominance of his performance.
Then, the round-by-round scoring was revealed and fans were given a glimpse at three scorecards that all gave Canelo each of the first four rounds. How not one — but all three of the official scorers — saw the first four rounds for Canelo is baffling. Canelo was held to single-digit connects in all four of those rounds — and in 10 of the 12 total rounds and Bivols punches were the better and more telling blows throughout. It’s amazing that a fight where Bivol landed nearly double (152 to 84) the punches of Canelo, and outlanded him in every single round, was one round away from being ruled a draw.
At least for one night, the result was correct. Even if the method of arriving at the correct conclusion made so little sense.