Billy Joe Saunders

Line ‘Em Up: Who’s Next for Canelo?

Amanda Westcott/DAZN

The last time we saw Canelo Alvarez (53-1-2, 36 KOs) in a boxing ring, he was landing the decisive right hand to Sergey Kovalev‘s (34-4-1, 29 KOs) jaw in their fight on November 2, 2019.

In moving up to 175 pounds to win a world title, he accomplished a goal which many thought to be unattainable. At 5’9″, with a 70-71 inch reach, his frame doesn’t nearly measure up to those of the other champions at 175, neither currently nor historically.

Sure, you can throw out extreme examples, like 5’7″ Light Heavyweight and Cruiserweight champ of the 70s and 80s, Dwight Muhammad Qawi or the 5’9″ Light Heavyweight champ from Argentina, Victor Galindez.

However, these were men whose frames were flat-out enormous, considering their height. They are the exception, not the rule.

Canelo’s knockout of Sergey Kovalev was shocking, and it cemented his status as 2019’s Fighter of the Year.
Amanda Westcott/ DAZN

Especially when one considers that Canelo campaigned at 154 pounds for a good portion of his early career, and didn’t fight at the 160 pound limit until 2017, his winning a title at such a high weight is a shocker.

So, after such a move, where does the Mexican boxing and sports icon go from here? Who will he fight next? Let’s narrow it down.

Least Likely: 175 Pounds

Canelo may make another foray into the Light Heavyweight division at some point, but it seems highly unlikely that it will happen in his next outing.

His vacating the WBO belt he just won all but confirmed that. But, for the sake of argument, here are some possible opponents at Light Heavyweight, ordered from least to most likely.

Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs)

Canelo will probably never fight this man, and he shouldn’t catch any flak for it. Aside from the power displayed by his ledger above, Artur Beterbiev is a huge Light Heavyweight. He finished up his amateur career with an Olympic bid at 201 pounds (91 KG) in 2012, which saw him lose to Aleksandr Usyk in the second round.

His last outing showed both that he has real world-class boxing ability, coupled with indomitable will and brute physical strength.

In a title-unifying effort against then-WBC champ Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Beterbiev showed that, while he can be outboxed early, he has the mental fortitude to weather the storm and the discipline to stick to a game plan while under fire.

He walked a truly elite boxer in Gvozdyk down, beat him up to the body, and stopped him on the strength of three knockdowns in Round 10.

Were it not for the next fighter profiled here, he’d be the consensus No. 1 fighter at Light Heavyweight.

Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs)

The other Russian champ at 175 pounds presents a slightly more interesting case to be Canelo’s next opponent, however unlikely it may be.

Whether he fights Canelo or not, Bivol has a number of potential great fights ahead at 175 pounds, and maybe 168.
Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

Technically speaking, he’s the best boxer of the champions at his weight. It’s honestly difficult to remember a fight where he clearly lost more than a round or two.

Though he’s an average sized Light Heavyweight, Dmitry Bivol has voiced his ability to make 168 pounds, which is the most likely weight for Canelo’s next appearance.

The WBA champion also happens to fight on DAZN, which is the streaming service contracted to carry Canelo through eight more fights and four more years.

Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (40-0, 26 KOs)

Should Canelo return at 175 pounds next, the most likely candidate could well be fellow Mexican star, Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez.

It’s a fairly open secret that Alvarez’s next appearance will be on May 2, also known as Cinco de Mayo weekend. Mexico vs. Mexico would make a good amount of sense.

Ramirez is the former WBO 168 pound champ. He initially won his title on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley III in April 2016 with a total outclassing of Arthur Abraham.

That appearance, as well as the fact that he has had several fights on ESPN during primetime, have made him a name even mainstream fans would recognize.

He wouldn’t present a special challenge to Canelo in a pugilistic sense, but would definitely make for a marketable matchup.

More Likely: 160 Pounds

Though it’s far more likely that Canelo would return to Middleweight than Light Heavyweight in his next bout, most boxing fans and insiders doubt that it will be his next move.

Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin (40-1-1, 35 KOs)

When discussing Canelo…(insert obligatory GGG blurb here.)

On a serious note, most fans who scored the two fights between Canelo and Gennadiy Golovkin objectively do feel that their record against one another is 1-1. Not 1-0-1 (the record from the Mexican’s perspective.)

Both fights were close, but Golovkin clearly did enough to win the first fight in 2017, and Canelo definitely did more damage in their second fight in 2018.

Gennadiy Golovkin defeats Sergiy Derevyanchenko
Gennadiy Golovkin barely got by rugged Sergiy Derevyanchenko in his last fight.
Marilyn Paulino/RBRBoxing

But it won’t happen next. Per Boxing News 24, Golovkin is fighting the mandatory challenger to his recently reclaimed IBF strap on March 28. A mere five weeks before Canelo’s next planned ring outing.

GGG’s opponent is little-known Pole, Kamil Szeremeta. He’s a light hitter, who hasn’t fought anyone at this level, and has only gone 12 rounds once. The IBF should be investigated for sanctioning it.

If the Canelo/ GGG trilogy fight is ever going to happen, then look for it on Mexican Independence Day weekend, later this year.

Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs)

The first obstacle to Canelo and the elder Charlo twin facing off is a promotional one. Premier Boxing ChampionsAl Haymon represents Jermall Charlo, which could present some issues if you’re a prospective opponent under other management.

Haymon has shown an increasing tendency to keep things in-house in recent years: see Charlo’s last two fights against relatively unheralded Denis Hogan and Brandon Adams.

All promoters engage in this strategy to some degree. It ensures that, when their fighters win championships, the promoter in question maintains control of a belt, or belts, no matter the outcome of a fight.

Managers and promoters work off of percentages, either of their fighter’s purse or of the total gate. Title fights equal more money overall, which leads to them pocketing more cash. It’s just economics. It isn’t dirty, but it still isn’t popular with fans, and for good reason.

Money and political alignment aside, Charlo doesn’t present a big challenge to Canelo. His right uppercut is one of the best in the sport, but that is his one stand-out weapon. Canelo’s head movement would largely negate that.

His power is good, but not in the league of a Daniel Jacobs or Gennadiy Golovkin, whose punches Canelo took without blinking. Alvarez’s distance control is tops in the sport, yet Charlo was lucky to get by the relatively rusty Matt Korobov when they fought.

No matter how you slice it, Charlo just doesn’t match up favorably to Canelo.

Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10 KOs)

Sergiy Derevyancheko is one of those hard-luck guys who has world title potential, but may have simply come along at the wrong weight, in the wrong era. Think Ken Norton in the 1970s Heavyweight division.

His two losses were razor-thin decisions to former champions, for vacant titles each time. Many still argue the outcomes of both of his losses. Both men who beat him, Golovkin and Jacobs, may have been lucky to get by him.

Derevyanchenko is incredibly strong, and always comes with a vicious body attack. Both were on display in his world-title efforts, as he was able to visibly slow Jacobs down, and appeared to hurt Golovkin badly to the liver.

However, Sergiy is 34. He didn’t turn pro until age 29 and, at this rate, the clock is ticking on his career. He is coming off of a loss, so it would be a tough draw if he were to get the Canelo fight next.

That said, it would probably be his best remaining chance to win a title. The two both fight on DAZN, so it is a definite possibility, should Canelo return to 160 pounds next.

Ryota Murata (16-2, 13 KOs)

The dark horse. Seemingly from out of thin air, Japan’s Ryota Murata has leapt into the mix as the leading candidate (at least at Middleweight) to fight Canelo next. Murata holds the WBA “regular” Middleweight title. A belt which the Mexican holds the “super” version of.

For fans, Murata holds some appeal. He’s a hard puncher and, apart from Japanese and hardcore fans from elsewhere, holds the allure of an unknown quantity.

Following the recent trend spearheaded by current fighters out of the former Eastern Bloc, Murata turned pro late at 29. A year after taking the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. He just turned 34 on the 12th of this month so, like Derevyanchenko, the clock is ticking on a big payday.

Murata rebounded from his 2018 upset loss to American Rob Brant in impressive fashion. His second-round knockout over someone who had so thoroughly outworked him when they first met made the boxing world take notice. Possibly enough to net him the biggest check of his career.

That said, Murata’s viability as Canelo’s next dance partner could be secondary here. With Naoya Inoue having jumped ship at DAZN to sign with Top Rank, the higher-ups at DAZN could be pushing a fight with Murata to help maintain a hold on their Japanese audience.

It may sound a bit far-fetched, but the Japanese boxing market is a huge one. Its worth in ratings may be worth committing to staging a Canelo fight in order to save it.

Most Likely: 168 Pounds

On December 15, 2018, Canelo knocked out Britain’s Rocky Fielding to claim the WBA “regular” world title at 168 pounds. He has since vacated the belt, but it never really counted as a world title anyway.

For this reason, it would make sense for the Mexican superstar to come back to Super Middleweight and become a true four-division champion. By winning a belt that counts.

For those of you who don’t care to look deeper into the seemingly endless alphabet soup of title belts in boxing, here’s a short explanation. The WBA’s “regular” title functions in much the same way as any other sanctioning body’s “interim” title does.

It’s a placeholder that a fighter can hold to compel the real champion to fight them. The real WBA title to have is the WBA “Super” world title.

Billy Joe Saunders (29-0, 14 KOs)

Billy Joe Saunders seemed to have the boxing world at his fingertips two years ago. December 2017 yielded his signature victory in what would be his final title defense at 160 pounds.

He traveled to the dangerous David Lemieux’s home country and totally embarrassed him.

He has only fought three times since. Although he’s won all three fights, and a new world title at 168 pounds, he has looked lackluster in all three efforts.

Ed Mulholland/HBO

Southpaws with length and height have given Canelo fits before. Think Austin Trout or Erislandy Lara. And Saunders is far bigger than both, with dazzling defense and timing when he’s at 100 percent.

His run of subpar performances, marketability as a big talker, and possession of a title belt may just be enough incentive for a Cinco de Mayo meeting with the Mexican.

Callum Smith (27-0, 19 KOs)

To put it lightly, Callum Smith got away with one in his last title defense.

In what was supposed to be a homecoming fight in his native Liverpool, Smith was beaten to the punch consistently by the unheralded, smaller underdog, John Ryder.

The supernaturally big 168-pounder was repeatedly bullied into the ropes and worked over to the body in a largely flat performance.

Through a decision that may have involved some home-cooking, Smith held onto his lineal and WBA “Super” world titles. The possibility of becoming a legitimate world champion in four weight classes, while winning a third lineal title will most likely be enough to entice Canelo and his team to sign on the dotted line. That he fights on DAZN makes things that much easier.

Canelo is big business. His current contract with DAZN guarantees him more than $30 million per fight, before other revenue considerations. For that reason, a fight with a marketable star from a boxing crazed country like the UK would appear to be a logical step.

Smith has real boxing ability, physical size and serious power. At his best, a fight between Smith and Canelo would be a blockbuster event.

Josh Hedges/ Getty Images

Smith and Saunders both have about an equal chance of landing their white whale in Mexico’s red-headed media darling.

Not knowing which weight class Canelo will land at next, Murata is also an intriguing option.

With the media buzz heating up around who the opponent will be on May 2, the likelihood of an announcement coming in the next week or two is very high.

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