Canelo Alvarez made his second fight in the first half of 2021 one to remember, as he stopped Billy Joe Saunders in front of over 70,000 fans (reportedly) at AT&T Stadium in Texas, unifying the WBC, WBA, and WBO super middleweight titles.
Saunders (30-1, 14 KO) will surely be back, as an orbital bone injury — thought to be broken — forced his corner to stop the fight after eight rounds. But he won’t be right back against Canelo, and there is only one name on the Mexican superstar’s mind right now as far as what’s next.
That would be Caleb Plant, the IBF titleholder and the man holding the last piece of the 168 lb puzzle. Canelo stated clearly that that’s his plan as far as what’s next, and promoter Eddie Hearn — though his deal with Canelo just ended, they could keep working together, the results have been pretty good — said it’s the “only” fight to make.
While it would seem unfathomable for the 28-year-old Plant (21-0, 12 KO) to not take the big money fight against Canelo (56-1-2, 38 KO) next, it has to be noted that there are potential political-type barriers here. Plant is a Premier Boxing Champions fighter. Canelo is not.
That doesn’t mean the fight can’t or won’t happen, but it makes it a lot harder than it would be if Plant were also in the Matchroom camp, or if Canelo were also a PBC fighter. Canelo’s almost certainly not going to sign with PBC; given his overall leverage as arguably the sport’s biggest star, I think it’s unlikely we see him sign long-term with anyone ever again.
Will Canelo agree to do a FOX or Showtime pay-per-view with Plant in September? There’s no reason why not, at least in theory, if he gets the right sort of offer for it. Canelo does not have a contract with DAZN anymore, but if they make the biggest offer, will Plant and PBC be willing to work with them on the fight?
The biggest money really might be doing it through FOX pay-per-view. Canelo hasn’t been on a standard, traditional pay-per-view since his controversial 2018 rematch with Gennadiy Golovkin, which was HBO’s last big boxing event. (His fights since then have been available on normal pay-per-view, but obviously that was not the main or most-promoted outlet, it has been DAZN for his last six fights.)
For what it’s worth:
But we’ll see. If it’s not Plant, for whatever reason, the top options for September would probably be one of two guys:
- Current WBO middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade coming up in weight to challenge Canelo, which Andrade has said many times he is willing and ready to do.
- IBF middleweight titlist Gennadiy Golovkin coming up in weight to challenge Canelo for a third time. This would be a big fight still, but we probably have passed its peak value. Golovkin’s star has faded some in the last two-and-a-half years, and he also hasn’t shown any real desire to go up to 168. He currently is believed to be focused on a unification with WBA titlist Ryota Murata for December. Golovkin would have to get a big offer and probably a lot more concession from the Canelo side than the Canelo side will want to make. And there is at least some sense that Canelo may now be truly too in his prime for Golovkin, who is past his.
But don’t count anything out with Canelo. He’s thrown curveballs before; no one expected him to fight Amir Khan in 2016, and for a more challenging surprise, no one expected him to move up to light heavyweight and fight Sergey Kovalev in 2019. Canelo has said he’s comfortable and wants to stay at 168 right now, but if Plant passes, the options get really limited at that weight, definitely limited for a desired September return date.
On that note, don’t completely forget about WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol, who just fought on May 1, is with Matchroom, and has repeatedly expressed his willingness to move down to super middleweight for a Canelo fight. With fellow 175 titlists Artur Beterbiev and Joe Smith Jr likely headed for unification in the fall, Bivol would surely love a big fight and a crack at Canelo.
- Billy Joe Saunders is unpredictable from here. Look, I’m not one to scream “QUIT! QUITTER!” on a legitimate injury. If other boxers want to, that’s their business. I’m not a boxer, I’m not doing it in a case like this. But Saunders is going to have to eat some humble pie, for one thing, and then he’ll have to decide what his future holds. There have been questions for years about his dedication and focus. He has changed promoters repeatedly, changed trainers repeatedly; I’m not trying to kick a man when he’s down, this is just his history. He got the big fight he’s longed for and came up short. In a sense, we’ll now see what Billy Joe’s made of in boxing. I would not at all be surprised to see him take a long break, not just because of the injury, but in general. How he responds to this, I have no idea. Saunders has talked many times about not fighting for money or fame, but legacy, and he’s had dips in his career, and who knows? Maybe he comes back strong as hell. Maybe he decides he’s had his time and he wants to spend more time with his family.
- Elwin Soto retained his WBO junior flyweight title with a controversial stoppage win over Japanese veteran Katsunari Takayama (32-9, 12 KO), and the most obvious, biggest and best fight to make next for Soto would be against WBA titleholder Hiroto Kyoguchi. They’re both signed to Matchroom and Kyoguchi (15-0, 10 KO) made his U.S. debut in March, and seemed to enjoy the experience. He signed with Matchroom to make big fights outside of Japan, and Soto would qualify. It’s a potentially great fight, too. Soto simply has not had less than a really good world title fight of the five he’s been involved in, and Kyoguchi showed some vulnerability against a strong, tough guy in Axel Aragon Vega last time out. You could headline a smaller sort of show with this, but its real value for fans would be as a co-feature slot on another big card, maybe Canelo’s next in September. If it’s not Kyoguchi, the highest-rated contenders with the WBO for Soto are Agustin Mauro Gauto, Jesse Rodriguez, Sho Kimura, Jonathan Gonzalez, and Riku Kano as of their last rankings update.
- Souleymane Cissokho probably won’t be jumping into the top 10 sort of mix at 154 next following a win over Kieron Conway, which was a hell of a lot more clear than the three judges scored it, one of them somehow giving Conway a 97-92 card. Cissokho, 29, is a former Olympian and certainly not a kid, but there’s a lot of ground to cover between Conway and the real top of the division. Maybe Cissokho is never that guy, but it’s obvious Anthony Joshua and Matchroom want to manage him to get his shot at it. I’d expect something along similar lines, especially with him getting dropped in the ninth on a good shot from Conway.
- Heavyweight Frank Sanchez should probably fight someone better than a long-faded Nagy Aguilera next if he wants to be taken seriously right now as a heavyweight contender, but in all reality that might be more for the TV commentators and hype men promoters. Eddy Reynoso is careful about how he matches his fighters, and the 28-year-old Sanchez (18-0, 13 KO) has years ahead of him. He’s not going to get a title shot in the immediate or even particularly near future, anyway. You’d like to hope for better, but an opponent like Mariusz Wach, Sergey Kuzmin, or Christian Hammer coming next would really not be a big surprise. Best case might be Hughie Fury, but a guy like Kubrat Pulev — if he intends to fight on at 40 — might like his chances against the Cuban.