The last 12 months have been a revelation in boxing, in terms of boxers becoming undisputed champions or looking to join that elite group. It’s only fitting that boxing’s No. 1 men’s pound-for-pound fighter, Canelo Alvarez, would want to add such an achievement to his already lengthy resume in the sport.
Tuesday brought news that Alvarez, who holds three of the world titles at super middleweight, is finalizing plans for a title unification fight against IBF world titleholder Caleb Plant in September.
If he defeats Plant, he will have won all four belts at 168 pounds within a nine-month stretch. Alvarez defeated Callum Smith in December 2020 to win the WBA and WBC belts, defended them successfully by making quick work of Avni Yildirim in February and then beat Billy Joe Saunders in May to add the WBO strap.
So what can fans expect to see in this fight between Alvarez and Plant? And how could it shape the future?
Mike Coppinger and Ben Baby are here to answer some of the biggest questions going into (and potentially coming out of) this super middleweight title unification bout.
How difficult is this fight for Canelo compared to the other 168 pounders he has beaten?
Coppinger: I see Plant giving Alvarez a tougher challenge than Callum Smith, but not performing as well as Billy Joe Saunders did — before the fractured orbital bone, of course. Plant is talented and in his prime. He has fast hands. He’s defensively responsible. His jab is excellent. But I don’t believe Plant has the power to keep Alvarez off him. Plant certainly doesn’t have the kind of top-level experience to draw from that would properly prepare him for a fight like this.
No one does, really. After all, we’re talking about the best boxer on the planet, a man who has been in the ring on the grandest of stages and against the best the sport has to offer. Gennadiy Golovkin twice. Floyd Mayweather. Miguel Cotto. There’s nothing Alvarez hasn’t seen inside those four ropes.
Plant? His best win — really his only win of note — came in 2019 against Jose Uzcategui. Every other opponent has been B-level, at best. Is he an elite fighter? Impossible to know, given he’s never been tested.
The margin for error against the pound-for-pound king is slim. The boxing universe — and Plant himself — is about to find out just how good he really is.
Can Plant upset Canelo’s plan, and if so, how?
Baby: Let’s be honest here. It’s going to take a brilliant game plan for Plant to beat Alvarez, who is rolling and is widely considered the sport’s top pound-for-pound boxer by multiple outlets (including ESPN).
On paper, Plant doesn’t have the requisite power to worry Alvarez, which was the same issue Saunders had in his shot against Alvarez. In the two most notable wins of Plant’s career, a January victory over Caleb Truax and his 2019 win over Uzcategui to become a champion, both bouts went the distance. If Alvarez doesn’t respect his opponent’s power, he will be more than willing to take a punch in order to land a few of his own.
That being said, Saunders showed it’s possible to win rounds against Alvarez. Plant has to be extremely disciplined and pick his spots on the outside. He has to start fast, bank rounds and then hope he can avoid Canelo in the later rounds.
If that sounds like a lot of improbable variables, that’s because they are. The odds will be heavily stacked against Plant.
What should be next for Canelo if he wins?
Coppinger: With a convincing victory over Plant, Alvarez will accomplish his goal of becoming undisputed champ at 168 pounds. If he wants to, he can return to 175 pounds and aim for a fight with unified champion Artur Beterbiev, a dangerous puncher from Russia. That’s perhaps the most attractive option for Alvarez at light heavyweight following Sept. 18. But Alvarez was troubled by a faded version of Sergey Kovalev before he spectacularly knocked Kovalev out. Would Beterbiev prove to be too big and powerful?
An even more attractive option is remaining at 168 pounds for a couple of defenses of his undisputed crown. PBC also has David Benavidez under their promotional banner, and he’s the fighter who I think presents the toughest challenge for Alvarez. Benavidez is a volume puncher who comes straight forward and wings bombs. That’s a fascinating fight, especially given the kind of guts the 24-year-old has shown.
Another compelling option, either before or after Benavidez: Jermall Charlo. The middleweight champion has expressed a desire to move up to 168 pounds, and to fight Canelo. Charlo is a big 160-pounder who would fit right in at super middleweight. He possesses an excellent power jab and the strength to fight with Alvarez on the inside.
If Alvarez insists on moving up to 175 pounds and doesn’t want to immediately pursue Beterbiev, a bout with Dmitry Bivol, another champion in the division, might be a good bridge to Beterbiev. But Bivol, a crafty boxer from Russia with an amazing jab and footwork, isn’t an easy test, either.
What should Plant do next if he defeats Canelo?
Baby: If Plant does pull off the improbable upset, a rematch could be in order. It will obviously be another big payday for Plant, and Alvarez will certainly want to avenge a damaging defeat.
This will be a great situation for PBC, the umbrella Plant fights under. If Plant can become undisputed, and retain all of the belts at super middleweight, it also sets up big fights against Benavidez or even Jermall Charlo, if Charlo does indeed decide to move up. It could help PBC establish the kind of hammerlock at 168 pounds that it has enjoyed at 147 pounds for the last several years.