By Paul Magno | May 09, 2022

I bet that Jermall Charlo fight he turned down to fight Bivol was looking real good to Canelo right around the ninth round this past Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. 

As the entire boxing world knows by now, Saul Alvarez’s challenge to defending WBA light heavyweight champ Dmitry Bivol was turned back in a most decisive fashion, despite the three 115-113 scores turned in by the judges. 

In hindsight, maybe Alvarez should’ve chosen the Charlo bout in defense of his undisputed 168 lb. crown instead of taking on the Russian, but you can’t knock a man for having ambition and self-confidence. Well, judging by some of the nonsense I’ve been seeing online, I guess you CAN knock a man for having ambition and self-confidence if you’re a social media boxing expert. 

Alvarez, though, had some reason to feel confident against Bivol, who has been conservative and lacking in fire in almost all of his recent performances. The unfortunate thing for him was that the Bivol who showed up to this Cinco de Mayo weekend showcase was sharper than ever, more focused than ever, and intent on bringing the fire, non-stop, to the 5-to-1 betting favorite. 

The Mexican star never really got into the fight, never gained any degree of full control against a fully-actualized Bivol. I had the bout 116-112 on my scorecard, but the four rounds I gave to Canelo were hardly clear-cut, dominant rounds. 

Bivol simply fought brilliantly. It didn’t require a Mayweather-like mastery of nuance to neutralize a top-of-his-game Alvarez. All it took was a sharp jab, a dedication to keeping the fight at a beneficial distance, and the mental toughness to keep doing what needed to be done. Alvarez never stopped trying to get to Bivol, he just couldn’t do it because, ultimately, the bigger, stronger man didn’t allow it.

By the way, Gennadiy Golovkin, who also has a very heavy jab and a considerable physical presence, could've done pretty much the same thing to Canelo that Bivol did, if he wasn’t (gulp) intimidated by the moment and/or Canelo in their first two encounters. It’ll be interesting to see if Triple G applies any of the lessons from Bivol’s performance on Saturday to this September’s scheduled part 3 with Alvarez.

In the immediate aftermath of the loss, Alvarez declared his desire for a rematch and was supposedly intent on exercising the rematch clause in the fight contract. I’d be surprised if this turns out to be anything other than a face-saving measure from a very proud man at a very humbling moment. With a much more lucrative and salable Golovkin bout coming up in September and a comparatively lukewarm reception to Bivol as an opponent in general, it would be uncharacteristically foolish from the always-shrewd Canelo to revisit this rough stylistic matchup. 

The best thing for boxing would be for Bivol to move on to the winner of the upcoming Artur Beterbiev-Joe Smith Jr. 3-belt unification for a try at full unification while Alvarez stays put at 168, defending his own undisputed status. There are at least a year-and-a-half’s worth of viable opponents at super middleweight to keep Alvarez nipple-deep in bankable opposition (Golovkin, Jermall Charlo, David Benavidez), so there’s no need to panic in finding a suitable alternate career course right now. 

Alvarez’s plans were big before they got power-washed to the storm drain by Bivol. He was talking a full unification at 175 to make him the first-ever in the 4-belt era to be a fully unified, undisputed world champ in two divisions simultaneously. His obsession with “legacy” brought him to this point where he bit off a bit more than he could chew. 

Canelo’s legacy will not be affected by this Bivol loss, though. Like most fighters with greatness in mind, he extended himself a bit too far and felt the pushback from reality. If anything, it should be commended that he even made this effort against a fighter who very well could be the top dog in the division and definitely no worse than no. 2. His calculated gamble against a past-prime Sergey Kovalev to win the WBO light heavyweight title in 2019 was noteworthy and impressive. Beating Bivol would’ve been beyond impressive.  

It didn’t happen. So, we all move on. 

But let’s double back now and lay some more praise on Dmitry Bivol.

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t think Bivol had it in him to beat a mega-confident Alvarez who’s raging at the top of his game. I knew he had the skills to do what he did, I just didn’t see the fire or mental resolve. Since 2018, the man has made his mark as a world class fighter who is very, very exceedingly adequate, but little more. His performances have been clinical, but not at all explosive and he seemed to settle into a career groove as someone who is content on doing just enough to get to the decision win. 

With 11 stoppage victories in his first 13 professional contests and zero wins inside the distance in his six bouts coming into the Canelo clash-- despite having the power and hand speed to obliterate his mostly-overmatched opposition-- it seemed safe to say that this guy was just going through the motions. 

And maybe he WAS just going through the motions and maybe it took this big fight on the world stage to light a fire under his ass. Good. I hope he keeps this up because what he showed on Saturday was something I’d want to see over and over again. More importantly, it’s something people beyond his Russian base would pay to see again. 

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