By Paul Magno | October 02, 2023

As I told a friend before Saturday’s big fight at T-Mobile Arena between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Jermell Charlo-- If everything plays out true to form, Canelo should beat Charlo convincingly. As things turned out, things DID play out true to form. 

Although my on-the-record prediction was Canelo via late round stoppage, I firmly maintained that Charlo had all the tools to pull off the upset. If you took the sum of his parts-- the jab, the hand speed, the foot speed, the precision-- the Houston native had a chance. 

However, the last few days before the fight gave me some real pause for concern. Charlo looked rattled. He looked less like a hungry, ferocious king invading a new territory and more like someone who had just been prison raped, eschewing eye contact and just kind of all-around jittery. But, still, I had hope that Charlo would rise to the occasion on fight night when the competitive juices started flowing. 

Ultimately, though, he DIDN’T rise to the occasion. Or, maybe more correctly, he rose as far as he could against a Canelo who was better, stronger, and who sported a huge chip on his shoulder after three consecutive disappointing performances. 

"This Canelo,” Alvarez declared in his post-fight interview, “Nobody can beat this Canelo.”

The nexus-plexus of disdain for Charlo and the urge to disregard Alvarez lined up perfectly for this bout, especially given how things turned out. The forever-cynics had fuel to fire up the “Charlo sucks” and “Canelo isn’t really that good” engines for another drive.

Ex-ESPN writer Dan Rafael would channel those evil spirits with a putrid editorial/question for Alvarez at the post-fight press conference.

“He seemed so happy at the press conference...smiling...He was happy that he survived,” Rafael observed. “He said, ‘oh you knocked out all these other guys, but you didn’t knock him out.’ It felt like the plan was to come in, go twelve rounds with Canelo Alvarez, take a big paycheck, and go back and be champion at junior middleweight. Do you feel like he ever, really, at any point in the fight, tried to win?”

It was a pompous, clueless, and ultimately insulting (for both fighters) question. Especially coming from a man whose experience with life and death struggles is limited to the every-morning battle getting his belt’s prong into that last strained hole (I gotta have at least one cheap shot at somebody per column).

Alvarez addressed Rafael’s question with class and with a subtle spank (that surely sailed way over his head), matter-of-factly asserting that Charlo’s poor performance had everything to do with his stellar performance.

“That was my plan [to] neutralize everything,” Alvarez said. “Sometimes a fighter can’t do anything in the ring.”

I wholly reject the notion shared by some fans and members of the media that Charlo just showed up for a payday, enabled to give a half-ass effort by a built-in “I came up two weight classes” excuse. That’s just not how high-end athletes are built. 

Now, maybe, that thinking comes into effect AFTER the loss, as a coping mechanism and as a way to deflect from a poor showing. But it’s horribly “I have no idea who these people are” naive to believe that anyone’s goal is to build themselves up to the top of their profession through years of hard work and sacrifice and, then, when they get the biggest opportunity of their career-- one that could lead to a shit-ton more opportunities and money-- just go through the motions and snicker their way to the bank. 

Charlo was just shut down. It happens in all sports. Nobody casts aspersions on the courage and professional integrity of a major league baseball player who swings and misses at a wicked slider. Nobody will hop on social media and insist that he should’ve just kept swinging at that pitch he missed,  four or five times, then maybe swing at the catcher’s mitt, just to prove that he was really trying. 

Boxing is a sport that looks easy, but really isn’t. Even veteran media and hardcore fans fall into that hole of thinking “but if he only wanted to win more.” It really shows the detachment between those who cover the sport and the athletes they cover. For some, that simplistic thinking is intentional and agenda-driven, but that’s a subject for another day. 

The story of this fight was not hard to lay out. Both are 33-year-old veterans with a long history behind them. We knew that Alvarez is a strong-willed fighter who crushes opposition with physical and mental pressure. We knew that Charlo is a low-output, high-precision counter-puncher. We knew that Alvarez would probably be physically stronger than Charlo. 

As I said earlier, everything played out true to form. The calculated, dispassionate Charlo, who only threw a little over 33 punches per round on Saturday, is the same calculated, dispassionate Charlo who only averaged about 46 punches per round in his previous six fights. 

There was legitimate hope that things could’ve been different with Charlo. But, as is usually the case, a man will be who he is. For Charlo, being who he is has led him to great success against fighters who were not as big, not as good, and not as touched by excellence as Alvarez. 

As for Canelo?

The man is taking flak in some quarters for not knocking out Charlo and not closing the show with a bang. Other than landing that shot that buzzed Charlo and made him take a knee in the seventh, he never really hurt the unified junior middleweight champ. But it’s hard to shit on a dominating performance like Saturday’s, especially from Alvarez, whose resume is already deeper and more complex than anyone else’s in the sport today. At what point do we just sit back and appreciate someone like Canelo Alvarez, who IS willing to take on challenges and always puts in an honest, earnest effort? 

If we look at all the boxing curmudgeons on social media in the days following any Canelo fight, the answer is that some will never appreciate the man. That’s their loss. 

Now, as for the always-burning “what’s next” question. 

Alvarez’s dominance over Jermell Charlo would probably disqualify stylistically similar (and wildly inactive) Jermall Charlo from next dibs in his 3-fight deal with PBC. In the post-fight press conference, Alvarez, himself, said that Terence Crawford was not in his plans. That seems to leave just David Benavidez as a viable next opponent, unless someone, somewhere gets really creative. 

No matter what may happen in the future, let’s learn to appreciate the present. Saul Alvarez dominated a very good fighter in Jermell Charlo on Saturday and re-affirmed his status as the sport’s biggest star as well as one of its very best. That’s a good thing.

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