Paulie Malignaggi's Picks: Charlo can show exactly how much of Canelo is left

It was a shock – even a disappointment – when Jermell Charlo was confirmed as the next opponent for Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Some had expected it to be Jermall Charlo instead, but even if it had been, after two years of inactivity the timing would have been wrong – the only satisfactory opponent, when that announcement was made, would have been David Benavidez.

But Canelo fights have a way of making us excited either way. As fans we relish big fights – and Canelo fights are always big – so the closer it gets, the more excitement Canelo-Charlo is generating. The fights he’s involved in and the attention he continues to bring to the sport means Canelo remains a positive force for the sport. 

By the time of the opening bell their fight will be huge. Canelo draws a wider audience, and a lot of that audience won’t know how much of a difference a fighter moving up two weight divisions can make. They’ll be more interested in the marketing focused on one undisputed champion fighting another.

Like many, Canelo strikes me as too big and too strong for Charlo. Charlo has the better boxing ability, but he also has a way of getting too reckless – he often stays in the pocket for too long, as he did first time round when he drew with Brian Castano in 2021. He may have been more disciplined for their rematch last year, but he’s both highly charged and emotional, and it’s those emotions that often make his decisions in the ring – and which will be harder to control in front of the type of crowd that attend Canelo’s fights. Charlo has the kind of boxing ability Dmitrii Bivol showed to beat Canelo shortly before Charlo-Castano II, but he hasn’t yet shown the type of control that Bivol did that night.

The fighters’ preparations for this fight have been rather different. Charlo’s been training alongside Errol Spence and Anthony Joshua at a busy time for Derrick James’ gym – being in an environment like that alongside fighters like that can push and bring the best out of a fighter. Training alongside champions rubs off.

Paulie Malignaggi's Picks: Charlo can show exactly how much of Canelo is left
Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions

Canelo’s, by some distance, the leading figure wherever he trains. But he’s accustomed to the privacy he gets, which has so far worked for him.

James has become the world’s go-to trainer, and is capable of making a difference, come fight night. But Charlo doing pad work with Joan Guzman is also positive. Guzman is the most talented fighter I’ve ever seen – he just lacked discipline. His creativity and mentality as a boxer, combined with Charlo’s athleticism – he’s also very talented – means they should complement each other, and to the extent he could even be the biggest strength in Charlo’s fight preparations. 

If Charlo wins, we’re unlikely to ever see him back at 154lbs. If he loses, he may return there. Either way, he’s only going to be looking for the biggest fights – opponents like Terence Crawford. The fact that he’s fighting Canelo instead of Tim Tszyu – a fight we all wanted to see – shows that.

Less certain is how good Canelo still is. He’s still effective enough to beat some pretty good fighters, but I’m not sure about how hungry he is and therefore about how he compares to the fighter we saw when he was in his prime – what happens in the ring will answer a lot of the questions we have.

When the biggest names fight perceived lesser opponents they put themselves under the microscope of critics. When they don’t dominate those opponents the criticism starts. John Ryder – a solid opponent – in May, was more competitive than many expected. He didn’t get knocked out, and he stood up to Canelo, which hurt Canelo’s reputation. The third fight with Gennady Golovkin, when Golovkin was 40, lasted all 12 rounds. Canelo had an injured wrist, so he had a good reason for not being more impressive, but he hasn’t looked spectacular since beating Caleb Plant in 2021. What might prove important in Las Vegas, given the fight could be close in many ways, is how it evolves. 

But I struggle to see Canelo losing a decision – even if he loses the fight, I can’t see him being scored the loser. It was a shock when Bivol was awarded the decision – and it was a close decision, on a night when Bivol won almost every round.