Malignaggi's Musings: Benavidez has proved he deserves Canelo next

At the weekend in Las Vegas we saw a clear enough points win for David Benavidez over Caleb Plant that showed Benavidez to be the biggest threat to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez at 168lbs. It was also the entertaining, competitive fight that was expected and hoped for.

There have been suggestions since then that the flaws in Benavidez’s performance showed that he’s not good enough to unsettle Canelo, but even though I thought he might stop Plant late on I wouldn’t agree. The flaws he showed – when, for example, trying to cut off the ring – aren’t the sort of flaws that would come into play in a fight with Canelo, or that Canelo would be able to take advantage of.

An inability to cut off the ring won’t come into play against Canelo because you won’t have to find him. Those flaws would be more of a concern against boxers and movers, and athletic types of fighters. There’s no Roy Jones Jnr in the super-middleweight division in 2023. 

Like it already is for so many other fighters at his weight, fighting Canelo should be the goal for Benavidez. Canelo holds the undisputed titles, and he’s the biggest draw – and as a fighter you chase world titles and you chase money. 

Even with Canelo preparing to fight John Ryder in Guadalajara on May 6, Canelo-Benavidez is the best fight that can be made at 168lbs, and at a certain point the sanctioning bodies have to force Canelo to defend against the perceived biggest threat in his weight class. He’s been making Benavidez wait for a while now.

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Photo: Esther Lin/Showtime

Increasingly there are reports that if he beats Ryder he’ll have a rematch with Dmitrii Bivol at 175lbs, but after the way he lost last year a rematch is a one-sided fight – it’s a waste of time. I don’t see Canelo as competitive in that fight at all. Would we be watching Canelo just to get beat? Boxing already gives us enough fights when we know who’s going to win. We don’t need another one of those fights – and in a superfight. 

If Canelo fights Bivol again instead of Benavidez all I think he’d be looking to do is keep the titles hostage at super-middleweight, and I don’t think that’s right either – the sanctioning bodies should do something about that if he does. You can’t keep a weight class hostage like that.

Ryder’s a good opponent, stylistically, and they have a similar body type – if he shows up to win it’s a good fight. I don’t think Canelo’s the most active fighter but he’s strong. Ryder’s crafty, and likes to be at close range as well. The intangible here is that Ryder’s never been in a major, major fight – fighting Canelo is an atmosphere he’s never seen before. 

Canelo always has the psychological advantage, because Canelo has seen that atmosphere every single time he’s fought. Billy Joe Saunders is a better fighter than he showed in his fight with Canelo, in 2021, and he completely froze in anxiety – he just couldn’t get his timing right, and eventually it hurt him. 

If Ryder, who lost a close unanimous decision to Saunders in 2013, can relax and fight his fight, him versus Canelo is a good fight. Their styles will blend well, and it’d be entertaining for the fans. There’s no shot of Ryder getting a decision, but if he makes Canelo look bad again there’s going to be a clamour for the sanctioning bodies to do something about his titles.

I’m not sure even Canelo thinks he can win the rematch with Bivol. But I think he believes, in the public’s eyes, that it’s more forgivable to lose to Bivol again than it is to lose to Benavidez for the first time. He’d also lose the titles to Benavidez, and can keep them if he loses to Bivol.

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Photo: Melina Pizano/Matchroom

His fanbase can be fooled. “It’s so brave – he took on Bivol again. He took on the toughest fight possible. He took on the risk – most fighters wouldn’t do it.” 

Most fighters wouldn’t do it because they don’t get compensated like Canelo does and they don’t get to keep the titles in another weight class – others would get stripped if they consistently refused to defend against the best opponent available. But it’s like when Conor McGregor fought Khabib Nurmagomedov. He didn’t want to fight Nurmagomedov when he was the champion, but when Nurmagomedov became champion he fought him. He never thought that he could win the fight – he never tried to win the fight, even when he was in there – but he knew he’d be forgiven for fighting Nurmagomedov and losing to him. 

I don’t believe Canelo believes he won the first fight with Bivol, either. When he says that he’s just trying to sell the rematch between them. 

The likeliest next move for Plant – whose only previous defeat came against Canelo, also in 2021 – is for him to fight a middle-range contender to record a win that can help him dust off losing to Benavidez. He certainly remains relevant at super-middleweight. 

There’s worthwhile fights to be made involving him, and he remains an interesting fighter people will want to watch. He’d just be best served taking some time off, and fighting a fringe top 10 or top-15 ranked opponent before he looks for another bigger fight – by when I’d hope Canelo and Benavidez would have fought. 

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