We All Want Canelo-Benavidez … But Canelo Owes Us Nothing

The future is unwritten. But one thing I can say with total confidence looking a few decades over the horizon is that nobody’s children or grandchildren will one day ask Saul “Canelo” Alvarez why he didn’t fight David Benavidez.

Benavidez’s promoter, Samson Lewkowicz, told ProBox TV a few days ago that Canelo’s legacy will be “stained” and “tarnished” because he isn’t facing Benavidez. Lewkowicz offered compelling quotes, and it was precisely the sort of persuasive angle any promoter should use when trying to score a mega-bucks matchup for their client. 

So, full credit and respect to him for saying what he did.

But just because a fight is highly attractive in the moment does not mean “the children, maybe the grandchildren one day, will ask him why he did not fight Benavidez,” as Lewkowicz said.

For starters, they may not have to ask Alvarez that question because he may yet face Benavidez — perhaps this September if not this May, or perhaps a year or two down the road.

But more to the point, they won’t be asking that question a generation or more from now because Canelo Alvarez has built up too much good will for one alleged “duck” to stick to him. Canelo’s legacy in boxing is beyond secure. He’s 64 fights deep — in an era when half that many fights was enough to make Andre Ward a first-ballot Hall of Famer — and well into the “nothing left to prove” stage of his career.

Alvarez-Benavidez is undoubtedly THE fight to make at super middleweight, and I hope it happens, sooner rather than later. But Canelo owes us nothing.

As I sit here banging out this column at the outset of the work week, the boxing world awaits word on whom Canelo will face in May. It’s quite possible that nobody, not even Alvarez himself, knows yet who the opponent will be.

Last week, the sport’s biggest star teased an announcement, and most assumed an opponent’s name would be part of that announcement. Rumors and reports circulated, from the “revenge of the brother” fight nobody is asking for — Canelo vs. Jermall Charlo — to Alvarez announcing he’d be tearing up his three-fight contract with PBC with two fights left on it. Instead, he announced an extension of his Mexican TV deal, confirmed (as had been long presumed) that his next fight would be May 4 in Las Vegas, and added the detail that his opponent would be an American.

If that last bit holds, it won’t be Jaime Munguia, who, like Alvarez, hails from Mexico. It could be Charlo, it could be welterweight champ and pound-for-pound king Terence “Bud” Crawford, or it could be Benavidez. But Canelo publicly ruled out Crawford, explaining, “I have everything to lose and nothing to gain because if I win, they’ll say, ‘Oh, he was too small.’” And Lewkowicz told ProBox he doesn’t believe his guy Benavidez will get a shot in either May or September. So that would appear to leave Charlo. Or whatever Monty Hall is hiding behind door number three.

Oh, but Charlo was quick to note from a vacation spot “in the islands somewhere” that as far as he knows, it isn’t him.

So what else could it be? A mismatch against Edgar Berlanga? A circus fight against Jake Paul? A rematch with Jose Miguel Cotto 14 years in the making?

We’ll know soon enough who it is. The focus in this article is on who it apparently isn’t: Benavidez. That’s the fight that, if boxing were run like UFC, with a single organizing force consistently making the most logical matches, would undoubtedly be on tap. It’s the lineal 168-pound champ in Alvarez defending against his clear number-one contender in Benavidez. It clarifies who’s The Man in the division. It’s not an easy result to predict — Alvarez figures to be favored, but more because of star power and track record than because of any perception of current in-ring superiority. And it would do excellent box-office. It would probably sell over a million pay-per-views, which Canelo hasn’t done since the second Gennady Golovkin fight more than five years ago.

We all want it to happen. But if it doesn’t, it has to be placed in perspective. Canelo himself put things in perspective effectively last summer on the radio show The Breakfast Club when the word “duck” and Benavidez’s name first began orbiting Alvarez in unison.

“Everybody says the same thing all my life,” Alvarez said. “When I fight with [Austin] Trout, they say I'm ducking Trout. When I fight with other fighters, they say I'm ducking Golovkin, I’m ducking Erislandy Lara. Every time I beat every single fighter they say I have this other fighter. ... They find somebody else. I’m ducking nobody. I’ve been in this position a lot of times. I just do the fights that are the best for the fans.”

Not always, of course. But more than often enough. Canelo mentioned Trout, Lara, and Golovkin, and the first two brought world-class skills and difficult styles and nobody would have batted an eye if Alvarez had found an excuse not to face them, but face them he did. Same goes for his losing effort two years ago against Dmitriy Bivol, a “dare to be great” fight that nobody was twisting his arm over. He fought Floyd Mayweather soon after his 23rd birthday when cooler heads thought it made sense to wait another year or two.

It’s fair not to applaud Canelo for taking on Golovkin, as the Mexican superstar seemingly waited until “GGG” was beginning to show signs of slippage. He went on to fight him three times, so you can’t call it a “duck.” But you can certainly call it a “stall.” Then again, the stall lasted all of one year, from the time Canelo-GGG first made sense to the time it happened.

The only fighter you can credibly accuse Alvarez of ducking to this point is Demetrius Andrade. And what did Andrade ever do to deserve not to be ducked? In his prime he was skilful, tricky, and completely failed to build himself into an attraction. It just never made business sense for Canelo to give him a shot.

Every great boxer eventually becomes a businessman-boxer. That’s how former HBO Sports President Seth Abraham described Sugar Ray Leonard for my 2011 oral history of Leonard’s fight vs. Marvin Hagler. Putting the “businessman” before the “boxer” is not something Mayweather invented — though you could say Floyd perfected it. And Canelo merits the not-necessarily-flattering description as well.

But do we sit around now talking about all the challenges Ray Leonard avoided? No. We marvel at a resume that included Hagler, Tommy Hearns twice, Roberto Duran three times, and Wilfred Benitez. Oscar De La Hoya got accused of cherry-picking at various points in his career. But now you’re much more likely to hear a writer or fan say “Oscar fought everybody” than to hear one whine about how Oscar shoulda fought Winky Wright.

It’s even becoming true of Mayweather. His entire career, we obsessed over who he wasn’t sharing the ring with. But look at his record now. With both Ricky Hatton and Diego Corrales announced as members of the latest International Boxing Hall of Fame class, that means of Mayweather’s 50 pro fights, seven were against fellow Hall of Famers, and it’ll be eight when Manny Pacquiao goes in, will hit nine when Canelo gets inducted, and can crack double digits if Genaro Hernandez eventually gets the votes.

As time passes, fight fans gradually lose sight of the one or two dangerous foes you could have squared off against but didn’t.

Hilariously, last March, Floyd Mayweather was already accusing Canelo of “ducking Benavidez,” at a time when Benavidez’s last three wins were against David Lemieux, Kyrone Davis, and Ronald Ellis:

This is the nature of the business, especially when you’re the biggest star in the game. There’s always somebody you can be accused of ducking. And maybe Canelo is ducking Benavidez. Maybe he sees his length, his power, his fearlessness, and his youth, and has decided, “I don’t want any part of that.”

And maybe he’ll announce soon that he’s fighting Charlo on May 4, and we’ll complain about it, and we’ll have every right to.

But Canelo Alvarez is entitled to make that decision, and to sell fewer pay-per-views and make less money than he would against Benavidez if that’s how it ends up shaking out. He’s earned that right. His legacy is locked in.

And his kids and grandkids will never have to work a day in their lives if they don’t want to — and when that red hair is all either gray or gone, they surely won’t be raking Abuelo Canelo over the coals asking why David Benavidez never got his shot.