Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Alvarez Sets The Stage For Rematch With Bivol

The story of Saul "Canelo" Alvarez' defense of his Undisputed Super-Middleweight championship of the world against WBO number one mandatory challenger John Ryder was not about a fight between two of the best the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division has to offer, but about an event. An event of an undisputed world champion coming home to defend his crown before over 50,000 spectators in his hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico at Akron Stadium.

In terms of the actual fight, despite being heavily favored due largely to his status as one of the superstars in the sport of Boxing, the last year was not entirely kind to Saul Alvarez. It was at this time last year when Alvarez had moved up in weight to challenge undefeated WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion Dmitry Bivol. As most know, in a fight that went the distance, Alvarez was thoroughly out boxed and out worked by a master boxer in Bivol. Although losing one fight should not define a fighter's career, the twelve round unanimous decision loss to Bivol did knock some of the perceived luster off Alvarez in the sport's mythical pound for pound debates as being regarded as the best fighter in the world.

While this observer normally tries to avoid such debates because by it's very mature, the term "Pound For Pound" is subjective, open to interpretation, and seemingly changes month to month depending on who one asks, there is no doubt that when he met Bivol on one night in May 2022, Saul Alvarez did not emerge as the better fighter. The setback against Bivol was followed by a tougher than expected defense of his Super-Middleweight crown against longtime rival Gennady Golovkin in the third and one can assume final meeting between the two future Hall of Famers in September of last year. 

Despite retaining his title via twelve round unanimous decision in that fight, Golovkin who's best days as a fighter, may well be behind him, was able to make the fight close over the second half of the bout and there may be an argument that had he fought all twelve rounds as aggressively as he did over the final six rounds, he may have pulled out a win over Alvarez. Alvarez was also dealing with an injured left hand going into that fight, so there was also the question of how he would perform following surgery after his second win over Golovkin that surrounded this fight against John Ryder.

In previewing this bout, this observer stated that the obvious approach for the challenger would be to establish the tempo of the combat from the outset and make it difficult for Alvarez to get into a rhythm. Despite the fight being fought in a small ring that was said to be eighteen feet, Ryder instead seemed content to box with Alvarez in the pocket. While the eighteen foot ring on the surface seemed tailor made for Alvarez, it would have also benefited a fighter like Ryder, who is typically a straight forward pressure fighter.

Although there were moments where Ryder was able to get Alvarez against the ropes throughout this fight, the challenger's approach was not one that suited him well as the fight progressed. A jab in round three appeared to break Ryder's nose as he began to bleed severely from both the nose and the mouth. Alvarez was able to follow thet by dropping Ryder with a perfectly timed one, two combination to the head in round five.

At this point in the fight, I frankly thought that it would be only a matter of time before it would be stopped. My thought process being not so much that Alvarez was dominating the bout to such a degree that Ryder was in danger, but more so due to what appeared to be Ryder dealing with a broken nose and subsequently looking as though he was having trouble breathing. Despite this and my natural instincts having seen and covered thousands of fights on every level of the sport in having what some might call a gut feeling as to when a fight is likely to be stopped due to an injury like this, Ryder as he has done for his entire career, remained determined, very "Game," and did what he could to remain in the fight with the champion.

It was likely such grit and determination that gave Ryder the benefit of doubt as the fight moved into the middle and late rounds, despite the circumstances he was facing. Perhaps one criticism that some might point to in regard to Alvarez as the fight progressed was even though he appeared to have an opportunity to get a stoppage at some points due to Ryder's condition, he did not force the issue too much to try and end the fight early.

While no one can take anything away from the heart John Ryder showed in this fight, which should endear him to Boxing fans as it was a display of courage that some fighters under similar circumstances might have chosen to bow out gracefully once the injury occured, and keeping in mind that this was the first fight for Alvarez coming off of a surgery, perhaps a reason why Alvarez did not try to force the issue here could be that he was showing respect to Ryder. In that, despite being in control of the fight, Alvarez in a gesture of sportsmanship allowed Ryder the chance to go as long as he could rather than trying to get him out of there quickly.

It is also worth reminding the reader and any potential critics that this was Alvarez' first fight in his native Mexico, and to be more specific, his hometown in over a decade. So in addition to likely developing respect for his opponent due to his valiant effort, the possibilty of Alvarez looking to extend the fight to allow himself and the fans in Akron Stadium to enjoy the moment, also exists. While this by no means is a suggestion on the part of yours truly that Alvarez did not put in a solid performance, did not do what he needed to do in order to retain his championship or for lack of a better term, carried his opponent to the final bell of the scheduled twelve round world championship bout, it is something to keep in mind because there will likely be those who will view this as a sign of decline in Alvarez simply because he did not press the issue to get a stoppage.

In some ways, it reminded me of the November 2010 bout between future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao and controversial former Welterweight champion Antonio Margarito. The fight, which took place in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX for a vacant Jr. Middleweight world championship saw Pacquiao batter Margarito for the majority of the twelve round bout. The effects of the punishment dished out by Pacquiao ultimately resulted in Margarito suffering a broken right eye socket as his face became grotesquely swollen as the fight progressed. Although I felt that fight should have been stopped by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation who oversaw and sanctioned the bout as it was clear that Margarito could not see out of his right eye, a point of view that I made clear in my coverage of that fight, now almost thirteen years ago at the time of this column's publication, Margarito deserved credit for the heart he showed that night and, despite his career being controversial and tainted due to a suspension for attempting to put plaster of paris on his hand wraps prior to his fight with Shane Mosley in 2009, which he served a suspension for by the California State Athletic Commission and because of that, his career accomplishments prior to that have to be questioned, in some way, his performance and bravery did earn him some of the respect he lost due to the controversy prior to his bout with Mosley.

In a similar way as Saul Alvarez would approach the remainder of his fight with John Ryder, Manny Pacquiao, a fighter known for a relentless swarming offensive style, particularly in his prime, did not press the issue and chose to out box Margarito to the final bell in seeming to give Margarito the chance to go for as long as he could or for as long as the officials who were overseeing the bout would allow him to. As Margarito was able to do that night in November 2010 in losing to Pacquiao, John Ryder would go the distance in this fight with Saul Alvarez.

The outcome of this fight ultimately would be academic as Alvarez would win a wide and convincing twelve round unanimous decision to retain his Undisputed Super-Middleweight chamipnship of the world. John Ryder however, was able to perform well down the stretch and should remain in the mix at 168lbs. once he has had the opportunity to heal from his injury.

As for the champion, this fight took care of one mandatory defense obligation amongst the four world championships that Alvarez holds that comprise the Undisputed Super-Middleweight chamipnship of the world. While there are three other challengers representing the WBC, WBA, and IBF that Alvarez is going to have to face in a reasonable time to keep the championship fully unified, he insisted after the successful defense over John Ryder that he wants to move back up to the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division to seek a rematch with Dmitry Bivol in September.

If that fight does indeed take place, regardless of the outcome, Alvarez will likely have to make a decision regarding the undisputed championship he holds in the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division by the end of this year. Logically, if Alvarez were to lose to Bivol a second time, there are two realistic options for him. 

One would be to commit to the aforementioned sanctioning organizations that are waiting for their mandatories to be fulfilled for the current cycle, to fulfill those obligations throughout 2024 and possibly 2025 assuming he retains the championship in those bouts, or he might want to consider retirement. In his last two fights since his loss to Bivol, Alvarez has gotten the job done convincingly. Styles however, do make fights and based on what this observer saw and covered when he faced Bivol one year ago, Bivol might just be a fighter with a style that Alvarez will always have trouble with and may well be unable to solve Bivol's puzzle. Although Alvarez successfully moved up and won a world championship in the Light-Heavyweight division before relinquishing it to return to Super-Middleweight, he may be at the point where there is nothing left to prove at Super-Middleweight as he is atop the whole division and if he is unsuccessful against Bivol, it may be an indication as most fighters who move through multiple weight classes eventually find out, that they've hit a ceiling and for Alvarez, that puts him in situation where there could be nothing left for him to accomplish as a fighter, which is why retirement might be the only other option if he is unable to avenge his loss to Bivol.

For now, Alvarez has done his part to set up a potential rematch. The question is whether Bivol will want the rematch having dominated Alvarez before, the scenario is slightly different this time. Alvarez is still one of the biggest stars in the sport, but an argument could be made that after what happened last year, it is Alvarez who needs a fight with Bivol more than the WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion needs him.

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

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