Canelo vs. The Fans
By Richard E. Baker on March 24, 2021
Fans can be fickle—love a fighter one minute, hate him the next. (Photo: Richard E. Baker)
Saul Alvarez’s biggest fight might be with his fans. He constantly makes excuses not to fight former two-time champion David Benavidez. Does he believe the excuses? Not according to many boxing fans, especially Mexican boxing fans. Once his staunchest supporters they are becoming his worst critics. Many of them feel he is afraid to fight the tough and undefeated Benavidez. They are not afraid to show their displeasure.
Fans can be fickle—love a fighter one minute, hate him the next. Ask Roberto Duran. Roberto Duran was one of the most loved Latino (Panama) fighters in the world, especially after defeating Sugar Ray Leonard in their first match. He arrived home to cheering crowds and adulation. In the famous “No Mas” second fight, when he quit, he was belittled and shunned by people who worshiped him just months before. Only derision met him on his return as crowds lined the streets to offer their disgust. One fight of a few minutes made all the difference between love and hate. He had to fight on to again earn their trust.
Alvarez claims he will not fight Benavidez because he is not a champion and therefore not worthy of a fight. This is a bit silly. Many of the best fighters are not champions and many champions are little more than contenders. Benavidez not being a champion may be a convenient excuse to avoid a fight. There was a time in a big fight when only one boxer in the ring was a champion. Boxers then held great fights and they were not afraid to fight often. Think of Robinson vs. Jake LaMotta, Robinson vs. Gene Fullmer, or Tony Zale vs. Rocky Graziano and Al Hostak. If Canelo is only going to fight champions he is left with people like Carlos Gongora, Fedor Chudinov, and Aidos Yerbossynuly—not exactly the cream of the crop. The idea is for the best to fight the best.
Some fans think differently about the two men fighting. “I don't think Benavidez has done enough to warrant a shot at Canelo,” said boxer Roger Cantrell. “I think a win over Plant, or the bigger one of the Charlo ‘sisters,’ or to even beat one of those Russian boys at 175. Benavidez needs Canelo, Canelo doesn't need Benavidez.”
Cantrell may have a point. Benavidez simply does not fight often enough and has not become a household name except with true fans. He is so little known that even in Mexico few fans recognize him. He fights less than almost any other name boxer: once this year against Ellis, one fight in 2020 against Angulo, two fights in 2019 against Dirrell and J’Leon Love, and one fight in 2018 against Ronald Gavril. He should be fighting at least 3 or 4 fights every year. Why his manager does not fight him more is a mystery. Being one of the best boxers at the moment does no good if no one knows who you are.
Benavidez says he will accept any fight arranged for him and do whatever it takes for him to get another shot at a title. The lack of action is not by his doing. He is ready and willing.
Alvarez, one of the finest boxers of the modern era, certainly does not need to be so derided. He has fought the best of the best including Kovalev, Golovkin, Cotto, Trout, Mosley, Mayweather Jr., and Cintron. His last fight with Avni Vildirim was a joke. Valdirim, the number 1 WBC contender, could have been beaten by Pee Wee Herman. Not every fight needs to be a war; they also do not need to be jokes.
Alvarez’s next fight, May 8th, against Billy Joe Saunders, will be somewhat competitive although the outcome is not in doubt. That will already make two fights this year for Alvarez. Benavidez should take notice. You can’t just be good; you must be noticed.