Add another title to Canel Alvarez’s growing list.
Alvarez picked up another piece of the middleweight belt by directing Callum Smith on Dec. 19 to win the WBA, WBC and The Ring titles in the 168-pound division. Alvarez has already established himself as the best boxing cow in cash. It can now be argued that he is the best boxer in both the middle and super middleweight categories. But is he the best boxer in the world?
ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings have Terence “Bud” Crawford in first place and Alvarez in second place, but several other outlets have a Mexican four-division champion as the boxing king. Each fighter scored a victory in the final months of 2020 to step up his case as the best in the sport.
ESPN analysts Cameron Wolfe and Ben Baby take opposite angles to determine who is really the best in the world: Crawford or Alvarez.
Wolfe: Here is one result for Crawford. The list of kilograms for kilograms for me is an eye test and achievements. None of Floyd Mayweather Jr. has constantly dominated, from the lightweight to the junior welterweight category to the welterweight category, like Crawford. He was the line champion in the lightweight category, the undisputed champion in the junior lightweight category, and now he is a ghost in the welterweight category.
Alvarez is one of the best fighters in this generation, but in his three biggest fights (Mayweather, Gennadiy Golovkin twice) he has a defeat, a draw (which many considered a loss) and a victory. Crawford is separated by the fact that no one beat him even close. His speed, defense, intelligence, ability to adapt, strength – he regularly makes opponents like no other.
It’s been almost five years since someone left with Crawford. Alvarez is the greatest man of boxing, but Crawford is the king of boxing. But Ben, I know it itches you here to make your argument. Why am I wrong?
Baby: For me, it’s not really a big debate. When you look at Alvarez’s history over the last 10 years, Canel’s level of opposition is truly astounding. Starting in 2011, when Alvarez won his first major light heavyweight title, he took on some of the sport’s main names and sent them off with relative ease. The only exception is Mayweather, who fought wisely with Canel at the start of his career and in a catch that was a few pounds lighter than Alvarez’s usual range at the time.
Shane Mosley. Miguel Cotto. Erislandy Lara. Golovkin. It’s just a sampling of names on the Cinnamon Belt.
On top of that, Canelo became more impressive as he moved through his career. He can go from masterful defense and punching to violent attack, even against someone who has created matching problems like Callum Smith.
For me, that’s the biggest factor of separation between Alvarez and Crawford. Whether Crawford was guilty or not, he simply failed to secure opponents of the same caliber.
Wolfe: Look, I can’t argue with you here that Alvarez has a better opponent summary than Crawford, but I’m not going to knock Crawford out for the evil of boxing.
Crawford is the cruelest and perhaps the scariest fighter in boxing. Why is the best fighter in the division punished because the others in the division will not fight against him, using the argument “other side of the street” as an excuse? How do we know that these alleged elite PBC fighters would not face the same fate in the ring as everyone else fighting the Buddha?
I’d rather look at what Bud did than emphasize who he didn’t face. I will credit Canel for the evolution as a boxer, but it still remains in my mind how Mayweather looked normal in 12 rounds. You can argue that he did not win either of his two meetings with Golovkin. I also have problems with Canel who did not fail multiple drug tests for “dirty meat”. There are too many questions about Canel to be able to raise him above Crawford, who is perhaps the cleanest and meanest man in boxing.
Baby: Failures in drug testing should not be overlooked. It will always be part of Canel’s legacy, no matter how he feels about it. But I think Alvarez should get credit for not having any problems other than the situation after the first fight against Golovkin. And like I said, the combination of his talented players and the guys he beat is unmatched in this sport.
That being said, I know it’s not enough for you. So since Alvarez isn’t your pound-for-pound type, who does Canelo need to beat to move him to the top of your ladder?
Wolfe: That’s a good question. The gap between Crawford and Alvarez, between no. 1 and no. 2, is closer to me than between Alvarez and Naoya Inoue at no. 2 and 3. Assuming Crawford doesn’t get a second opponent in the championship, a convincing win for Alvarez over Golovkin or WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo would be enough for me to move him to 1st place.
What fights for Crawford would be enough for you to raise him to first place?
Baby: I know boxing has its own policy, but if Crawford “crosses the street” and is willing to take some opponents under the umbrella of Premier Boxing Champions, it will really increase his supply. After the Errol Spence-Danny Garcia duel, Shawn Porter openly confronted Crawford.
Crawford has the potential to be the pound-for-pound boxing king. And while those outside forces in boxing exist, Crawford must also do everything in his power to make sure he seeks a fight with all the top guys, not just the most profitable guys. He would then get to the point where Canelo is, where he can choose his opposition and force more than anyone else to do so.
Alvarez is 30 years old. Crawford is 33 years old and still buzzing. And if they continue to follow the current trajectory, the discussion about the two of them will continue in the coming years.