It’s a big week for the super middleweight division.
The biggest fight of the upcoming weekend puts the 168-pounders on the marquee, with the top contenders – according to the WBC – squaring off at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Canelo Alvarez is the WBC’s champion in the division, so the 12-rounder matching David Benavidez and Caleb Plant essentially serves as an eliminator for the next high-profile shot at weight class supremacy after the pound-for-pound stalwart returns from an eight-month absence to face John Ryder. The fight headlines a Showtime Pay-Per-View card.
It’s perceived by many as a competitive jump ball between the 26-0 slugger (88.5 percent KO rate) from Phoenix and the 22-1 stylist – who’s already had one failed bite at the Canelo apple – from Nashville.
That’s not the view of the line-makers at DraftKings, however. They’ve established Benavidez as a minus-330 pick on the moneyline, which means it’ll take a $330 investment on the 26-year-old to return a $100 profit, while a $100 outlay on Plant could bring back a $240 windfall.
To Randy Gordon, the odds gap is not unexpected.
“I am not surprised,” the SiriusXM host and former Ring editor told BoxingScene.com. “I can’t find anybody picking Plant. I think he will give DB a good fight, but DB will emerge the victor.”
Canelo’s pristine record at super middleweight – he’s 7-0 with 4 KOs between 160 and 168 pounds – suggests it may be his most effective weight class in a career that’s seen him fight everywhere from super lightweight to light heavyweight while capturing world titles everywhere from 154 to 175.
And it already puts him on a short list of the division’s all-time best.
Though Hall of Famers like Thomas Hearns, Roy Jones Jr., Ray Leonard, and James Toney bided time and held belts at super middleweight, each spent the bulk of his Canastota-worthy career elsewhere.
That means the Mount Rushmore in the weight class more likely includes the Hall of Fame faces of Joe Calzaghe, Andre Ward, and Carl Froch alongside “Dark Destroyer” Nigel Benn.
Calzaghe and Ward were a combined 53-0 between 160 and 168 and held each of the available belts, putting them ahead of both two-time champion Froch – against whom Ward won a unanimous decision in 2011 – and Benn, who won his first nine title fights at the weight from 1992 to 1995 before losing his last three in 1996.
It makes for a natural pondering of how Alvarez would fare with them.
His all-around prowess would make him a clear favorite in what’d certainly be fan-friendly matchups with Froch and/or Benn, but the prospect of him getting W’s against Calzaghe or Ward – who finished their careers with successful climbs to 175 and retired with 78 wins and no losses – is less certain.
In fact, no less an authority than Jim Lampley, who called several of Calzaghe’s and Ward’s fights during his days as HBO’s blow-by-blow voice, couldn’t make a definitive call in either direction without his frequent tiebreaker – a face-to-face chat during fighter meetings with the broadcast team.
“Ward was naturally bigger and more ambidextrous and technically pure,” Lampley told BoxingScene.com. “Hard to choose anyone over Ward. Calzaghe quicker but less powerful. Retired unbeaten.
“For extremely close matchups I always disciplined myself to avoid hazarding a pick prior to sitting down with the fighters, reading their faces and hearing how they present their thoughts. These are exactly the kind of matchups for which I would need that to pick.”
Ward would have a four-inch height advantage and a slight edge in reach over Alvarez, while Canelo would face a three-inch gap in height against Calzaghe – whose reach was 73 inches to his 70 1/2.
Ward and Alvarez did have a common opponent at light heavyweight in Sergey Kovalev, whom Ward beat by decision and stopped with a flurry of body shots in two fights across 2016 and 2017 and Canelo erased with a brutal 11th-round KO after 10 competitive rounds in 2019.
Calzaghe shares Mikkel Kessler and Sakio Bika as foes with Ward, but the Welshman – who’ll turn 51 on Thursday – retired in November 2008 when Alvarez was still fighting full time at welterweight, so there’s no means of direct comparison against similar in-ring competition.
But unlike Lampley, Gordon said he’s seen just enough to venture a guess.
“Canelo’s pressure and body punching might be a bit too much for Calzaghe, and Canelo would take a decision,” he said. “The size, strength, hand speed and power of Ward would be a bit too much for Canelo. It would be a real good big man a real good little man. Decision for Ward.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO junior heavyweight title – Manchester, United Kingdom
Lawrence Okolie (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. David Light (No. 1 WBO/No. 20 IWBR)
Okolie (18-0, 14 KO): Third title defense; First fight in Manchester since pro debut (1-0, 1 KO)
Light (20-0, 12 KO): First title fight; Fifth fight outside of Australia (4-0, 3 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Okolie may not turn out to be the star his promoters hope he’ll be but he’s a significant step beyond anything Light has faced in 20 fights and seems too big a jump. Okolie in 9 (95/5)
Last week's picks: None
2023 picks record: 6-2 (75.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,256-410 (75.4 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.
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