Every generation of boxing fans has its one big star, its fighter whose events are signpost moments in their lives, the way Super Bowls are for football fans. You remember where you were when The Big Game is happening if you’re an NFL fan, or even a fan of gluttony and parties, and likewise, if you like fighting, you remember the nights you spent watching the mega fights.
For past generations, the providers of those moments have been names like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather. As I was walking my dog last week my neighbor stopped me to tell me, in vivid detail, about the night he watched Ali face Oscar Bonavena, for example. I remember exactly where I was during Tyson-Holyfield II, my entire family in attendance watching in the Southern Ontario countryside. During my college-aged years, Mayweather fight nights represented the biggest parties of the year, and admittedly some of those nights are a little hazier.
For this generation of both fans and fighters, Canelo Alvarez is that person. Historically, Alvarez has been slotted on Mexican Independence Day weekend, but this year, he’ll fight this coming weekend on September 30 against Jermell Charlo in a Showtime pay-per-view from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. This meant that the usual celebratory weekend was handed to some less-famous Mexican fighters, Angel Fierro, Brayan Zamarripa and William Zepeda. Inevitably, all of the fighters were asked about their memories of fights on Mexican Independence Day, and without fail and without prompt, all brought up memories of getting together with their families to watch Canelo fight.
“We usually would be getting together to watch Canelo, and eat a lot of carne asada,” joked Zamarripa. Kevin Crespo, who fought on his undercard in Tijuana, added “me and my family are used to watching Canelo this weekend, but now they get to watch me.”
That current, active fighters who are headlining on major networks can recant stories of watching Canelo with their families when they were younger speaks to his longevity. Alvarez is only 33 years of age, but he has effectively been the focal point of boxing’s biggest weekend annually since 2010 when he flattened a faded Carlos Baldomir in a highlight that appears in Canelo promotional videos to this day. If you’re in your early twenties today, you watched that knockout as a child.
For many years, Canelo was the sole proprietor of boxing’s biggest fight of the year, save for some gimmicky fights that appeared on the calendar here and there. The pageantry, the scale of the production, the expensive media tours, the Emmy-caliber preview shows, the packed city blocks simply to see the weigh-in, the Mariachi bands filling the air, the bootleg merchandise vendors lining the Las Vegas blocks. Big fights make the sport and its fans feel seen by the mainstream audience, a confirmation that this thing we watch every Saturday is indeed important. It’s a communal gathering of the entire fanbase, the one fight on the calendar we’re all tuning into without having to choose between competing networks.
Canelo-Charlo will give us that feeling this coming weekend, but in 2023, Canelo has company in terms of being able to provide that. He remains boxing’s biggest star, but the mere fact that the face of boxing has been debated is proof that there are fighters who either have, or are ready to take the responsibility from him. Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia produced a million pay-per-view night that felt every bit as big as any fight before it. Terence Crawford and Errol Spence did too.
Perhaps it’s wisdom with age, perhaps it’s a humbling of sorts after a 2022 loss to Dmitriy Bivol that put boxing’s top pound-for-pound in widespread debate for the first time in a little while, or maybe a combination of both, but the 33-year old Canelo is willing to concede that there are others to challenge him in both skill and drawing power, something he may not have done three years ago.
“I always believe that I’m number one. My whole career. Because you need to believe in yourself. I still believe I’m number one. But I believe there is more than just one fighter alone at the top, there are a few,” said Alvarez at a recent media workout at his new camp headquarters at Lake Tahoe.
As he’s done for the bulk of his career, Alvarez has chosen both a stern and intriguing test in Charlo for his next opponent, a historic battle between two undisputed champions. Charlo, the 154-pound king, will move all the way up to 168, a move and subsequent fight announcement that shocked the boxing public.
“I think Jermell Charlo is the perfect fight right now. He’s been calling me out for a long time and I never forget. He’s said a lot of things. He never believed in my skills, but he’s gonna find out soon. Him and his brother didn’t believe in my skills and that motivates me for this fight,” said Alvarez.
Canelo is understandably a substantial betting favorite, settling around 4-1 at many sportsbooks. It’s the first fight in a lucrative three-bout deal with Premier Boxing Champions that effectively ensures we’ll get at least two more of these big nights even after this one. Though he won’t say as much, Alvarez is if not in, then quickly approaching the autumn of his career. His portfolio is diverse, his golf hobby is intensifying, in general, he could be closer to retirement than he is to the peak of his powers.
Which makes it all the more important to appreciate Canelo while he’s not just still here, but still on top. Canelo is not yet a legacy act plucking opponents for one-off bouts, the way a post-peak Roy Jones Jr. was. He’s an undisputed champion, producing fights that are not just widely viewed, but consequential. Too often in boxing we spend time in the lead-up to fights trying to measure the amount of buzz in the air, debating the magnitude of the event, and in doing so forget to appreciate what we’re experiencing.
When we look back at these nights, we won’t talk about pay-per-view performances in relation to their projections, or any of the other minutiae we fixate on when fights are big enough to become economic events of import. We’ll remember the moments, how we felt, where we were, what we ate, what we drank, who we were with.
Only a special few each generation can give us those moments.