All of a sudden, he's a generational talent.
It seems like only yesterday – or at least not too long ago – that Canelo Alvarez was a precocious phenom being touted by his promotional apparatus as a lock to be a superstar.
Now, a few months before he turns 32, he's exactly where the hype men promised he would be.
Days before a light heavyweight title try against WBA champ Dmitry Bivol in Las Vegas, the cinnamon-haired Mexican tops The Ring's pound-for-pound list, having lost just once in 60 fights since turning professional as a 15-year-old in 2005.
That loss, by decision to imminent Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013, has been followed by a 15-0-1 stretch in which Alvarez has regained championship status at 154 pounds, conquered three additional weight classes and established himself as an undisputed champion of pay-per-view revenue.
High expectations. Higher performance.
"Far more cosmic and multi-talented than I at first envisioned," ex-HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley said. "But his kind of intelligence shows up more and more over time. Counterpuncher by origin nature becomes indomitable attacker when he wants to be? Fewer than a dozen in history of boxing.
"A superstar with epic impact."
The Tuesday morning writing team examined Alvarez's resume to compile a list of the four-division champion's best fights, ranking then from No. 10 to No. 1 based on his performance and the significance of the bout.
10. Carlos Baldomir (KO 6)
Lest we forget, Carlos Baldomir had been a world-class operator.
He shocked Zab Judah to win the WBC welterweight strap at Madison Square Garden, pounded Arturo Gatti into mulch in Thunder's penultimate fight and went the distance with Mayweather.
And while he was four years past the Mayweather fight when he faced a 20-year-old Canelo in September 2010, it was seen as a worthwhile hurdle for a then-wannabe superstar to clear.
Clear it he did.
A textbook left hook sent the Argentine face-first to the canvas in Round 6, resulting in Baldomir's first stoppage loss since his seventh pro fight 16 years earlier.
Two fights later, Alvarez had a belt of his own.
9. Matthew Hatton (UD 12)
Now, let's not pretend anyone considered Matthew Hatton on the same level of his older brother, Ricky.
But he was still a serviceable foe at 154 pounds who had gone 8-0-1 in his nine previous fights and earned himself a shot at the WBC title that Manny Pacquiao had vacated.
In the opposite corner he saw Alvarez, still just 20 and six months past the aforementioned Baldomir wipeout, headlining a Boxing After Dark card on HBO from Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
A moral victory, perhaps, was that Hatton went the distance.
But that was about all he did. The Brit threw and landed fewer punches, hit the floor twice and lost every round while coming out on the short end of three 119-109 scorecard verdicts because Alvarez was docked a point for hitting on the break in Round 7.
Presto! The wunderkind was a champion.
8. Shane Mosley (UD 12)
At some point, you need a big name on the resume.
And though Shane Mosley was well beyond championship days at 135, 147 and 154 pounds by the time May 2012 arrived, he still carried significant cache in the boxing world after two defeats of Oscar De La Hoya and distance fights with both Mayweather and Pacquiao.
So it made sense for Alvarez to tangle with him for defense No. 4 of the title he had won against Hatton just 14 months earlier, on the undercard of Mayweather's fight against Miguel Cotto for his own 154-pound belt.
The then-40-year-old Mosley was more combative than he had been in his recent fights, but it wasn't enough to offset his foe's youth and power, as Alvarez won 11 of 12 rounds on two scorecards and 10 on a third.
"His defense was really good, and he was really fast," Mosley said afterward. "He can go a long ways."
How right he was.
7. James Kirkland (KO 3)
This one is worth its lofty position. Particularly if you haven't already seen the highlight.
Alvarez encountered heavy-punching junior middleweight James Kirkland in the third fight of his post-Mayweather reinvention tour. It was on an HBO show from Minute Maid Park in Houston and aired a week after the desultory Mayweather-Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas in May 2015.
Kirkland had been a fearsome force in the 154- and 160-pound ranks thanks to a menacing in-ring style and an equally menacing outside persona. He had won five straight since his lone career loss four years earlier but had also been on the shelf for a couple years, while Alvarez was emerging from a career-long 10 months off.
The two got to work right away and combined for more than 300 punches in three rounds, with Alvarez landing at a better-than-50 percent clip. The best land was the last one, though, a sweeping right hand that caught Kirkland flush and sent him crashing to his back at 2:19.
Not quite Hagler-Hearns, perhaps. But if you like your boxing violent, it was a fun watch.
6. Amir Khan (KO 6)
Speaking of highlights, this one was pretty good too.
Fast-forward one year, one weight class and about 1,500 miles to the west and Alvarez found himself in defense No. 1 of the WBC middleweight title he won from Cotto in the fight that followed his bout with Kirkland.
His opponent was former 140-pound claimant Amir Khan, who was daring to be great by jumping from his home at welterweight to challenge a foe against whom he possessed slight advantages in height (5'8 ½" to 5'8") and reach (71" to 70 ½") while conceding a huge disadvantage in power.
The fleet-footed Brit put his tools to good use through five rounds and led by a point on one scorecard, though it was rendered academic in the sixth with an overhand right that followed a feinted jab and connected on Khan's chin, instantly leaving him unconscious.
Referee Kenny Bayless didn't bother to count, instead stepping aside as medical personnel stormed the ring.
"I was getting in the ring with a big guy, unfortunately, and I didn't make it to the end," Khan said.
5. Austin Trout (UD 12)
Alvarez had beaten a collection of shopworn veterans and mid-tier champions across his first 42 fights, but he encountered his first significant challenge when he encountered Austin Trout in April 2013.
The pair met to unify the WBA and WBC shares of the 154-pound division atop a Showtime broadcast from the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Trout had beaten Alvarez's older brother, Rigoberto, to win his title two years earlier, and the younger sibling made that his primary motivation in a spirited 12-round scrap, during which the fighters only had to be broken apart by referee Laurence Cole one time.
Alvarez was less busy than his opponent, throwing more than 300 fewer punches, but he landed nearly the same number, and the ones that connected were far more powerful in nature. He decked Trout in the seventh round and wound up winning 10, seven and eight rounds on the three scorecards.
"I'll take the loss like a man," Trout said. "The better man won tonight. He was better than me. I have no excuses."
The bout was Alvarez's final audition before graduating to the pay-per-view big time, which meant a showdown with Mayweather five months later in Las Vegas. That fight was the second-biggest PPV seller in history at the time, generating 2.2 million buys.
4. Callum Smith (UD 12)
Jumping ahead again, we land on the fight that made Alvarez a legit four-division champion.
While it's true he had splattered Rocky Fielding two years and three fights earlier to win a second-tier WBA trinket, it wasn't until he encountered unbeaten Brit Callum Smith in December 2020 that the pursuit of a championship at 168 pounds became something worth noticing.
Smith was 27-0 with 19 KOs and had made two defenses of the top-tier WBA belt for which he and Alvarez met, in addition to the WBC's vacant title claim in the weight class as well. Not to mention that he stood seven inches taller and had a seven-plus-inch reach advantage.
Once the bell rang, though, none of it mattered.
Alvarez consistently applied pressure to the bigger man, walked through his punches and punished Smith with body shots while consistently landing sharper and harder blows. He never put down the bigger man but did have him in significant trouble a few times, particularly in the ninth round, when he landed 30 of 56 shots compared to just nine of 39 for Smith.
In the end, it was a 119-109 rout on two scorecards and 117-111 on the other for Alvarez, kicking off a quest for super middleweight supremacy that finished in November against Caleb Plant.
3. Miguel Cotto (UD 12)
And we're heading back into the time machine once again.
Back to November 2015, in fact, when Alvarez was just beginning his weight-class ladder climb.
He was six months removed from the highlight erasure of Kirkland and venturing into previously uncharted territory to meet Puerto Rican veteran Cotto, himself a four-division champion defending his middleweight belt for the second time after upsetting Sergio Martinez 17 months earlier in New York City.
The rejuvenated kingpin had won three straight by stoppages since losing consecutive fights to Mayweather and Trout in 2012, but he was 10 years older and smaller in stature than Alvarez.
Trained for the fight by Freddie Roach, Cotto attempted to outbox Alvarez using movement and hand speed, but Alvarez was once again more economical and landed more punches despite Cotto having thrown more.
He landed the more powerful blows too, and it was the damage inflicted by those shots that helped yield a unanimous decision in which he lost just six of 36 possible rounds on three scorecards.
"I will always respect him, and he's a great champion," Alvarez said. "But now it's my era."
2. Sergey Kovalev (KO 11)
This guy moves around a lot, doesn't he?
Just six months after defending his newly won collection of middleweight belts (spoiler alert, anyone?) against Daniel Jacobs in the spring of 2019, Alvarez was 15 pounds heavier in pursuit of the WBO light heavyweight bauble possessed by division stalwart Sergey Kovalev.
The powerful Russian had engaged in 16 title fights in the division over the previous six years, winning 13 of them and ending 10 of those wins by knockout. But he became a much more appealing target for Alvarez because all three of those title-fight losses had come in his past seven fights, including two by KOs.
The bigger man came into the matchup at the MGM Grand Garden Arena as the boxer, working behind a jab and concentrating on defense and eluding Alvarez's shots. The challenger, meanwhile, sought to wear down his foe with a prolonged body attack and a focus on heavy, decisive shots to the head.
The contrasting strategies made for tight scorecards heading into the final two rounds, with Kovalev down two points according to two judges and even in the eyes of the third.
But once again, Alvarez made it academic.
A left hook landed high on Kovalev's head and staggered him along the ropes, leaving him open for a right that landed flush on the chin and sent him to the floor in a heap, no count necessary, at 2:15 of the 11th.
"It was delayed a little bit, but overall it was successful," Alvarez said. "We knew it was coming.
"Inevitably it would come."
1. Gennady Golovkin (MD 12)
Before a star becomes a star, he's got to get over.
And more than any fight on his path to pound-for-pound supremacy, this was where Alvarez got over.
Nearly a year to the day after dueling middleweight boogeyman Gennady Golovkin to a split-decision draw, Alvarez returned to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, changed tactics to become more aggressive and landed the sharper and more effective punches on the way to a majority-decision victory.
Alvarez's variety and speed advantage kept Golovkin off balance, and his body work was effective in stemming his opponent's offense, leading to 115-113 (seven rounds to five) margins on two scorecards while the third scorecard was dead even at 114-114.
It was the first loss of Golovkin's 40-fight career and ended a stretch in which he had held one 160-pound title belt or another across 20 fights and eight years.
"I showed my victory with facts," Alvarez said. "He was the one who was backing up. I feel satisfied because I gave a great fight. It was a clear victory."
He's won seven fights and six title belts in the subsequent three years, but it wouldn't have been possible without finally vanquishing GGG.
"I am a great fighter," Alvarez said. "And I showed it tonight."
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBA light heavyweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
Dmitry Bivol (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Canelo Alvarez (Unranked WBA/Unranked IWBR)
Bivol (19-0, 11 KO): Fourth title defense; Tenth fight in the United States (9-0, 5 KO)
Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 KO): Twenty-first title fight (18-1-1); Second fight at 175 pounds (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: A lot of people whose opinions I respect have good things to say about Bivol and where he fits in the world. But they say more about Canelo. Not easy, but he wins. Alvarez by decision (95/5)
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Stevenson)
2022 picks record: 12-4 (75.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,221-396 (75.5 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