Brutal, brilliant Canelo Álvarez is a champion of fascinating contrasts | Donald McRae
Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez was so certain he would beat Caleb Plant and become the first undisputed world super-middleweight champion on Saturday night that he began the week wearing blue silk pyjamas as he stepped off his private jet when he landed in Las Vegas last Monday. The world’s best boxer then posted a photograph of himself in his fetching outfit and, on Twitter, he asked: “You ready Vegas?”
By Saturday night a significant corner of this gaudy old gambling town had whipped itself into a frenzy and, in the process, proved it was more than ready for a particularly raucous Mexican party.
Álvarez, as relaxed outside the ring all week as he was vicious between the ropes at the MGM Grand Arena, provided a fascinating study in contrast. He had spent most of Wednesday night playing poker with Eddie Hearn and Frank Smith, the head of boxing at Matchroom Sport, the Essex promotional company which had staged his previous fight, against Billy Joe Saunders, at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in May. Apart from setting a new record attendance for an indoor boxing promotion in America, with 73,126 fans crammed into that arena, the fight had such a savage ending that Saunders was taken to hospital in an ambulance. His orbital bone had been shattered by an uppercut from Álvarez.
A similar fate awaited the skilful and valiant Plant, who was knocked down heavily twice, and then counted out, before he was also taken to hospital in Las Vegas for a precautionary examination. In the 11th round a shuddering left hook from Álvarez made Plant buckle. He stumbled towards Álvarez who simply pushed him back so that he would have the space and leverage to land an uppercut almost as crushing as that which ruined Saunders. Plant was resilient enough to get up but he was hurt even more badly as Álvarez closed the show. It was the distressingly violent ending the Mexican had promised all week because the buildup between him and Plant had become embittered and personal.
“Caleb is a good fighter,” Álvarez said in the ring afterwards. “I have a lot of respect for Caleb Plant. He was a difficult opponent with a lot of ability and I told him there’s no shame. We had a great fight tonight. He was making the fight pretty difficult, but Eddy Reynoso [his trainer] told me to just stick to the gameplan in the last two rounds. In the end, I got him. That’s the way it had to finish. He was already hurt and I went for the kill.”
Yet the new undisputed champion spent a sizeable chunk of his post-fight press conference praising Plant’s performance and explaining why they had spent so long embracing and talking softly to each other in the centre of the ring after the bout. “I told him he was a great man and also that some day I hope he will have a great family as well. In the fight we have to hurt each other but at the end we’re all human and we want the best for each other.”
There are shifting themes of brutality and vulnerability here – which are different to the sheer certainty of Álvarez before and during his every fight. Before he met Plant in the ring he had ordered two flamboyant jackets for him and Reynoso. Apart from the extravagant design and kitsch patterns, the jackets were most eye-catching because of the message stitched on their backs: Undisputed Super-Middleweight Champion 2021. They spoke of the conviction that Álvarez carries into the ring with him every time.
After winning four world title bouts in the space of the last 11 months, Álvarez said that his body needs a break from the rigours of training and fighting with such intensity. He will only return to the ring next May and, while he stressed that he has yet to decide whether he will defend his super-middleweight titles or move up to the light-heavyweight division, the most compelling fight for Álvarez is obvious.
Artur Beterbiev, the IBF and WBC light-heavyweight champion from Russia, is routinely described as a beast. But it is hard to believe that even Beterbiev could beat Álvarez who has already traded in such heavier terrain. Two years ago, in September 2019, Álvarez won the WBO light-heavyweight title when he beat Sergey Kovalev – another feared but now faded Russian who operates under the alias of Krusher. Álvarez was tested but he ended up stopping Kovalev before deciding to return to the super-middleweight bracket.
“I love challenges and whatever comes my way I’ll be ready for it,” he stressed late on Saturday night. “I’m looking for the best fights but it’s always important to defend your titles. But I really don’t have a timescale for sitting down with my team and thinking about it. Right now I’m just enjoying the moment. It was a truly historic night and I’m so proud to be part of it. At the moment I just want to enjoy this victory because it is really meaningful. We will then have time to think about the future.”
It is part of the contradiction at the heart of Álvarez that, after the destructive way in which he ended the courageous challenge of Plant, he now will spend time pondering his next set of designer pyjamas. The harsh reality of the ring means that it cannot last forever but, at least for now, no one else in boxing is quite as relaxed, authoritative and distinctive as Saúl ‘Canelo’ Álvarez.