Updated May 8, 2022 - 2:32 pm
The kingdom encompassed the 160- and 168-pound divisions. That much Canelo Alvarez made clear during his reign as boxing’s pound-for-pound ruler.
But he strayed beyond its limits Saturday night. Into one defined now by its deep, dangerous waters and controlled by an equally ambitious champion.
And, as a result, he must cede the throne.
At least for the time being.
Alvarez finally met his match in Dmitry Bivol, a 31-year-old Russian light heavyweight who proved at T-Mobile Arena that pound-for-pound greatness has its limits. He was bigger, stronger, faster and sharper than the 31-year-old Mexican icon, stripping him of his mythical pound-for-pound crown and protecting his WBA championship with a unanimous — and generous — 115-113 decision.
“I’m not giving any excuses,” Alvarez said after his first loss since 2013, his eyes and brow hidden behind dark sunglasses. “I did feel that I won the fight. I think perhaps I lost four or five rounds, but I definitely didn’t lose the fight. Maybe the weight was a slight issue and made me feel not 100 percent.”
Or maybe, just maybe, Bivol was better.
Maybe ambition has its price.
Don’t be fooled by the scorecards — or what Alvarez (57-2-2, 39 knockouts) said afterward. The fight wasn’t remotely close, and he, too, will realize that once he watches it. Bivol, the natural 175-pounder, landed 152 punches to Alvarez’s 84, using a sharp, snapping jab to set the tempo and temper his aggression.
Bivol (20-0 11 KOs) built a 106-74 edge in power punches, too, per CompuBox — making the undisputed super middleweight champion seem like he didn’t belong in Bivol’s division.
Or his boxing ring.
“I believed in myself,” said Bivol, reiterating the very message he relayed throughout the promotion. “I believed I could win. I knew that he has hard punches that will beat on my body and my arms. … I expected that. And he did it.”
What Alvarez didn’t do was connect with anything of consequence.
For whenever he mounted an attack, Bivol would pirouette to safety and quickly return fire. He didn’t have to shield his face afterward or wear sunglasses to camouflage any egregious bumps or bruises. Because he didn’t sustain any during his master class, allowing him to wear a smile instead
“My dream is to be the undisputed champion. And I got this opportunity to fight the best guy,” Bivol said. “He’s a really great champion. I respect him. He gave me a lot today.”
For that reason, Alvarez indicated he’s not ashamed by his performance. He said he gave his best and perhaps, he says, he would have been more aggressive had he known he would lose a decision. But this loss doesn’t diminish his historical greatness or undermine the ambition required to challenge an unbeaten champion in a bigger weight class.
It simply tempers the expectations — and rejiggers the pound-for-pound list, moving Terence Crawford to its top.
Forget about heavyweight or cruiserweight. There’s no need right now for Alvarez to remain at light heavyweight, a division in which his only victory was in 2019 against a fading Sergey Kovalev.
A rematch with Bivol might appeal to the four-weight world champion. But he admitted he’s at his best at 168 pounds, and he should return to super middleweight in the short term. A third fight against Gennady Golovkin was contractually agreed upon if Alvarez had beaten Bivol, and there’s seemingly no reason the particulars can’t be adjusted to accommodate it anyway.
The trilogy still has plenty of merit, and David Benavidez and Jermall Charlo also loom at 168.
Alvarez’ promoter, however, said a rematch with Bivol becomes the biggest prospective fight in boxing.
“It’s like Canelo wants to handicap himself to fight these big, great champions — to test himself,” Matchroom Boxing chairman Eddie Hearn said. “Tonight, he was maybe a bridge too far against a great light heavyweight champion.”
Heavy is the head that once wore the pound-for-pound crown.
Sam Gordon’s pound-for-pound rankings
1. Terence Crawford
2. Oleksandr Usyk
3. Canelo Alvarez
4. Errol Spence Jr.
5. Naoya Inoue
6. Tyson Fury
7. Dmitry Bivol
8. Vasiliy Lomachenko
9. Shakur Stevenson
10. Roman Gonzalez