When the statue honoring Saul Alvarez was unveiled in his native Juanacatlán, Jalisco, it was the perfect ending to a decidedly off year for the Mexican star. Looking down on Canelo was a bigger-than-life version of himself, featuring a distinctly derpy, extra chromosome-looking expression on its bronze face.
Entering 2022, Alvarez was coming off a mega-impressive 11-month run where he went 4-0, decisively beat three of the top 5 super middleweights in the world, and unified all four 168 lb. titles. He was not only on top of pound-for-pound rankings, he was on top of the world.
There was even talk of him moving up to cruiserweight to find bigger and better challenges…because he was THAT good. Already a 4-division world champ, the red-headed world beater was just entering his physical prime. With an image revamped and revitalized after the 2018 scandal caused by his positive test for the banned substance clenbuterol, Canelo was back in everyone’s good graces. The sky was the limit. More and more greatness would be to come.
In May, Alvarez’s second dalliance in the light heavyweight division saw him roadblocked by a sharp, focused, and utterly unflappable WBA champ Dmitry Bivol. The Russian beat Alvarez pretty soundly. So soundly, as a matter of fact, that the fiercely proud superstar seemed uncharacteristically resigned to defeat by the championship rounds.
Bivol– a big, tall fighter who fought like a big, tall fighter and made no exploitable mistakes along the way– proved to be a bridge too far for Alvarez. The defeat was comprehensive and total, even with three ridiculously close 115-113 judges’ scorecards mucking up reality. The rematch clause structured into the contract would not be activated by Alvarez, despite his post-fight vow to avenge the loss.
A soured Canelo would move on to a bout with Gennadiy Golovkin in September, a third in their bitter rivalry. It would be a chance to bring brutally indisputable closure to a ring relationship that saw a controversial draw result in 2017 and a close Alvarez points win in 2018. With Alvarez at the top of his game and Golovkin perceived as downward-bound at 40 years of age, most everyone was expecting the Mexican to shine and deliver a conclusive beat down to the Kazakh puncher. Instead, Alvarez fought cautiously and tepidly en route to close unanimous decision.
Even with the post-fight revelation that he’d need surgery on his left wrist, the performance left fans, haters, critics, and apologists with a bad taste.
Given past efforts, the impression was that Alvarez had not fought all that hard against either Bivol or Golovkin. The proud warrior of 2021, who pushed his way through adversity and broke down his opposition with a mix of high-end technique and warrior’s will had become, just, regular…albeit “regular” at the highest levels of the sport.
Although the stylistic matchups of 2022 played a big part in the letdown of 2022, it’s undeniable that Canelo’s star is shining significantly less brightly leading into the new year.
A proposed John Ryder bout in May of 2023 won’t bring back that shine. Neither will the statue in Jalisco. His implied Twitter threat to beat up Argentina’s soccer king Lionel Messi for supposedly disrespecting the Mexican flag certainly didn’t help him shine.
Maybe Alvarez is just a victim of his own success, of “he climbed too high and everything else is a letdown.” Maybe he’s on a down cycle of a career that has already seen several ebbs and flows of respectability vs. dismissal. Fight fans and media, after all, can be fickle like that.
Whatever the case, at 32, there should still be a lot of career left in Canelo and his box office appeal is still huge. Challenges in the form of David Benavidez, Jermall Charlo, and David Morrell Jr. await. A second go at Bivol, if successful, could also erase much of the badness of 2022.
Right now, however, none of that looks to be in the immediate future. Alvarez will follow a weak 2022 with left wrist rehab, John Ryder, and a derpy statue.
But, perspective, people.
Really, how “off” can a year be, for anyone, who, conservatively, earned over $80 million?