Boxing roundtable: Is Canelo Alvarez really avoiding a massive showdown with David Benavidez?

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has risen to a position as the face of boxing and the best fighter of his era through a career that saw him constantly challenging himself. From chasing big fights to moving up through weight classes, the current undisputed super middleweight champion could rarely be accused of avoiding a challenge.

That is why Alvarez’s recent behavior has been so jarring for many in the boxing world.

Alvarez is set to fight Jaime Munguia in May, once again choosing to face an opponent other than top super middleweight contender, current WBC interim champion and two-time former world champion David Benavidez.

Alvarez has suggested that a fight with Munguia is “more important” to him than facing Benavidez, while also saying he would need upwards of $200 million to be enticed into taking the fight.

With that in mind, the CBS Sports boxing experts sat down for a conversation on whether or not Alvarez is “ducking” a fight with the best challenger in his weight class.

Brent Brookhouse: While we both have a lot of respect for Alvarez and the risks he’s consistently taken during his career in the pursuit of greatness, I have to ask you, Brian, can we officially declare that Canelo is ducking Benavidez?

Brian Campbell: Typically, we try to give fighters the benefit of the doubt who prioritize consistently making the biggest and most difficult fights, regardless of the leverage they have acquired due to their superstar or celebrity status. In Alvarez’s case, he has years worth of goodwill attained throughout his legendary career, with very few missteps worth criticizing along the way. But it’s one thing for fans or media members, straight off their couch, to question the motives or bravery of a fighter. It’s another thing, however, when a star fighter’s peers begin to question things. And the recent criticism from Hall of Famer Mike Tyson asking whether Alvarez is afraid of Benavidez now seems appropriate.

Even with Benavidez’s history of twice being stripped of his WBC title, which understandably prevented him from fighting Alvarez during the Mexican icon’s march toward the undisputed title in 2021, it’s now three years later. The fighters are also competing on the same television network and, up to this point, mostly in the same division. There are no more excuses for Alvarez, especially not when he’s holding up the division by openly preventing one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the sport from getting his hard-earned opportunity to prove himself. Oh yeah, and one more thing: the fight is among the biggest that could be made, right now, in the entire sport. What other excuses could there be against the idea that this is a duck?

Brookhouse: To be fair to Alvarez, if you look back at the time in February when he and PBC split — before ultimately coming back together for the Munguia fight — his own promoters seemingly weren’t discussing the Benavidez fight as the next step. There were reports from Dan Rafael that Jermall Charlo and Munguia were two names being pushed for May, with PBC’s Al Haymon supposedly willing to go along with the Charlo bout if Alvarez was willing to face Benavidez in September. You could say that Alvarez leaving PBC after that deal was placed in front of him could be a sort of extended duck, but it’s worth noting that a fight with Benavidez was seemingly never on the table for May. With that in mind, maybe it’s fair to look at September as the date for Alvarez to face Benavidez or possibly suffer a permanent stain on an otherwise mostly spotless legacy.

Barring injury, Alvarez is expected to fight in September. Can you think of any fight that would be deemed “acceptable” other than Benavidez for a September date? Charlo isn’t going to be seen as an appealing option. And, while a fight with Terence Crawford may set the imagination racing, after Alvarez cited Benavidez putting on significant weight between the weigh-in and fight night, fighting someone who hasn’t yet fought above 147 pounds would seem a bit hypocritical.

Campbell: Hold up, you just identified the issue right there: the weight. While I understand the realities of boxing business and the fact that Alvarez’s three-fight PBC deal somehow didn’t contain language about a Benavidez fight, it’s Alvarez’s own comments of late that have stirred the pot so negatively toward the direction of this being a duck. If you want to say a Terence Crawford fight is not possible because of the perceived lack of credit Alvarez would get for defeating someone three weight classes smaller, that’s fine. But Benavidez is actually in Alvarez’s division. And even though Benavidez did rehydrate to upwards of 25 pounds for his demolition of unbeaten Demetrius Andrade last November, how could Alvarez possibly justify his stance that Benavidez is too big?

The last time I checked, Alvarez knocked out Sergey Kovalev to win a light heavyweight title in 2019, returned to the division in a 2022 loss to Dmitry Bivol and once publicly teased a move up to cruiserweight to chase more history by adding to his legacy. Oh, and he also once fought Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at a 164-pound catchweight back in 2017 against one of the biggest “weight bully” abusers in modern boxing history.

Alvarez can’t have it both ways. You can’t be the undisputed champion of a division only to pick and choose who you defend against. And you can’t complain about being the smaller man when you have built your legend upon daring to be great. Alvarez can compare the public’s demand to what he previously went through ahead of fighting Gennadiy Golovkin for the first time when critics felt he would avoid it. But if Alvarez is going to bring that back up, we also need to remember he made GGG wait two years until he was 35 for their first fight and failed a drug test ahead of their rematch.

If you don’t want to defend the titles against the interim champion and No. 1 contender, drop the belts. It’s as simple as that. Unless you think this is primarily about honor and not wanting to do what you are told. Does Alvarez deserve that luxury at this point? Or do you think he’s simply stirring the pot for the fight to eventually be even bigger than it could have already been?

Brookhouse: It’s also worth noting that Alvarez not only went up to fight Bivol at light heavyweight, but one of the reasons the rematch didn’t happen as planned was that he wouldn’t fold to Bivol’s desire to cut to 168 to fight for Alvarez’s undisputed crown because Alvarez wanted to return to light heavy for another bite at the WBA championship apple. And, before his time at super middleweight, Alvarez wasn’t exactly hanging out at his weigh-in weight come fight night. It’s a reality of modern boxing that guys are making big cuts and rehydrating in big ways in the 24 hours after stepping on the scale. And how are we glossing over Alvarez’s most recent fight against a man (Jermell Charlo) coming up two divisions for his first fight in a year and a half?

I’d love to think Alvarez is trying to build hype for a Benavidez fight but he went undisputed in November 2021. While he was already the best super middleweight outside of Alvarez prior to doing so, Benavidez won the WBC interim title in May 2022, which added “mandatory” to his status as “best” challenger. There isn’t much more hype to build. Frankly, Alvarez is being as dismissive of Benavidez as he was when he was laughing Andrade out of his attempts to crash Alvarez’s post-fight press conferences.

Alvarez should dump at least a couple of his titles if he isn’t committed to fighting the best in the division. Yes, it’s Benavidez’s fault he dropped the WBC title twice, once for testing positive for cocaine and once for missing weight, but he’s the best challenger available, and if Alvarez isn’t willing to give him his shot, room needs to be made for Benavidez to fight for a world title. Of course, when you’ve achieved the level of superstardom Alvarez has, it’s easy to win a game of chicken against the sport’s sanctioning bodies. It would be surprising if he jerked the wheel toward Benavidez now.


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