Quid pro quo: WBO makes Canelo a No. 1 middleweight contender
The WBO has made Saul Alvarez its No. 1 contender in the middleweight division this week, despite “Canelo” ever having actually fought at 160 pounds. This abrupt move effectively makes the Mexican star a mandatory challenger for the WBO middleweight beltholder Billy Joe Saunders.
In a story by ESPN.com, the WBO cited Alvarez as being a “boxing fan’s idol” and a “crowd favorite, with more than 52,000 fans present in his recent bout with (former WBO junior middleweight titleholder) Liam Smith in Dallas” as a fundamental basis behind its decision. They also proclaimed him being “the top pay-per-view fighter on HBO (and) his presence has given that category a renewed interest in boxing.
“In view of the facts presented above, in accordance with the WBO regulations, and weighing the merits to be considered, the championship committee has decided that, in the best interest of boxing, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez should be the mandatory challenger.”
All things considered, however, it is unknown whether this decision would’ve been made by the WBO, hadn’t Golden Boy Promotions requested this position for its fighter (already perceived as the lineal and consensus middleweight champion) on Dec. 10.
Avtandil Khurtsidze, a 37-year-old Georgian based out of Brooklyn, New York, held the No. 1 contender’s spot at middleweight prior to this decision and has 10 days to appeal the ruling, after being short-sided. Should Canelo not end up facing Saunders next – rumors have swirled of him facing Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. – Khurtsidze would be next in line.
Alvarez, who also currently holds the WBO junior middleweight title, has hinted at plans of becoming a full-fledged middleweight in 2017, before partaking in a super-fight with the unified IBF/WBA/WBC middleweight champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. The 26-year-old won and once defended a piece of the middleweight crown at a 155-pound catchweight but vacated the WBC belt in the wake of Golovkin becoming his mandatory challenger in the summer of 2016.
It’s not out of the ordinary for sanctioning bodies to bend their own rules, create mystical belts or play with rankings in order to justify match-ups but the WBO’s ruling this week could be good news for boxing fans – casual or not – who want to see the Canelo-GGG showdown come to fruition.
When Alvarez officially vacated the WBC middleweight title, he and Golden Boy Promotions targeted September 2017 as the date for the biggest fight in boxing to take place. Alvarez, who is still recovering from a thumb injury suffered during his last fight in September, is targeting May for his return and – should he take advantage of the WBO’s ruling, by fighting Saunders on Cinco De Mayo weekend – Canelo would not only be getting himself physically ready for a fight with GGG but collecting a bargaining chip for the negotiating table with Golovkin, should the former beat Saunders.
Over the weekend, Golovkin completed a deal to defend his middleweight championship against WBA “regular” titlist Daniel Jacobs on March 18 on HBO PPV and, with this news coming out of Canelo being bartered into the WBO middleweight rankings, the showdown everyone wants to see may include a complete unification of middleweight belts – should both beltholders win their respective upcoming fights.
The movers and shakers in boxing can’t be trusted, for the most part, and that can’t be truer for fighters like Khurtsidze, in this situation. However, if all it takes are little fast-ones like this for the fights people want to be made, they will gladly look in the other direction. Problem is, in this instance, they are still turning their backs on those who can’t be trusted.