SAN DIEGO, Calif., January 3, 2020 – The past 12 months ended up being a good year for boxing, and a great year for several terrific candidates vying as 2019 Fighter of the Year.
Our criteria focuses on athletic performance, but also on the individual’s influence over the sport of boxing as a whole. For the world’s best-paid active fighter, the big money bet paid off.
Four division champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez won’t turn 30 years old until next July, but he’s concurrently sitting on three division titles from middleweight to super middleweight to light heavyweight, with a mindblowing record of 53-1-2. Modern fighters rarely amass a record like this, but Alvarez is a throwback in many ways to the great Mexican fighters he grew up watching.
His wins this year over skilled middleweight Daniel Jacobs and veteran light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev make Canelo Alvarez virtually a universal choice for 2019 Fighter of the Year.
Alvarez started 2019 as the first of his five-year, 11-fight deal with streaming service DAZN for $365 million, a record athletic contract when signed.
Fans might have been disappointed they didn’t get their trilogy fight between Alvarez and his middleweight nemesis Gennadiy Golovkin, but they should embrace Alvarez’s performances this year with enthusiasm.
Alvarez first faced middleweight talent Daniel Jacobs, who has tested most of the best. While some fans were disappointed by the lack of toe-to-toe action, they missed the genius of the fight. Alvarez is still learning and improving at his craft, and his effort against Jacobs showed how far he’s come.
Alvarez has never had to worry about his offensive output. The revelation on Saturday was how complete a fighter Alvarez has become. For boxing purists, he delivered a defensive gem, especially in the first half of the fight. Jacobs had a good first round as Alvarez patiently assessed his opponent. From that point, Jacobs found himself completely frustrated as he tried to figure out how to get to Alvarez. Through a combination of reflexes, head and upper body movement, and footwork, couple with defensive blocking, Alvarez made himself nearly impossible to hit. Behind a stiff jab and controlled offense to the body, Alvarez made easy work of Jacobs.
Then, with fans expecting to hear an announcement about Canelo-GGG 3, the Mexican star threw everyone off balance in the best possible way, moving up two weight divisions to fight three-time world champion and WBO titleholder Sergey Kovalev.
Alvarez saw the fight as the kind of career challenge he craves in a way a third fight with Golovkin didn’t provide. Even against an age-diminished version of Kovalev, Alvarez was behind on many cards as the fight passed the halfway point, carrying more weight and navigating the style of a veteran with plenty of tricks left up his sleeve. It’s not hard to understand Alvarez deriving more personal motivation out of the fight and the eventual 11th round knockout that ended things in the blink of an eye. The win made Alvarez only the second light heavyweight champion from Mexico, and just the fourth to win titles in four divisions.
Alvarez is a guaranteed fan draw, the modern face of boxing, and a sponsor’s dream. Here’s the most stunning fact of all: he could fight on for another decade, and end up with 75 professional fights on his record by the time he hangs up his gloves.
Alvarez said he is eager to continue challenging himself, in whatever form it comes. “I’m just looking for the biggest challenge. That’s all I want.” With Gennadiy Golovkin present, would a third fight be a possibility? “No, for me, it’s over. But if the people want another fight, we’ll do it again, and I’ll beat him again. That’s why I’m here. That’s what I was born for. To fight. To defend what’s mine. I’ll fight anyone.”
Alvarez also provides this lesson for fans: a perfect record is no guarantee of greatness. Alvarez’s only official loss came at a 152 pound catchweight fight against Floyd Mayweather. Barely 23 years old, Alvarez had no business being in the ring with Mayweather. But he took the chance and gained more value from the loss in what he learned and the perspective on how to handle his career. It makes him a worthy successor to a man who dominated boxing during his own prime.
Honorable Mentions: The runner-up in a close contest is World Boxing Super Series bantamweight champion Naoya “The Monster” Inoue, with welterweight Errol Spence, Jr. close in third.
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