The fight between Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Caleb Plant for the undisputed Super-Middleweight title occurs this weekend, and while the IBF belt the unbeaten American will bring to the party completes the modern day quartet for the victor, in truth, Plant is, in auld money at least, merely a distinguished contender for a crown Canelo earned beating Callum Smith 11 months ago.
True, the IBF were the first to inaugurate a championship at the 168 pound limit, Scot Murray Sutherland becoming champion in 1984, but Plant’s belt, despite the history, is no more validatory than the WBO strap Canelo took from Billy Joe Saunders earlier this year. They add to the aesthetic of his dominance but it was proven some time ago.
None of which should detract from the positivity in play in a bout between the two. Foremost because Canelo will be fighting for the fourth time in less than a year and in doing so cementing his status as the number one fighter in the world and Chairman of the ‘What have you done for me lately?’ club. Plant is also undisputed as the best available contender in the division.
But can he win?
Plant does possess qualities to cause Canelo problems. Theoretically. Just as Saunders did. Theoretically. He is mobile, a career Super-Middleweight and will enjoy height and reach advantages. He has good hand speed, respectable if unremarkable power and has begun to trust in his ability to exchange rather than exclusively box from the outside. His perceived elusiveness, his preference for boxing from the outside, of disarming punchers with movement has drawn comparison with Cuban Erislandy Lara – the last fighter, not called Golovkin, to trouble Canelo in a distance fight.
Whether that comparison is true is largely redundant. Canelo has improved exponentially since his 2014 split decision win over Lara. The 31 year old is stronger, hitting harder, has better head movement and has subsequently shared rings with Miguel Cotto, the aforementioned Golovkin, not once but twice, Danny Jacobs and Sergey Kovalev. He has become patient, adaptable and ever more precise with his offence. In short, he has become the complete fighter. Spiteful, heavy handed. Capable of changing outcomes with single shots and methodically breaking down whatever game an opponent believes to be impenetrable.
On top of all these truths, is another intangible one. Canelo is the house fighter. The bank. House fighters do not lose points decisions. If observers want to seek lessons from Canelo’s toughest fights to date; with Lara, Golovkin and Mayweather, in all three he was the beneficiary of judges scorecards that made even his own fans blush. Plant cannot win a points decision here.
Whether conscious or otherwise, Canelo will get the 10 for those tight rounds, the messy rounds, those rounds where Plant feels he is having success and Canelo is stalking. It will be a deception, both on the cards, but equally, Canelo will be draining Plant’s battery, his capacity to focus and assessing the opportunities available in Plant’s defence. Plant will know all of this and his response to this reality will define both his ambitions, his self-belief and his willingness to compromise. If Plant dispenses with his characteristic style and seeks to exchange with Canelo, the shorter man, with his thudding body work and disguised knockout shots, he will lose. If Plant tries to box from the outside, pick, poke and pinch rounds. He won’t win the rounds he thinks he has.
Only a shut-out masterclass performance which renders Canelo ineffective and frustrated, or a stoppage can get Plant the nod here. The prospect of Plant, a modest hitter, being able to do what Golovkin and Kovalev couldn’t and knock Canelo out is the fantasy of those yearning to predict an upset for the notoriety it would afford them. I can’t build a case for Plant. I tried with Saunders too, and was pleased he was competitive and awkward, but the eventual outcome felt inevitable when it happened. As, I believe it will this weekend. Plant has fought nobody remotely as good as Canelo, that too, is a factor.
I anticipate, less feeling out than Saunders squeezed from his clash with Canelo. I expect Canelo to be in the groove much quicker, his activity helps him here, and to begin to put ‘holes’ in Plant by the 4th and 5th round with a stoppage by the 8th.