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Canelo made WBO mandatory for Billy Joe Saunders

Image: Canelo made WBO mandatory for Billy Joe Saunders

By Dan Ambrose: In a predictable move, the World Boxing Organization has installed Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) as the No.1 mandatory challenger to WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs) in what is clearly a prelude to Canelo challenging for the title in the first quarter of 2017.

Canelo going to the front of the line to get a title shot against Saunders might seem unfair to some fans. Canelo is the WBO 154lb champion and that lets him the WBO 160lb champion as his new mandatory challenger.

Canelo vs. Saunders is arguably not even a fair fight. Saunders is a mediocre champion holding the WBO belt and rarely defending it. He’s clearly not the best fighter at 160. Even a number of the contenders in the division would likely have little problems beating Saunders. It’s not exactly awe inspiring for Canelo to be picking Saunders to fight for a title.

Many boxing fans saw this move coming after the WBO ordered Saunders to fight back to back mandatory challengers due to him taking 12 months before defending his WBO title. With that move, the only way Canelo could get a shot at Saunders was for him to be installed as the WBO No.1 contender at 160, which the WBO has now done. The news shouldn’t be surprising, because this was a move that was likely plotted months ago.

Saunders has very little punching power for a middleweight. His chances against Canelo are slim and none. Saunders has talked in the past about his belief that he’s got the talent to out-box Canelo over 12 rounds. However, the way that Saunders looked in his last fight against Artur Akavov, it doesn’t appear that he’d be much of a threat against a slugger like Canelo.

This is a no-brainer for Canelo to pick a soft target like Saunders, because he’s the equivalent of a low hanging fruit that can be snatched and gobbled up by the red-haired Mexican star. If Canelo were to have to fight Gennady Golovkin or Daniel Jacobs for their titles, it’s not likely he would beat either. But in fighting Saunders, Canelo has for all intents and purposes another Liam Smith type easy mark. This fight is basically Canelo vs. Liam Smith 2.0.

Saunders looked sluggish, weak, and rusty and weight drained in his fight against Akavov this month. Saunders complained afterwards that he had put on too much weight during his year out of the ring after beating WBO champion Andy Lee last year in December to capture his title. During this year, Saunders suffered injuries one after another that resulted in his title defenses being canceled and later postponed. When Saunders finally did defend his title against Akavov, he was not surprisingly very rusty.

Golden Boy Promotions obviously asked the WBO to make this move, because it puts Canelo in the position to win an easy title at middleweight. Winning the WBO 160lb title from the 27-year-old Saunders is important for Canelo and for Golden Boy, because it will allow Canelo to go into a fight against IBF/IBO/WBA/WBC middleweight champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs) as a champion in September 2017 rather than just a contender.

This means that Golden Boy can potentially use the WBO title as more bargaining chip to get Canelo the much bigger cut of the purse for a Golovkin fight. In other words, Golovkin’s promoter Tom Loeffler can’t tell Golden Boy that Canelo is just a contender while Golovkin is holding down three titles at middleweight. However, Canelo beating Saunders, who many boxing fans see as little more than just a title holder/paper champion, won’t likely change the fact that Golovkin wants 40 percent of the revenue for the Canelo fight.

Canelo won the WBO junior middleweight title on September 17 after beating champion Liam Smith by a 9th round knockout at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. By winning the WBO 154lb title, Canelo has the ability to be pushed to the top of the WBO’s rankings at 160 just by asking, which appears to have taken place.

In the meantime, Canelo is vacating his WBO 154lb title. Some boxing fans think the major reason for Canelo vacating his WBO junior middleweight title is the fact that former WBO champ Demetrius Andrade is now the No.1 contender for that belt. If Canelo were to keep the WBO title, he would be soon required to defend it against Andrade.

That’s a very bad match-up for the 26-year-old Canelo, because Andrade can do a lot of the same things that Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Erislandy Lara did in getting the better of him. Canelo beat Lara, but many fans thought he lost that fight. They point out that Canelo landed just 31 head shots in the entire fight. Mayweather, of course, easily beat Canelo by a one-sided 12 round decision. Andrade would be someone that would have a very good chance of beating Canelo.

Saunders recently defended his WBO title for the first time in beating fringe contender Artur Akavov (16-2, 7 KOs) by a controversial 12 round unanimous decision this month on December 3 at the Lagoon Leisure Center in Paisley, Scotland. The judges scored the fight 116-113, 116-112, 115-113. A lot of the boxing fans felt that Akavov did enough to deserve the win.

Canelo’s promoter Oscar De La Hoya apparently wasn’t impressed with the performance from Saunders, because he said that the deal that they had on the table would be cut in half.
When you think about it, Canelo really doesn’t need Saunders’ WBO middleweight title for him to get the bigger cut of the revenue against Golovkin.

Golden Boy can simply continue giving Golovkin flat fee offers, and if he doesn’t agree to the offers, then they can move on and fight someone like Miguel Cotto in September 2017. The reality is Canelo can make good money fighting lesser guys than Golovkin, and boxing public doesn’t seem to mind.

Obviously, they mind enough for them not to want to purchase Canelo’s fights in the way that they used to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr’s fights by buying them in high numbers over 1 million. Canelo hasn’t become a crossover star in the U.S. He’s still stuck where he was before.

The reason for that you can argue is the soft match-making that has been done for Canelo by Golden Boy. Canelo has had that one tough fight against Mayweather, and that’s it. The rest of Canelo’s fights in the last two years have been ones against Erislandy Lara, Alfredo Angulo, James Kirkland, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan and Liam Smith. Cotto is a popular fighter, but he’s not someone that had the size to compete against the much larger Canelo.

Canelo and Golden Boy took a lot of flak earlier this year when Canelo vacated his WBC middleweight title rather than defend it against Golovkin. Canelo dropped down to 154 and beat Liam Smith to win his WBO title. Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya tried saying that the reason why Canelo fought at 154 is because he’s 154 pounder and not a real 160 pounder.

One look at Canelo’s hulking size for his fights in 2016 made it clear to many boxing fans that HE IS a true middleweight, and not a junior middleweight like De La Hoya says. Canelo is just very good at melting down in weight to make 154. De La Hoya also said that Liam Smith was the best junior middleweight in the division, and that’s the reason why they selected him to fight rather than one of the other fighters.

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