Saul Canelo Alvarez has been vaulted to the front of the pack in being made the WBO #1 mandatory challenger to middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders for his WBO title, as of Thursday. Golden Boy Promotions asked the WBO to give Canelo the top ranking at middleweight. Canelo holds the WBO junior middleweight title. He’ll be vacating that belt soon.
This news is going to be like waving a red flag in front of the boxing world, as many fans see Camelo as having ducked the top junior middleweights in winning a title last September. Now he’s grabbing a title off of Saunders while seen as ducking Gennady Golovkin, the true champion at 160 in the eyes of many fans.
Canelo gets moved ahead of the previous No.1 WBO contender Avtandil Khurtsidze in the rankings for the World Boxing Organization. He’s been waiting for a title shot for some time with no luck. One of the reasons for that is the long delay involved with Saunders getting back inside the ring to defend his WBO title. Saunders took the entire year before he finally defended his WBO title this month against Artur Akavov. The WBO was patient with Saunders and didn’t strip him of his title. Khurtsidze had requested the mandatory spot earlier this month two days before Canelo requested it on December 8th, but the WBO went with Canelo as their mandatory despite him requesting it on December 10. Canelo is a popular fighter in the U.S, while Khurtsidze isn’t nearly as well known.
The WBO reported statement on their rationale for selecting Canelo as the No.1 mandatory for Saunders is as follows:
Canelo is “a boxing fan’s idol” and a “crowd favorite, with more than 52,000 fans present in his recent bout against Liam Smith in Dallas. He is the top pay-per-view fighter on HBO, and his presence has given that category a renewed interest in boxing. At this moment he will give boxing the maximum required exposure. In the best interest of boxing.”
Well, Canelo is definitely a money maker in boxing now, and the replacement for Floyd Mayweather Jr. as one of the top PPV stars in the sport. Manny Pacquiao is still fighting, and I believe he’s on par with Canelo if not a little lower. Pacquiao’s last two fights have underperformed though on HBO PPV, but you can argue the reason for that is because his promoter Bob Arum made the mistake of matching him against Jessie Vargas and Tim Bradley rather than popular fighters. Those guys are both with Top Rank.
Canelo will be a HUGE favorite against Saunders. That much is a given. If Canelo winning the WBO middleweight title off Saunders will help make the Canelo vs. Gennady Golovkin fight happen next year, then I think a lot of the boxing fans would be in favor of him picking Saunders to win the belt off of. But if Canelo is just going to beat Saunders and then sit on his WBO title and milk it against weak opposition, then I think it’s bad news for boxing. The results of Canelo being given a free shot against Saunders can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what Canelo does after he beats him, and he will beat him. Saunders looked worse than bad in his recent title defense against Artur Akavov.