Playing Favorites – The WBO Shows Its Love For Canelo Alvarez
By: Sean Crose
The World Boxing Organization’s middleweight champ, Billy Joe Saunders, may not be happy about it, but the sanctioning body has named one Canelo Alvarez as his mandatory opponent. That means Saunders is going to have to face Canelo if Saunders wants to hold on to the WBO title – provided, of course, that Canelo is himself is interested in the fight. Since Golden Boy, Canelo’s promoter, asked the WBO for the mandatory ranking, however, it appears that Canelo may indeed be zeroing in on a potential throwdown with Saunders. Or at least zeroing in on the WBO title.
Let’s face it, Saunders has done nothing concrete since winning his belt off Andy Lee late last year to show that he wishes to challenge himself. By seeming to have shied away from matches with middleweight terror Gennady Golovkin and/or Canelo himself, Saunders has placed himself in a position where he is simply not well regarded. Worse still for the Englishman, he appeared far from stellar when he faced off against an opponent no one had ever heard of, one Artur Akavov, earlier this month. Such things do not make for good public relations.
Frankly, it appears as if the WBO might well prefer having red haired star Canelo holding on to its middleweight strap. After all, the sanctioning body let Canelo jump in front of the deserving but unknown Avtandil Khurtsidze, it’s number one contender, in order for Canelo to be next in line for Saunders. And while it’s true Khurtsidze can appeal to the organization regarding its ruling, the WBO has been brazenly open in admitting it’s played favorites here. Indeed, the organization has come right out and essentially said it chose Canelo as Saunders’ top mandatory simply because of the Mexican’s popularity. Make no mistake about it, the WBO wants big names.
The question now, of course, may well be how Saunders reacts to all this. While it’s true no one person can be defined by sound bites or Twitter rants, Saunders has at times presented himself as the most modern of modern fighters, the epitome of the low-risk athlete that has arguably made the sport even more marginalized than its previously been. So then, will Saunders drag things out as long as possible? Will be plead for postponement of the inevitable? Will he simply give up his hard earned crown? Or will he show the world that a fight with Canelo is actually all right by him?
Of course, there are those who are claiming Canelo wants a middleweight title to use as leverage against Golovkin. That’s a bit confusing, since Canelo is already clearly the A-side in any potential promotion between the two. Perhaps team Canelo feels that it can put GGG in a corner by holding all the cards – in other words, a big money fight AND one of the belts Golovkin craves. That seems rather silly, but like most fans, I don’t deal in untold millions of dollars, so, by and large, potential game playing (in this case, at least) comes off like a moot point at best to me. I just want to see fights that make the most competitive sense.
And, in this case, believe it or not, one of those fights is Saunders-Khurtsidze. While Saunders-Canelo is certainly intriguing and clarifying, Khurtsidze should get first crack (whether the WBO or its rules agree or not). Boxing, after all, is not a popularity contest. Scratch that – boxing IS a popularity contest. That doesn’t mean it should be, though.