There were many big names of 2015 and many big stories, but Saul “Canelo” Alvarez stood out among them all.
It’s always been hard for a fighter to distinguish themselves in any of the combative sports — especially boxing — and it is no wonder as to why. With countless sanctioning bodies and a ridiculous number of title belts, becoming a “champion” is no longer the lone means for a fighter to stand out among his or her peers.
It takes more than that in boxing and Alvarez proved that by giving fans, and the sport, what it has needed for some time: daring.
Starting the year with a professional record of 44-1-1, Alvarez was a young, experienced fighter that fought like a hungry veteran when he blew James Kirkland out of the water in their bout in May, winning the bout with a stunning knockout and cementing himself as the clear choice for a bout with Miguel Cotto.
He then fought Cotto — a man with a great deal of skill and far more experience in big fights — and dominated him over the course of 12 thrilling rounds. That victory in itself was a serious accomplishment, but it is what he did after that was truly telling of his character.
He said he would fight the undefeated terror of the middleweight division, Gennady Golovkin.
Not only did he say it, he did so with a passion that paid tribute to so many great Mexican fighters before him: men such as Julio Cesar Chavez, Salvador Sanchez and countless others.
Far too often in boxing, we see fighters of serious promise and talent pick and choose lesser opponents in order to gain substantial paydays, leveraging the possibility of a big fight against a serious threat as a means to justify lesser fights against lesser opposition.
“It will happen when the time is right,” they say. “I’ll fight anyone, but it’s up to my management,” they often add.
Alvarez says: “If you want me to fight him right now, I’ll put the gloves on and I’ll fight him right now.”
Of course, that doesn’t discount the back-room negotiations that happen regarding when, at what weight, and so on. But the desire is clear and moreover, he has declared it publically, putting pressure on his promoters to make the fight happen.
That is the quality that has made him stand out in 2015, amid other fighters like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao and their huge pay-per-view bout that shattered records and left fans feeling cheated.
Yes, Alvarez achieved great things in the ring this year; his defeat of Kirkland was incredibly violent and his win over Cotto was both brave and masterful, showing he is a fighter with many skills. But when Alvarez says he wants to fight GGG, we believe him because he is utterly transparent.
Fighting in the big fights has always been a goal for most fighters, but only if they can secure as many advantages as possible; they want the money and the fame that comes with winning big bouts, but they want to minimize the risk as much as possible.
Alvarez wants both the reward and the risk; he knows that one without the other simply isn’t the same.
That is why a showdown with GGG seems to damn real; Alvarez is willing to make it happen, confident that the ends justify the means — that his true worth will be found on the other side of that epic bout.
As big as Alvarez-Cotto was, Alvarez-Golovkin will likely be bigger and it is a bout made possible by the achievements of Alvarez in the ring in 2015, and his desire to give the fans what they want. Golovkin has been waiting for a fight like this for his entire career; we know he will fight anyone, but finding someone willing to step in with him — someone of note, willing to risk much — that has always been the problem.
Now, with Alvarez, that problem is solved; hopefully it will start a trend in boxing that can be continued in the years to come.
In many ways, Alvarez is a throwback; a reminder of a simpler time in boxing, when fighters wanted fights more for the bragging rights than the money. He’s willing to put his career on the line — and his health — against the best fighters around.
He’s serving the sport by fighting like a man that knows that really great legacies are only made by facing and overcoming great opposition. The risk must be equal to the reward; victories over lesser opposition does not a great legacy make.
Living up to traditions is a lot like living up to high expectations; it is incredibly hard to look good unless the chances of looking bad are equally available.
When Salvador Sanchez stepped into the ring to face Wilfredo Gomez, he was risking a great deal. Gomez was a fighter with a true perfect record: 32 victories — all by stoppage — and zero defeats. Sanchez, with more fights and a single loss, was the underdog going into the bout.
Sanchez brought the fight to Gomez and won the brutal bout via TKO in Round 8.
Now, Alvarez finds himself in a similar position, against a similar opponent.
Golovkin is undefeated, like Gomez was, and he has won his last 20 bouts by KO/TKO. It cannot be understated just how much power Golovkin brings into the ring — power that Alvarez is happily signing up to face, in the great traditions of all of his former countrymen.
Alvarez gave us all we wanted in the ring in 2015, and outside of it he gave us a reason to keep tuning in: hope that what was once great can be great again.
That is why Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is the sportsperson of the year for boxing in 2015.