If the excitement and fallout of former two-time super middleweight champion David Benavidez's impressive decision win over Caleb Plant last Saturday on Showtime PPV taught us anything, it's that the 168-pound division is firmly in the conversation of best in all of boxing.
Canelo Alvarez (58-2-2, 29 KOs), who returns May 6 in his native Guadalajara, Mexico, to defend his undisputed super middleweight crown against mandatory challenger John Ryder (32-5, 18 KOs) remains the class of the division after closing out 2021 by stopping Plant to become the first four-belt champion at 168 pounds.
But Alvarez is fresh off a difficult 2022 campaign that saw him lose universal status as boxing's pound-for-pound king. First, the Mexican star proved unsuccessful in challenging WBA light heavyweight titleholder Dmitry Bivol in a higher weight class. Alvarez then looked everything from flat to uninspiring in outpointing 40-year-old rival Gennadiy Golovkin in their trilogy fight.
Even before Benavidez battered Plant following a second-half surge last weekend in Las Vegas, the gap between Alvarez and the rest of the division seemed to appear as if it was closing. But now that there's speculation as to whether the 32-year-old Alvarez has lost a step as he navigates his 19th year as a professional, super middleweight has become even that more fun.
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.
Should Alvarez defeat Ryder as expected, he will likely have a difficult decision regarding his September plans to return during Mexican Independence Day weekend in Las Vegas. Will Alvarez chase a second opportunity against Bivol after coming up two points short on all three scorecards last year or will he welcome an all-Mexican war with the red-hot Benavidez?
To further illustrate the depth of the division he currently resides over, let's take a closer look at the biggest threats to Alvarez's undisputed title at 168 pounds.
David Benavidez (27-0, 23 KOs)
- Age: 26
- Last fight: Def. Caleb Plant via UD12 (March 25, 2023)
- Threat level: High
Long hailed as the "Boogie Man" in waiting for the division at large, Benavidez has finally appeared to get his stuff together after twice being stripped of his WBC title in recent years for drug test and weight issues. Considering his size, heavy hands and pressure style, Benavidez proved against Plant just how much of a problem for any super middleweight he continues to be. Sure, Benavidez was outboxed by Plant in the early rounds, but once his volume of short power shots begin to slow opponents down, "The Mexican Monster" becomes a nightmare for foes to deal with in the second half of fights. Thanks to his iron chin and high output, Benavidez remains the toughest fight on paper that's available to Alvarez. And given how much the Mexican boxing fan base showed out in droves to see him headline his first PPV against Plant in Las Vegas, there's no question that Benavidez is among the most attractive opponents commercially for Alvarez.
David Morrell Jr. (8-0, 7 KOs)
- Age: 25
- Last fight: Def. Aidos Yerbossynuly via UD12 (Nov. 5, 2022)
- Threat level: Medium
It's hard to know exactly what boxing has in the Cuban-born Morrell, who has matched himself incredibly tough through eight pro fights but hasn't yet faced an elite opponent. Morrell, who know fights out of his adopted home of Minneapolis, has all the tools to be great. The southpaw, who is co-trained by Ronnie Shields and Bob Santos, captured a secondary WBA title in just his fifth pro fight in 2021 and has gone on to make three defenses over the past 14 months. Morrell has quick hands, good power and seems uniquely motivated for greatness at such a young age. He's also a great athlete who uses constant movement to avoid big shots and counter even bigger (all the while being big for the division at 6-foot-1). Luis DeCubas Sr. has said publicly that Morrell is the best Cuban prospect he has ever seen, which says a lot considering the veteran manager's history of recruiting young fighters from the island with such a rich boxing tradition. The only thing Morrell needs is an opportunity to prove that he belongs at the highest level.
Jermall Charlo (32-0, 22 KOs)
- Age: 32
- Last fight: Def. Juan Macias Montiel via UD12 (June 19, 2021)
- Threat level: Medium
It has been 21 months since Charlo last defended his WBC middleweight title after a string of injuries and personal issues have kept him idle. And while the unbeaten two-division champion is expected to return this June, most likely in defense of his 160-pound belt, he has long teased an inevitable move up in weight. In fact, while appearing on the Showtime weigh-in stream one day before Benavidez-Plant, Charlo said he would be willing to fight any top 168-pound fighter, including Alvarez, when they become available. Although he will need to shake off some ring rust first (while bouncing back from a lackluster performance last time out), Charlo remains an interesting candidate to parachute into this already loaded division. With advantages of four inches in height and three inches in reach, he's also a potential physical threat for Alvarez given his equal pairing of elite power and hand speed. Charlo, like his twin brother, undisputed junior middleweight champion Jermell Charlo, is also an intelligent boxer. The wildcard here, however, is that Charlo fights with a nasty attitude given the hefty size of the chip on his shoulder that helps him raise his game to a higher level when the moment calls for it, like when he outworked Sergiy Derevyanchenko late in his best middleweight win to date.
Demetrius Andrade (32-0, 19 KOs)
- Age: 35
- Last: Def. Demond Nicholson via UD10 (1/7/2023)
- Threat level: Lukewarm
The former two-division champion made his 168-pound and PBC debuts on the same night in January, snapping a 13-month layoff. That's important because the talent of Andrade has never been in question. His ability to make big fights as a high risk/low reward opponent option has been, however, for more than a decade. Andrade previously came up short in drawing the attention of Alvarez back when both fought exclusively on DAZN. (In fact, Alvarez humorously dismissed Andrade in 2021 after "Boo Boo" attempted to crash his press conference after unifying titles against Billy Joe Saunders). But now that Alvarez is essentially a network and promotional free agent, the opportunity for Andrade could emerge but only if he can first knock off a big name or two under the PBC banner. Andrade is a potential trap-fight-in-waiting for any elite foe. With speed, long arms and exceptional footwork, he's a southpaw who is hard to look good against due to his impressive control of distance. But after years of frustratingly feasting upon second-rate competition in hopes that his number gets drawn, the path to Alvarez remains cloudy at best just as some concern lingers over whether Andrade possesses the firepower to truly give Alvarez pause. Either way, he remains more likely to defeat Alvarez than he is likely to get a chance to find out.
Caleb Plant (22-2, 13 KOs)
- Age: 30
- Last: Lost to David Benavidez via UD12 (March 25, 2023)
- Threat level: Low
Considering he's fresh off a defeat to Benavidez and was stopped by Alvarez in their 2021 meeting, Plant remains a clear longshot to gain a second chance at defeating the undisputed champion. A lack of firepower, despite owning 2021's knockout of the year, remains an issue for Plant against the very best in the division. Yet, Plant is among the best pure boxers in the game and he proved against Benavidez that he's willing to walk through hell in order to protect his shot at winning. For now, it's back to the drawing board. One can still expect the former IBF champion to find himself in big fights moving forward, just not likely against Alvarez, who bested him in just about every category when they met two years ago.
Edgar Berlanga (20-0, 16 KOs)
- Age: 25
- Last: Def. Roamer Alexis Angulo via UD10 (June 11, 2022)
- Threat level: Low
Just over two years ago, "The Chosen One" was one of the hottest young prospects in boxing after knocking out all 16 of his pro opponents in the first round. Crossover celebrity appeal came calling as Berlanga was often seen FaceTiming on social media with rapper Fat Joe, among others, who anointed the young boxer from Brooklyn, New York, as the next great Puerto Rican fighter to watch. So what happened next? Berlanga won his next four fights but not only failed to score a knockout in any of them, he struggled at times while boxing in the face of veteran resistance. To open 2023, both Berlanga and promoter Top Rank mutually agreed to end their partnership. Berlanga, who has since moved on by signing a multi-fight deal with promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport, will likely always be a big win or two away from consideration in the Alvarez sweepstakes solely because of the allure of producing another high-profile chapter in the timeless boxing rivalry of Mexico vs. Puerto Rico. The fact that Hearn has been Alvarez's promoter of choice in recent fights doesn't hurt either. But the jury is still out as to whether he will end up being as good of a boxer as his knockout streak suggested early on in his rise.
Jaime Munguia (41-0, 33 KOs)
- Age: 26
- Last: Def. Gonzalo Gaston Coria via KO3 (Nov. 19, 2022)
- Threat level: Low
In 2018, after crushing Sadam Ali to win a 154-pound title at just 21, Munguia was considered a future Mexican star in the making. But once he moved up to middleweight in 2020, Munguia has seen his career stuck in neutral from the standpoint of matchmaking. Yes, Munguia is 7-0 with 5 KOs, while maintaining an active schedule. He also has Mexican legend Erik Morales in his corner as a trainer, along with the promotional muscle of fellow Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya. But his choices of opponents has been meandering, at best, which makes a showdown opposite Alvarez at 168 pounds simply not likely anytime soon. Munguia, whose lack of defense also remains a glaring issue in any potential fight against an elite foe, has recently been embroiled in rumors surrounding his desire to move up two weight divisions to challenge Alvarez conqueror Dmitry Bivol at light heavyweight. Once again, the recent movements of Munguia just don't make a ton of sense.
Christian Mbilli (24-0, 20 KOs)
- Age: 27
- Last: def. Carlos Gongora via UD10 (March 23, 2023)
- Threat level: Very low
The unbeaten French slugger, who hails from Cameroon, has started to quietly gain a name for himself within the division, due in part by his high ranking and glossy record. An explosive knockout of former title challenger Nadjib Mohammedi last March in Montreal went a long way in getting people's attention. Mbilli has won three more times since then and the 2016 Olympian could one day find himself as a mandatory opponent for Alvarez, whom he continues to call out publicly, should both fighters continue to win. But Mbilli doesn't quite have the skills to declare himself a true threat to the undisputed crown and would likely carry nothing more than a puncher's chance against Alvarez.
John Ryder (32-5, 18 KOs)
- Age: 34
- Last: Def. Zach Parker via TKO4 (Nov. 26, 2022)
- Threat level: Very low
The southpaw pressure fighter from London is known for his blue collar style and honest flair. His hardworking wins over unbeaten Zach Parker and former middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs speak for themselves over the past year, as does his 2019 defeat to then-WBA champion Callum Smith in a fight many felt Ryder deserved the decision. But defeating Alvarez seems like a task too large for someone of Ryder's skillset. He will also find himself as the decided visitor (and monster betting underdog) when he steps into the ring on May 6 in Alvarez's first fight on Mexican soil since 2011.