SPORTS

Can one middleweight fight prepare ‘Canelo’ Alvarez to face Gennady Golovkin?

DALLAS, UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 17:  Canelo Alvarez looks on during the Canelo v Smith - WBO Middleweight World Championship Fight at AT&T Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Dallas, United States. (Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)

DALLAS, UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 17: Canelo Alvarez looks on during the Canelo v Smith - WBO Middleweight World Championship Fight at AT&T Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Dallas, United States. (Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)  (2016 Omar Vega)

For Saúl “Canelo” Alvarez (47-1-1), the road to a blockbuster bout against middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin (36-0, 33 by knockout) next September was supposed to include bouts in that weight class in December and then May.

But after his 9th-round knockout of Liam Smith last Saturday, which earned Alvarez the WBO super welterweight belt, doctors confirmed he fractured his right hand and won’t return to the ring this year.

Which means only one warm-up at middleweight for Canelo before he faces the most imposing fighter in the ring today.

While Golden Boy Productions, which manages Alvarez, and Golovkin’s camp hash out the details of who gets what share of the boxing world’s largest potential pie, it seems prudent to ask: Is one fight enough?

The answer is a complicated yes.

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Of course, there is no fighter like Golovkin in the current middleweight crop, so there’s no true way to prepare for what the Kazakh brings to the ring, but if Alvarez picks the right opponent, he can prepare himself quite well to face the man they call “Triple G.”

Willie Monroe Jr. (21-2) may have been told by Golden Boy that beating Gabriel Rosado on the Alvarez-Smith undercard would earn him a shot at Canelo, but, in reality, he is the least likely of the bunch to get the call.

Monroe did what Monroe generally does, dancing around and outpointing Rosado in a performance that bored the AT&T Stadium crowd.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but Alvarez has to sell tickets. Monroe’s style is unappealing to the Mexican fighter’s wider fan base and could make for a dull night. Alvarez’s team criticized Erislandy Lara for his mobile style and lack of engagement. They don’t want to experience that again.

That leaves Curtis Stevens (28-5), David Lemieux (35-3, 32 KOs) and Billy Joe Saunders (23-0). Stevens and Lemieux are both big punchers, but Lemieux is more explosive. Stevens looked great in his last fight, blowing out Patrick Teixeira in two rounds, but just one fight prior, a unanimous decision loss to Hassan N’dam, he looked lethargic and not at the level necessary to give Alvarez the work he needs.

Lemieux, though basically a brawler, can give Alvarez an exciting fight with his relentless come-forward style and massive power. Also, Lemieux headlined a pay-per-view event when he lost in an 8th-round TKO to Golovkin last October.

If Alvarez takes on Lemieux, his performance could be compared to Golovkin’s, both in the ring and at the box office. Should Alvarez-Lemieux drastically outsell the 100,000-150,000 viewers Golovkin-Lemieux reportedly attracted, then Golden Boy can justify whatever revenue split of Alvarez-Golovkin it wants.

Alvarez’s team says they already have offered Golovkin an eight-figure deal. Triple G’s people are reportedly looking for a percentage of the take. Negotiations are continuing for an eventual meeting in September 2017.

Lemieux is clearly the top option from an entertainment standpoint and he speaks both French and English, which could add valuable pay-per-view audience among his native Canadians.

But if it’s developing international markets that Alvarez cares about, Billy Joe Saunders could still be a contender.

The English fighter would be the third U.K. fighter in a row for Alvarez, after Amir Kahn and Smith. Maybe if Alvarez fights enough British opponents, he will eventually sell pay-per-views there without having to fight a native son.

Saunders has a good chin, decent boxing skills and good, but not great, power. He is crafty enough to test Alvarez. The undefeated WBO champ also has the last middleweight belt not in Triple G’s possession, which could serve as another bargaining chip with Golovkin’s team should Canelo acquire it.

Whether Alvarez faces Lemieux or Saunders next, the fight will provide an intriguing indication of what the Mexican sensation can do against a true middleweight, and, ultimately, against Golovkin.