Why Canelo Alvarez is, or isn't, boxing's pound-for-pound king

play
Mayweather or GGG? Canelo Alvarez plays "You Have to Answer" (1:16)

Canelo Alvarez takes on his toughest challenge - ESPN's 'You Have to Answer'. (1:16)

Add another title to Canelo Alvarez's growing list.

Alvarez picked up another piece of the super middleweight belt by routing Callum Smith on Dec. 19 to win the WBA, WBC and The Ring magazine titles in the 168-pound division. Alvarez had already established himself as boxing's top cash cow. Now, one can make the argument that he's the best boxer at both middleweight and super middleweight. But is he the best boxer in the world?

ESPN's pound-for-pound rankings have Terence "Bud" Crawford at No. 1 and Alvarez at No. 2, but several other outlets have the Mexican four-division champ as boxing's king. Each fighter picked up a win in the final months of 2020 to bolster his case as the best in the sport.

ESPN analysts Cameron Wolfe and Ben Baby take opposite corners to make the case for who truly is the best in the world: Crawford or Alvarez.

Wolfe: Score one for Crawford here. Pound-for-pound lists are about the eye test and the accomplishments for me. No one since Floyd Mayweather Jr. has consistently dominated, from lightweight to junior welterweight to welterweight, like Crawford. He was the lineal champion at lightweight, undisputed champion at junior lightweight and now he's the bogeyman of the welterweight division.

Alvarez is one of the best fighters in this generation, but in his three biggest fights (Mayweather, Gennadiy Golovkin twice) he has a loss, a draw (which many considered a loss) and a win. What separates Crawford is that no one has come close to beating him. His speed, his defense, his intelligence, his ability to adapt, his power -- he regularly makes his opponents look like nobodies.

It's been nearly five years since somebody has gone the distance with Crawford. Alvarez is boxing's biggest money man, but Crawford is boxing's king. But Ben, I know you're itching to make your argument here. Why am I wrong?

Baby: For me, it's not really much of a discussion. When you look at Alvarez's history over the past 10 years, Canelo's level of opposition is truly stunning. Starting from 2011, when Alvarez won his first major welterweight title, he has been taking on some of the sport's top names and dispatching them with relative ease. The only exception is Mayweather, who was wise to fight Canelo early in his career and at a catchweight that was a couple of pounds lighter than Alvarez's usual range at that time.

Shane Mosley. Miguel Cotto. Erislandy Lara. Golovkin. That's just a sampling of the names on Canelo's belt.

On top of that, Canelo has become more impressive as he's moved throughout his career. He can go from masterful defense and counterpunching to a bullying assault, even against someone who posed matchup problems like Callum Smith.

For me, that's the biggest separating factor between Alvarez and Crawford. Whether it's Crawford's fault or not, he just hasn't been able to secure opponents of the same caliber.

Wolfe: Look, I can't argue with you here that Alvarez has a better opponent résumé than Crawford, but I'm not going to knock Crawford for the evils of boxing.

Crawford is the meanest and maybe the scariest fighter in boxing. Why is the best fighter in the division punished because the other ones in the division won't fight him, using the "other side of the street" argument as an excuse? How do we know these supposed elite PBC fighters wouldn't face the same fate in the ring as everyone else who fights Bud?

I'd prefer to look at what Bud has done rather than stressing about whom he hasn't faced. I'll give Canelo credit for evolving as a boxer, but I still have stuck in my mind how Mayweather made him look ordinary for 12 rounds. And you can make an argument that he didn't win either of his two bouts with Golovkin. I also have issues with Canelo failing multiple drug tests for "tainted meat." There are too many questions on Canelo for me to lift him above Crawford, who might be the cleanest and meanest man in boxing.

Baby: The drug test failures should not be overlooked. That's always going to be a part of Canelo's legacy, no matter how he feels about it. But I think Alvarez should get credit for not having any issues aside from the situation after the first Golovkin fight. And as I said, the combination of his in-ring talents and the guys he has beaten is unparalleled in the sport.

That being said, I know it's not enough for you. So since Alvarez is not your No. 1 pound-for-pound guy, whom does Canelo need to beat for you to move him to the top of your ranking?

Wolfe: That's a good question. The gap between Crawford and Alvarez, between No. 1 and No. 2, is closer for me than between Alvarez and Naoya Inoue at No. 2 and No. 3. Assuming Crawford doesn't get another marquee opponent, a convincing Alvarez win over Golovkin or WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo would be enough for me to move him up to No. 1.

What fights for Crawford would be enough for you to lift him to the top spot?

Baby: I know boxing has its politics, but if Crawford "crosses the street" and is willing to take on some opponents under the Premier Boxing Champions umbrella, it will really boost his stock. After the Errol Spence-Danny Garcia bout, Shawn Porter openly stumped to face Crawford.

Crawford has the potential to be boxing's pound-for-pound king. And while those outside forces in boxing do exist, Crawford also has to do everything in his power to make sure he's asking to fight all the top guys, not just the most profitable guys. Then he would get to the point Canelo is at, where he's able to pick his opposition and make more than anybody else to do it.

Alvarez is 30. Crawford is 33 and still humming. And if they keep going at their current trajectory, the debate over the two will keep on raging for years to come.