Posts Tagged With: Saul Alvarez

Business as Usual

Golovkin-Alvarez was an important fight for so many reasons.  Most notably, the complete set of four middleweight titles on the line.  Leading up to the fight, the talent, strength and condition of both fighters was so exceptional that the fight was hailed as the next Hagler-Hearns.  The promotional theme was 1930’s-era fashion and dramatic noir-lighting, reporters in bow-ties clamoring for a shot of the ring with their flashbulbs.  An effective campaign, no doubt, but did the implication fit the event?  The idea was obviously an attempt to evoke historic fights like Hagler-Hearns, but with an atmosphere most closely resembling that of what could be considered the greatest boxing series ever, between Jake Lamotta and Ray Robinson.  Aside from the weight division, I certainly see no resemblance.

I’ve watched a lot of Alvarez fights biting my nails and condemning him for throwing away his career on risky fights with low reward.  Erislandy Lara and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. come to mind.  And then there was Mayweather.  This fight may not have been as much of a miscalculation for Canelo’s team as Mayweather was, but it wasn’t too impressive.  Alvarez was criticized heavily for giving up a middleweight title in 2015.  After winning it from Miguel Cotto, he forfeited the “lineal” championship in favor of scheduling other fights between first, before his meeting with Golovkin.  It was a good idea for Alvarez at the time, and as Teddy Atlas was quick to point out, Golovkin would probably have knocked him out if he had accepted the challenge back then.  Since then he’s earned some impressive decisions against larger fighters, but none anywhere near Golovkin’s level.  His team ranted incessantly about how much bigger and stronger he was getting, how it was his time, and how his skill had grown to match his size.  By all accounts, most of that is true.  It just wasn’t enough to match the ability of a larger, highly skilled fighter.

The judges’ scorecards, or to be more precise, judge’s scorecard, is the source of the controversy over this fight, and I’m as upset as anyone else when a blatantly clueless judge influences a major fight.  Anyone who knows me or reads this blog, however, also knows that I’m an intensely loyal Alvarez fan.  So much so, that I went against my better instincts when making my prediction.  I said I thought Alvarez could take a decision, but I really thought Golovkin was too strong and too good.  He was.  In my eyes, he won that fight.  A friend of mine pointed out an important insight into the sport, though, when he said that boxing is a subjective sport; it’s judged by three people specifically because one or more of them might make mistakes in their scoring.  Therefore, based on the nature of the sport, the best outcome for any fight is good action and a fair decision.  A fair decision, as opposed to the one you think is correct.  After all, your judgment may be as skewed as that of any official. Especially from thousands of miles away, behind a tv screen with a few beers in your belly.

That’s absolutely true and it addresses at least half of what I was upset about after that fight ended.  The two people I was watching with, both of whom know and understand the sport, were fairly happy with what they had seen.  They were quite satisfied, if not with the result, then at least with the performance.  I was not.

I’m glad the final decision was fair.  A draw is always fair, if the two fighters are competitive throughout and the rounds are close for a majority of the event.  The aberration, however, is reminiscent of the scorecard CJ Ross turned in for Alvarez after his showdown with Mayweather.  Almost everyone watching saw Mayweather dominate his opponent in twelve of the most one-sided rounds ever fought, but Ross scored the fight a draw.  At the time, there was no bigger fight in boxing, and no clearer winner, and yet one of the officials whose job it was to evalute the action was confused.  I understand the feeling.  I was so excited for the dawning of the Alvarez era that I rushed home the day after my wedding, actively ignoring tv, radio and the internet, in order to see the fight unspoiled.  Finally, I thought, someone with the skill and the ability to stop Mayweather’s reign.  If anything, the performance only further solidified Mayweather’s dominance in the sport and his status as an iconic athlete.  But hey, at least Mayweather put on an epic performance.  I wasn’t quite that disappointed in this past Saturday’s showdown.  Instead of being completely heartbroken for one fighter, I was just mildly aggravated by both.  Strike that, mildly aggravated by both fighters’ performances, and then crestfallen in response to the robbery which denied this contest between two great athletes any dignity.  I wanted Mayweather to lose that fight to Alvarez as much as I wanted Alvarez to win, but if the scores CJ Ross submitted contributed to a loss for Mayweather, or even a draw, that would have been a travesty.

When an athlete works hard enough to be the best in the world at what he or she does: it’s important that he or she trains and competes safely, but it’s almost as important that his or her performance is evaluated fairly.  A historic performance is deserving of at least that much respect.  I was disappointed that the fabled knockout artist Golovkin couldn’t seem to hurt Alvarez, I was even more disappointed that Canelo’s improved skill and body mass weren’t enough to so much as budge Golovkin during the fight, but I was really pissed off when I heard the decision.  Again, not just because the ultimate result was a draw.  That was bad enough, but it was so bad because one judge turned in a score so wrong it was professionally criminal, and another turned in a score that seems plausible, but only “fair” if bribes of some kind counted for points in Canelo’s favor.  De la Hoya touted this fight as the “real” boxing match, in contrast to the carnival presented by Mayweather and McGregor just a couple of weeks previous, but was it?  In the sense of traditional boxing, it was, but he also claimed the two fighters were going to give an epic performance worthy of the names evoked by the highly stylized promotional campaign.  Neither fighter lived up to that description.  Atlas described it well when he said Alvarez “fought in spots, to survive.”  In other words, he didn’t moderate his aggression and activity to deliver the best possible performance, he did what he thought would keep him out of trouble and give him the best chance of benefitting from an unfortunate scorecard or two like the ones we saw.  It worked.

Some people felt the first fight between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev should have been scored more in favor of Ward.  Others felt it was a fair decision, much like the response to this fight.  Still, there was no question (for most fans) that Kovalev did, in fact, take some of the rounds decisively.  For Alvarez against Golovkin, that was not the case.  People still talk about whether McGregor was stopped early against Mayweather, and if a rematch would be worth watching.  But why is anyone clamoring to see this one again?  The draw for Alvarez against Mayweather was absurd, sure, but that was 6 rounds misdiagnosed.  The disparity in the fight between Alvarez and Golovkin, on the other hand, was arguably 8 rounds.  When half the rounds could go either way, that’s one thing; it’s something entirely different when there are only a few rounds that could go either way, and all the rest clearly go to one person.

Alvarez had the chance to prove himself great, but failed utterly.  Golovkin had the opportunity to show himself to be special, but he also failed.  Given the styles of the two fighters (styles make fights) it was the worst possible scenario for action that we could have seen.  Neither fighter has fought a significantly more conservative fight in recent years.  Both are known for walking opponents down and imposing their strength.  In this fight, it didn’t look like either one was fighting to secure a legacy.  It was no epic confrontation between two men battling for a place in history.  It looked like they were fighting to secure a rematch and millions of dollars.  The judges scores looked like they had been written to ensure that potential revenue stream as well.  Instead of a raw, unrestrained fight for the ages, it looked like business as usual.


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I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing

I’ll never be so happy to be so wrong in my all life.  This joke of a fight turned out to be harmless for Canelo’s career.  In fact, it should provide a good boost for his popularity, given that his opponent had a functional 10 to 15 pound weight advantage.  One bit of trivia I was unaware of until after the fight was the fact that the Alvarez-Chavez showdown actually has been in the works for years.  At least six years, from the looks of it.

That means two things.  First, it means there was a reason for the fight to happen.  They had been planning to fight each other since a time when Alvarez wasn’t the undisputed king of the junior welters, and when Chavez was lighter.  Had this fight taken place 6 years ago, it all would’ve made a lot more sense!  And I think the result would’ve been the same.  Second, it means that the thought process behind choosing Canelo’s opponents might not be so flawed.  Alvarez so thoroughly dominated the fight that when it came time for the announcement of the score cards,  and he treated it like the Coming Attractions screen at the movies, it didn’t even seem that unnatural.

He transitioned abruptly to a very staged delivery of his announcement of his next opponent.  For once, it’s both a fight that makes sense and the fight that everyone wants.  I’m not even sure that Golovkin is such a bad opponent for Alvarez anymore.  Clearly, stronger and rangier fighters don’t bother him much, and Golovkin’s willingness to square-up and trade could work to Canelo’s advantage.  This will mean good things for boxing and the middleweight division in particular.  There are so many good fights to be seen with Alvarez at 160, even if he can’t handle Golovkin.  I’d most like to see him tested against Lemieux, Quillin, or Jacobs, but for now, triple G will do just fine.

For his part, Chavez Jr. should stay away from everyone at middleweight and above.  He’s always looked undisciplined and untalented, but this past Saturday he looked absolutely helpless.  Could be the effects of cutting weight explain his performance, but he looked unfocused and unmotivated from the first round, so it doesn’t seem like fatigue could explain his behavior.  It wasn’t because of immobility or injury, and it wasn’t out of fear of his opponent’s power, he just seemed beaten before the bell ever rang.  He’s more irrelevant now than ever and it doesn’t really matter why he fought the way he did.

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Following his triumphant demolition of the delicate Amir Khan, Saul Alvarez had strong words about the possible match with Gennady Golovkin, saying things like “we can put on the gloves and fight right now, we don’t fuck around.”  After all, he had just won a middleweight title, somehow.  Of course, neither fighter was actually at 160 pounds in that fight, but nevermind that.  Alvarez won by knockout and showed the kind of ferocity his fans have been longing for since we first watched him on television.  He didn’t really want to put the gloves back on and fight him right at that moment, but we thought he might be willing to make him his next opponent.  Alvarez ended up making what was probably the smart decision, and declined the offer, giving up his “middleweight title.”  Fans and commentators criticized him for the deicsion, and Golovkin says it made him lose respect for Alvarez, but as Ring magazine pointed out in its most recent issue, it wasn’t long ago that fans were pushing for a fight between Golovkin and Andre Ward, who even now isn’t a full-size light heavyweight.  Golovkin openly admitted that Ward was too big for him, even though the difference between weight classes is about the same(13 pounds from welter to middleweight, 15 pounds from middle to light heavyweight).  Maybe Alvarez shouldn’t have made such a big deal about being willing to fight him right away, but it seems his place as fighter-most-willing-to-take-anyone-on is secure.  At least, he’s as willing as anyone else.

Last night Danny Jacobs set the record straight, breaking down his opponent in a rematch from last August when Sergio Mora put on a good show until his ankle broke during a fall.  The result of the previous fight implied that Mora might have a shot against Jacobs, scoring a knockdown early in the fight before his injury.  In the rematch, Jacobs showed superior power from the outset, and Mora showed no improvement in his strategy, electing to slug with Jacobs and fight off the ropes when necessary.  Jacobs may have more talent than we’ve given him credit for in the past, and his power seems to carry him through a lot of situations where he’d otherwise be outsmarted.  Mora, on the other hand, has been fighting to establish relevance, if not dominance, for years.  With yet another loss on his record, it seems he’ll never quite make it to that level.  His best hope will be to spend a few years serving as official gatekeeper for young fighters who haven’t been tested yet, then fade away into anonymity, and hopefully, preserve his health.

Tonight’s fight features an unusual match between Golovkin and Brook, drawing comparison to the weight disadvantage overcome by Ray Robinson taking on Jake Lamotta.  Clearly, “Special K” Kell Brook is no Ray Robinson, but whether he’s special enough to handle Golovkin remains to be seen.  Golovkin is the only one with a lot to lose here, because if he doesn’t do very well, as Alvarez did against Khan, then his reputation will suffer greatly.  If, on the other hand, Brook were to get blown away in the first or second round, fans would chalk it up to the size difference and move on with their lives.  Golovkin speculates that appearing vulnerable might be the only way to attract Alvarez for their showdown.  I won’t hold my breath, but it might not be up to Golovkin whether he appears vulnerable this time.  Brook is fast and accurate enough to force Golovkin to measure his power.  If Golovkin’s too wild, Brook may be able to score enough points to win rounds, and make the decision close.

After five years of writing about the sport, I’ve come to expect the contradictions you see every time you watch a fight.  It can be frustrating, but that’s also what makes the science sweet. Tonight, Golovkin will probably beat Brook, probably by knockout.  Unless Brook wins, which can’t happen.  Unless it does.

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Dan Rafael: Fans are Fools

The sagacious Mr. Rafael has followed up his twitter tirade with an equally contemptuous article, as eloquent as it is.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure glad there aren’t any low-level bloggers with enough free time to read my crappy posts and pick apart my grammar and style and expose logical fallacies that only they care about, but this is too much for me.

Let’s start with the first two lines: “Once again, boxing fans are being played for fools. It happens all the time, and we’re suckers for putting up with it.”  Speak for yourself, Dan.  I don’t deny that you know boxing.  I’m not going to go Mayweather-Merchant here, but as an informed and faithful boxing fan for several years, I totally disagree with almost everything you go on to say here.

“Six years ago the masses wanted Floyd Mayweather against Manny Pacquiao…When they finally did meet after negotiations that were absolutely ridiculous to watch unfold, everything about it stunk…the promotion, the greed…And, of course, the fight.”  Hey, Mayweather personifies greed, no argument here.  But who can blame someone who’s in a position to get paid hundreds of millions of dollars for a 47 minute performance for making sure he gets every cent?  As for the promotion, I don’t even know what that means.  It was boring?  Over the top?  Unrepresentative?  Whatever the case, I probably agree, but it’s a moot point.  And his last point, about the fight, how ’bout of course NOT Dan.  Of course it wasn’t a bad fight!  It was the two best fighters in boxing fighting at their best (give or take a couple dozen punches) and delivering twelve rounds of hard work.  There was no stoppage for an accidental headbutt, nobody pulled a Golota and started throwing uppercuts to the groin, nobody bit anybody’s ear repeatedly.  That’s a good fight to a boxing fan (we’ll get to casual sports spectators later).

A fair and accurate way to finish the sentence would have been “of course the fight…was what it was.”  You can put Guillermo Rigondeaux in there and pay him as many millions as you want, get as many viewers as you want, and tell him it’s the most historic event in sports, but he’s still gonna fight a safe, reserved fight.  Mayweather hadn’t had a real knockout in five years (Sharmba Mitchell), even when the fight hype was just beginning.  Hatton basically ran into his punches until he couldn’t take it anymore, Ortiz just kind of gave up the way he does, and I can’t think of any others.  As for Pacquiao, anybody who watches boxing can tell you there was no way he would get the KO because there was no way Floyd would let him land a flush shot.  Those facts together mean we were never going to see an incarnation of Bowe-Holyfield.

Rafael goes on to bemoan the missed opportunity for the sport, as if that was what either Mayweather or Pacquiao were fighting for, from the perspective of people who don’t watch boxing: “…millions of casual sports fans who tuned in hoping to see a legendary fight flipped off their TVs in disgust.”  Well, that’s to be expected.  I’m sure if I were a casual sports fan who walked in on the Canelo-Khan broadcast, I would have opted for Words with Friends on my phone rather than giving the fight my full attention, even though it ended in the only way a casual sports fan would find interesting.  Dan, of all people, should know that.

In perhaps the most puzzling of his statements, Rafael suggests that he’s unsure whether we can undo past history: “It sure doesn’t look as if we will get it when we want it, which was really earlier this month.”  No, it really doesn’t look like that fight will have happened earlier this month in some alternate reality.  It doesn’t look that way at all, Dan.  You’re spot on, now.

Oh, and by the way, what we want “when we want it?”  When does that ever happen to anybody?  Grow up, Dan, this is life.

Apparently a favorite from his previous entries, Rafael included a line we’ve seen before, “So GGG crushed Dominic Wade on April 23, and two weeks later Alvarez blasted Amir Khan,” but again, the statement is misleading to the point of not making sense.  Yes, Alvarez “blasted” Khan, and Golovkin decimated Wade.  But wait, Khan is an internationally recognized welterweight with a solid record who once courted both Mayweather AND Pacquiao for potential matches that fans would have wanted to see.  Who the fuck is Dominic Wade?  I’ll tell you who: he’s an 18-1 nobody who’s best win was over Sam Soliman.  If anybody should be criticized for their competition, it’s sure not Alvarez, who I’m sure would have been happy to beat Cotto at 154, but when given the chance to take a belt, why not?

But that’s the whole controversy: Canelo has a belt so he has to defend it against whoever we say!  Not exactly.

Further on in the madness: “Once again boxing breaks our hearts because nobody can seem to do the right thing.”  Talk about a drama queen.  Rafael is the only one in the discussion whose job it is to fairly describe the state of boxing, so if anyone’s not doing the right thing, it’s him.  Since when is negotiating a fight a moral issue anyway?

He concludes by referencing what he sees as the inevitable alternative to the fight he feels the sport owes him.  Alvarez against possibly the second best middleweight, and a hell of a puncher who would make a fantastic action-packed match, Lemieux.  I hope he’s right.

His advice to fans is to “teach them all a lesson,” and “just say no,” as if it were a protest against pharmaceutical companies.  You’re asking boxing fans to avoid watching one of the best possible matches that could be made?  Get some perspective for christ’s sake.  Real fans watch for the duds, they watch for the blowouts, they watch for the wars, and they also watch for the chess matches.  I feel sorry for those who can’t appreciate them all, in the sense that they’re missing out on something I enjoy, but don’t ask me to miss out just because you’ve lost interest in anything other than knockout highlight reels.

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Alvarez Wisely Vacates Title, Critics Crucify

Oh Dan Rafael.  Sometimes you have such great, insightful comments.  Sometimes the stuff you say is common sense.  And other times…well, keep it to yourself.


“What @Canelo says: ‘I was born ready.’ What he means: ‘I was born ready to fight GGG but not until he’s old.’ #GiveThePeopleWhatTheyWant

What @GGGBoxing says: ‘I will fight anybody at 160.’ What he means: ‘I will fight anybody at 160.'”


No need to translate for me, Dan.  Do you wanna know why Canelo has been advised and probably feels himself that it’s a smart decision not to take a fight with the best 160 pound fighter in boxing?  Well, it’s because he fights at 155.  –NONOHEFOUGHTCOTTOANDKHANHEHASTOFIGHTGOLOVKINNOW–

Whoah, calm it down.  Cotto was more like 147.  Khan?  He couldn’t even handle Cotto.  So why is he choosing not to fight the scariest puncher in boxing, at a class above where he normally fights?  Because it would be detrimental to his career in every way.  No matter how many eloquently inflammatory twitter posts you put up, he’s gonna keep dominating the best at 154, winning tons of money, impressing tons of fans, and keeping his career intact.  Too bad fans don’t judge you as harshly when you’re asked to step up and adopt a controversial position in a debate.  You’d have been gone back when people were calling for Pac-Mayweather.  Guess what you said?  Pac wins all day, Mayweather is scared.  Guess what happened?  Mayweather did what everyone knew he would, and what real fans knew he would’ve done years earlier, assuming Pacquiao wasn’t on steroids.  But hey, in the end, the Mexican pharmacy was better, right?  Now Mayweather is the icon of modern boxing, even as an inactive fighter, and Pacquiao is a brain-damaged mess with a compromised record.  But hey, who’s History to argue with the great Dan Rafael?


I salute Alvarez for his wise, brave decision.  He’s looking after his best interests as a fighter, and that actually is what some people want.  Dan, on the other hand, is doing what he’s always done, adopting the most popular and tweet-provoking stance.  Give the readers what they want, Dan, not Donald Trump-style hashtags.


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Knockouts, Unanimous Verdicts, and Dumb Decisions



This past weekend fans were tantalized by what one astute blogger called “a super fight, just not a ‘superfight’.”  We did get the pleasure of observing two skilled boxers near their primes with contrasting styles fighting for high stakes.  Unfortunately, the popularity and former relevance of the smaller fighter did nothing to improve his ability against a more skilled, harder-working opponent.  I had predicted an eighth round knockout for Alvarez, and he managed it in six.  And yet, I was still very surprised by the outcome.  Every aspect of it.

Saul Alvarez showed that when in the past he demonstrated great adaptability, it was crucial to his success in the ring in a way we may not have realized.  Between rounds one and four, no matter what Harold Lederman might tell you, Alvarez fought the dumbest, least strategic fight anyone could have imagined.  The fight was billed as “power versus speed.”  The appeal behind this phrase is ostensibly that the smaller fighter must be vigilant and intelligent about his attack in order to maximize his own abilities and avoid his opponents power shots, which could end the fight at any moment.  In that case, the power fighter wants to land as many times as possible, preferably slowing his opponent down initially with body shots so that the off button is easier to find.  The speed fighter wants to land as often as possible, maximizing impact by using timing and exhausting his opponent by making him miss almost all of his significant shots.

My take on the fight was that Khan had a bad knockout coming for multiple reasons.  He was an undisciplined fighter who liked to talk a lot about his ability but always seemed to struggle in the ring.  He was a welterweight challenging an elite fighter who holds the 160 pound championship.  In addition, Khan was (and is) a deceptively ineffectual puncher, electing to flail his arms desperately rather than carefully place well-timed combinations.  That’s because, all-time great trainer or no, Khan is a lazy fighter.  He doesn’t work his fundamentals in training, it’s written all over him every time he steps in the ring.  Jim Lampley aptly observed during the fight that his defense was lacking except for his foot speed.  Most fighters at Canelo’s level are good enough that no opponent whose defense relies entirely on foot speed will beat them.  And that was the case here.

Though Lederman did glorify Canelo’s efforts in the third and fourth rounds, it wasn’t until the end of round four that he really began settling down and behaving like himself.  His style has never been, as HBO commentators noted, the classic “seek and destroy” Mexican style.  Alvarez has always been a very powerful counter-puncher, body puncher and cumulative punishment fighter.  He looked completely paralyzed against Floyd Mayweather in the only loss of his career, and maybe that was because he didn’t believe in his accuracy.  Maybe he was looking for just one shot.  This time around with a speed disadvantage, it looked like Canelo was having flashbacks to Mayweather’s phantasmal defense, expecting his opponent to appear and disappear at will.  In reality, Khan is nowhere near that talented nor that coordinated.  He manages to dart in and out quickly and touch his opponents, but nothing more.

Against Khan, Alvarez seemed to be trying to forego the inescapable slow and steady approach that he tried for most of the Mayweather fight, in favor of trying to look like Marcos Maidana (who arguably had the most success of any modern fighter against Mayweather).  He threw his full body weight into each punch putting himself off balance and in no position to recover quickly, absorbing meaningless combinations from Khan while trying to regain his guard.  Alvarez actually opened a small cut above his opponent’s eye in the early rounds, but that was in no way a reflection of his accuracy to the head.  Aside from body punches, the left hand that opened the cut was one of only a handful that he landed in those rounds.

In defiance of all convention, Khan fought the responsible fight for those three rounds, and continued to do so in the following three despite the result.  Khan moved on the outside and covered his body effectively.  He always moved away from the ropes as soon as he was pressured toward them.  He even used a good jab, and less than reckless combinations to compose a good fight plan.  A lesser fighter, like a James Kirkland or Josesito Lopez, might have been overwhelmed by the speed and use of the jab in their efforts to land the winning shot.  To be honest, though, I would have been embarrassed for both us if Alvarez had lost.  Forget that Khan went up two weight classes, forget that Alvarez is nearing 50 fights against good competition at the age of 25.  Forget that the mandatory challenger to the winner of the fight is Gennady Golovkin, one of the most feared fighters in boxing.  Alvarez is just too damn good to lose to Amir Khan.  I’ve taken every chance I could get to demean Khan by calling him “A Mere,” because the matchup was ludicrous.  A larger, more talented, more experienced fighter against a guy who couldn’t make fights with the best of the era, so he settled for this guy.  Everything I know about boxing and fighting styles tells me he should have won that fight by knockout, no problem.

But he did have problems.  He would have kept having problems all night, in fact, if he hadn’t smartened up.  When he finally settled down at the end of round four you could see Khan’s composure deteriorate instantaneously.  I truly believe Alvarez fighting like himself would have scored the knockout in two rounds.  Instead, he chose to wing haymakers one at a time that almost pulled him off his feet and left him no room for recovery.  He kept his hands in a position that left him totally vulnerable just so he could use unconventional angles for his wild shots.  As would be expected, the faster fighter was easily able to avoid most of his opponents shots.  He landed nothing of consequence of his own, but Khan did land.

When the knockout finally came it was somewhat sudden, though you could feel Alvarez closing in for the entire sixth round.  It was exactly what we expected to see, a single hard shot rendering Khan completely unconscious for a few moments.  I didn’t expect the end so soon, but I did expect a more measured, intelligent fight from Alvarez.  In my opinion, still, he’s the better, more learned fighter.  That wasn’t evident in this match, though.  It may be that certain styles cause Alvarez to overthink his approach.  It’s possible that his success against Lara and Trout was due in part to his underestimation of the opponent, that he needs to be unimpressed to perform well.  If this is indeed his Achilles’ heel, he’s going to be dangerously susceptible to his mandatory challenger’s attacks.

The result may not be decided for Alvarez-Golovkin yet, but the verdict is in on what Canelo should do.  It’s unanimous; every article you read will at some point editorialize about what real champions do, or some version thereof.  There was even a special in-ring promotion somehow spearheaded by trainer Virgil Hunter and Amir Khan.    For some very suspicious reason, they spent their entire post-fight interview preemptively condemning Alvarez for any thoughts about not taking the fight.  “He took the risk,” Hunter kept repeating in reference to Khan.  Khan, too, insisted that it was time to step up for Canelo, while at the same time mentioning that he himself will be returning to 147 to fight opponents two weight classes smaller.  Did anyone else wonder how much Golovkin paid Khan to get knocked unconscious by Canelo and then call him a chicken?  Alvarez has 15 days to make a decision and sign off on the fight, or be stripped of his title.

If nobody else has done it, I’d be glad to be first.  I’m going on record that I’m in favor and support of Saul Alvarez forfeiting the title.  It’s time for self-righteous spectator journalists to take a step back and realize that modern belts and titles are meaningless.  What’s not meaningless is how much of a challenge a fighter is willing to accept.  So far Alvarez has been more ambitious than Amir Khan or Gennady Golovkin in terms of competition at the highest levels.  Khan clearly took the fight against Alvarez (and asked for one with Pacquiao and Mayweather) because it was an easy way to be seen in a high-profile fight and get a lot of money.  He had no other choice for maximizing his potential success and financial standing in the sport, but Canelo does.

Alvarez succumbed to pressure from fans and press to take the fight with Mayweather far too early.  Had he avoided that fight he would still be undefeated and just as marketable if not as well known.  If Canelo takes a fight against Gennady Golovkin in the next 15 days, the choice probably result in a loss.  By itself, that wouldn’t be so bad, but he’s shown that he can be sensitive to the style of a fighter who beats him.  Aside from the psychological impact affecting his career, the physical consequences could be severe also. At the very least he should take a better warm-up fight before facing Golovkin.  How about the slightly less terrifying and previous challenger to Golovkin David Lemieux?  Delivering an impressive win on Canelo’s undercard, Lemieux has established himself as a draw in the middleweight division.  The match would be more lucrative, exciting and relevant than the fight against Khan, and it would give us an idea of whether a fight with Golovkin is worth watching.

If I really am the only one on this side, so be it.  You have my vote, Canelo.  You don’t have to prove yourself to Golovkin, or Virgil Hunter, and certainly not to Amir Khan.  You’ve already proven to your fans what you’re capable of, and taking a stupid risk isn’t something we want to add to that list.

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When the time comes twice a year to see Saul Alvarez back in the ring, nobody’s more excited than I am.  I can’t think of another fighter whose style and composure I enjoy watching more, and those are the real reasons I watch boxing.  Sure, I like knockouts, brawls, and pure technicians, but what I really watch for is the guy whose identity is more than the logos on the back of his trunks.  These are guys who respect the sport, and in moments of extreme conflict, show the fans something that is  at once viscerally human and divinely inspirational.  These guys aren’t always marked by immaculate records.  The Miguel Cottos, Micky Wards and Jerry Quarrys, who didn’t always look so pretty after a fight and didn’t have much success at the top level, gave fans performances that meant more than a win.

That’s what I see when I watch Saul Alvarez.  A man whose sense of discipline is as strong as his hook, whose ability to improvise is as robust as his dedication to a plan.  It’s just an added bonus for us that this guy is gifted and skilled enough to keep winning.  On the other hand, that’s why it’s so disappointing to see a money-first, sports-second matchup  like the one coming May 7 against Amir Khan.

Khan is very tall and long for his weight class, undeniably talented, and he’s exciting in the ring.  He’s also been consistently proven to be well below the top-level competition in the sport.  He struggled at 140 pounds because his speed was less of an advantage and because he got knocked down a lot.  He moved up to 147 pounds and beat B-level guys like Devon Alexander and Luis Collazo with superior reach and speed, but struggled in his most recent fight, at 147 pounds, against Chris Algieri.  Granted, Algieri is a talented, though not elite fighter, but he’s not even ranked in the top ten for the weight class.  Khan is ranked at number 5 in the world for welterweights, but you know who else beat Algieri?  This past weekend Errol Spence Jr., ranked at number 7, two spots below Khan, knocked Algieri down three times on his way to a TKO victory.  Spence is fairly fresh in the sport having just won his 20th bout, while Khan is a seasoned veteran at 34 total fights.  Saul Alvarez is not listed in the welterweight rankings at all.  That’s because he’s not at 147 pounds anymore; he’s moved past 154 pounds, too, and is now ranked number 1 in the world at 160 pounds.

You would think that between the two of them, the small guy with the weak chin should be the most worried for his career.  But when Alvarez is expected to take for his next opponent a man many consider the most feared or avoided in the sport (for good reason),  this kind of distraction could be detrimental.  In Khan, Alvarez has a warm-up opponent who began his career 20 pounds lighter than Canelo’s next opponent, Golovkin.  Khan has a slight advantage over Alvarez in hand speed, height, and reach, whereas Golovkin has a slight advantage over him in hand speed and height himself, but is also expected to have a huge advantage in power and mobility, while simply neutralizing some of Canelo’s other strengths.

This foregone conclusion will be entertaining for big Canelo fans and for fans who just don’t like Khan (I’m both), but this single W on Canelo’s record may be a disservice overall to his career. A fight more akin to preparation for Golovkin might be a fight against another ranked middleweight like Peter Quillin or David Lemieux.  Hell, if they really want to get him ready, give him a catch-weight fight against a less experienced super middle.  We’ll take it one fight at a time for now, and hope that Alvarez knows what kind of a fight he’s really giving his fans, and himself.

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Things to be Grateful for

The long wait is finally over for Saul Alvarez, who this past weekend defeated Miguel Cotto and won a middleweight championship.  While Cotto, at 35, must reassess his career and reconsider his next move, there won’t be much change in his immediate future.  Having already reached his peak in the sport and enjoyed multiple high-level showdowns, Cotto’s only option was to strategically pick fights that would enhance his legacy until he met opposition he couldn’t handle.  Alvarez, as many fans expected, turned out to be that opposition.  Cotto fought well and, as famed trainer Freddie Roach promised, his legs were a great asset.  Alvarez was more accurate, powerful and had faster hands and head movement than Cotto.  Using his slick style, (only evident against certain opponents) Alvarez was able to execute Mayweather-esque moves, landing shots while almost simultaneously slipping one from his opponent.
If Cotto had won, on the other hand, Alvarez is the only person who would have been significantly affected.  With abundant criticism of his unbelievably one-sided loss to Mayweather, and even of his wins over top, but not elite-level opponents, Alvarez needed to prove that he wasn’t just a gatekeeper at 154 pounds.  Given his size (he routinely rehydrates to the size of a super middleweight), Alvarez needed to make a big statement in the division before time ran out and making weight cost him his ability in the ring.  Cotto, being a key name in the sport, presented the perfect opportunity.  Alvarez is now recognized as one of the top fighters in the sport both for skill and entertainment value, and with Mayweather’s transition to retirement, the new star is right on time.

This weekend we can look forward to seeing Wladimir Klitschko face an opponent of similar size, if not similar talent, in Tyson Fury, whose most famed accomplishment in boxing so far has been punching himself in the face.  His shameful ranting and immature antics (dressing up as Batman at a press conference) have made this the most interesting Klitschko fight I can remember since Vitali fought Lennox Lewis.  Let’s be honest, we all wanted to see David Haye knocked out, but it wouldn’t have been quite as satisfying as seeing an enormous man, actually larger than Klitschko this time and even with some distinguishable talent, shut up for once and all.  We have all that to look forward to, AND a big meal.  Happy Thanksgiving.

I also want to highlight the success of my former trainer Mike Tata, whose Friday Night Fights Gym in New Orleans has been featured in Sports Illustrated and is enjoying considerable success after a humble beginning.

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The Champion of Whatever I Want

p19-151120-a2Sanctioning fees for championship fights are a controversial issue in the sport of boxing and there may be no better example of the consequences of this over-regulation than the recent announcement about the upcoming megafight between Miguel Cotto and Saul Alvarez.  In this case, the defending champion and future hall-of-famer Miguel Cotto was forced to choose between paying $300,000 out of his earnings, or losing his title granted by the WBC, which, ostensibly, he already won in a previous fight.  Especially when you sense the end of your illustrious career approaching, it just makes sense to choose to keep a significant amount of money rather than potentially cashing in bigger on a future fight for a title.

Oscar de la Hoya has taken it upon himself to provide commentary on various fighters’ personal (and professional) decisions in recent weeks.  First, with his sardonic “Farewell” letter to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in which he mockingly claimed to wish the former pound-for-pound champion a happy retirement.  He went on to reveal the true reason he had a letter published in Playboy magazine, criticizing Floyd’s athletic style and conservative choice of opponents, trivializing all of his accomplishments in the sport, and basically claiming that he (De la Hoya) had had a more impressive career.  While I’m sure he won over a lot of Manny Pacquiao fans with his petty jabs, a lot of his examples were inaccurate or just wrong.  His comments included both Cotto and Alvarez, claiming that Floyd had waited until Cotto was in decline to fight him, as he had with all of his top-level opponents.  In fact, his fight with Cotto was three and a half years ago, and only later did Mayweather take on Alvarez, who’s now touted as the next junior middleweight king.  So of course De la Hoya felt it his duty to weigh in on Cotto’s decision not to pay the fee, calling it “a disgrace to the sport” and even suggesting that fighters in general should not try to negotiate the sanctioning fee.  Appropriately, the absurdity of De la Hoya’s statement was exposed by the savvy Dan Rafael, who recalled that De la Hoya had rejected the fee initially proposed for his first fight with Shane Mosley.  There are other examples of fighters becoming irrationally bitter and resentful in their retirement (see Joe Frazier), but these recent outbursts have been particularly petty and transparent.

Cotto’s response was characteristically succinct and provocative:

“I have enough belts in my house…and I can be the champion of whatever I want in my house.”

“I don’t need to pay attention to Oscar De La Hoya’s opinion. He should take care of his own business, and I will take care of mine.”

As honorable as he’s always shown himself to be, Cotto demonstrated again why heart and personality often mean more in the sport than physical ability.  This Saturday, I’m afraid, it may not make the difference.  De la Hoya will be happy for Alvarez as he walks out of the ring, and fans will be cheering for Cotto no matter the result, but nobody will be happy for Oscar.

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What’s Left

This Saturday the highly anticipated fight between Miguel Cotto and Saul Alvarez will air on pay-per-view.  Cotto has received a lot of attention since his domination of the aging Sergio Martinez.  Not all for good reason, though, because while Martinez had been a middleweight sensation in previous fights, he was injured and badly faded before ever taking a punch from Miguel Cotto.  He was also on the small side for 160 pounds.  Hailed for training the offense-minded Manny Pacquiao, Freddie Roach has accepted most of the credit for Cotto’s wins since moving up to middleweight, and while he’s looked impressive in those wins, the opposition hasn’t.  His only two opponents at this weight, Martinez and Daniel Geale, were both under the limit at weigh-in by at least a full pound, which is uncommon for full middleweights.  Martinez was badly injured, and Geale is a B+ fighter at best.  Not the preparatory challenge you’d expect for someone getting ready to take on Saul Alvarez.
Roach and Cotto are enjoying the hype, despite its tenuous evidence.  Managing a knockout against Geale, Cotto is now evaluated consistently as being back to “his old self” and more of a head-hunter than he was in the past.  In reality, any strong, skilled, pressure fighter would have knocked out Geale and dominated the injured Martinez.  Saturday will be a wake-up call for casual fans but I’m not so cynical as to think Cotto and Roach are that naive.  They know their ride in the middleweight division headlines will be very much like a roller coaster, and it won’t be long before the quick descent begins.
Saul Alvarez will almost certainly be the catalyst for that descent.

ESPN has done their best to hype the fight, presenting a “12-round breakdown” for Cotto-Alvarez in which they are evenly matched.  The comparison features 12 different categories to contrast the fighters.  Some of the categories, like “Wild Card” (happens to be the name of Cotto’s gym) and “Corner” are all but useless, but most of them have a basis in fact.  For the most part, though, it’s just a way to promote a fight.  Take some of the more unrealistic comparisons, such as Technique and Versatility.  ESPN gives both of these to Cotto, based on the fact that he started his career heavily relying on his boxing ability and has since been in some classic brawls.  The same can be said of Alvarez, though, in that Canelo has been criticized for boxing too conservatively (still winning rounds) and also praised for brutal knockouts (over high-level opponents).  Cotto’s technique is viewed similarly by all analysts, and the consensus isn’t entirely favorable.  While his technique has always been good, it’s never been his main attraction for fans, who tune in to see him applying constant pressure and throwing combinations despite his opponent’s attacks.

Depending on how you look at it, this is a good final act for Cotto.  He won’t be able to make more money than he will with this fight; he won’t be able to draw more attention than he has fighting Alvarez; he may not have another better matched opponent for the rest of his career.  We’ll surely get to see Cotto go out on his shield as he always has, and is only more likely to do with his new trainer.  Alvarez will be challenged and knocked off his feet if he’s not careful, but I doubt Cotto will be the second to defeat Canelo.  If all goes as planned, this fight will actually secure three of the sport’s biggest names for fights with each other, as knockout king Gennady Golovkin will be mandatory challenger to the winner.  All three have hovered near the top ten pound-for-pound fighters in the world for some time, Golovkin being the most prominent, and also the largest physically.  So far the middleweight king’s technical ability has been difficult to assess as it’s never been a major factor in his wins.  Cotto may not be the only one taken down a peg in this equation, but he’s the only one whose career is at risk.  He deserves the ultimate respect for being willing to go out in glory after such an inspiring career.  Whatever the result, we’ll see all of Miguel Cotto on Saturday.  Or at least, all of what’s left.

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