When Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (43-1-1, 31 KOs) stepped up to face Floyd Mayweather Jr in the most lucrative fight in boxing history last September, the 23-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico was cruelly exposed by the American veteran over 12 embarrassingly one-sided rounds.
Although there’s no shame in losing to the best boxer on the planet, Canelo’s desperate performance on the biggest night of his professional career led many to question whether the Mexican champion was even worthy of sharing the ring with the pound-for-pound king. So much for being ‘The One’ to dethrone the unbeaten Mayweather (46-0, 26 KOs), Canelo looked clueless and barely landed a meaningful punch on his slippery foe all night.
Of course, the horrible scoring by the judges (much has been made of CJ Ross’ indefensible 114-114 card, but Craig Metcalfe and Dave Moretti had the bout too close at 117-111 and 116-112 respectively) became the story in the post-mortem of the fight and Canelo’s inept showing was largely overlooked by boxing scribes struggling to comprehend how Mayweather was awarded a close majority decision after putting on a boxing masterclass in Las Vegas.
A shell-shocked Alvarez offered no excuses for his limp effort, but it was difficult to see what gameplan his trainer Jose “Chepo” Reynoso had devised to negate Mayweather’s obvious strengths. The 37-year-old’s most recent opponent, Argentine slugger Marcos Maidana (35-4), came into the ring on May 3 with a clear strategy from trainer Robert Garcia to rough up Mayweather, disrupt his rhythm, smother his work and force him onto the ropes as he attacked the body. As a result, ‘El Chino’ arguably gave the pound-for-pound king his toughest night since a disputed unanimous points win over Jose Luis Castillo in December 2002, losing a close majority decision which led to a clamour for an immediate rematch.
Canelo, on the other hand, failed to impose himself physically on the much smaller Mayweather (he had a 15-pound weight advantage on fight night) and seemed comparatively flat-footed despite having youth firmly on his side. He was slow, tentative and showed far too much respect for his decorated opponent.
“I couldn’t catch him. He’s very elusive”, was the best he could offer when interviewed by Showtime’s Jim Gray. “I didn’t know how to get to him. It’s as simple as that.”
Back to basics
After failing to live up to the hype bestowed on him by his mentor and Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya, Canelo went back to the drawing board and was matched with the game but limited Alfredo Angulo (22-4, 18 KOs) in March this year to get back in the win column. While Angulo is no pushover, his one-dimensional, come-forward style was made to order for Canelo, who put a beating on his countryman on his way to a 10th round TKO.
“I definitely rebounded from the Mayweather fight with a strong performance. I’m very happy. I came here and did my job,“ reflected Alvarez.
It was certainly an impressive performance by the 23-year-old, who didn’t appear to have been adversely affected by the Mayweather loss as he proceeded to take Angulo apart in dominant fashion. However, his next opponent, Cuban amateur standout Erislandy Lara (19-1-2, 12 KOs) is unlikely to be so obliging when they meet on July 12 in a nontitle bout at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Styles make fights
Indeed, Lara is a slick southpaw who has the ability to follow Mayweather’s blueprint and inflict the second loss of Canelo’s career. Hailing from the city of Guantanamo, the outspoken 31-year-old was the 2005 and 2006 world amateur champion at welterweight before defecting to the United States to pursue a professional career.
The only blots on Lara’s professional record are a bogus majority decision loss to Paul Williams in July 2011 which most ringside observers felt he had comfortably won, and disputed draws with Carlos Molina and Vanes Martirosyan.
Last time out, Lara outclassed Austin Trout, winning a surprisingly comfortable unanimous decision against the highly-regarded Texan who gave Canelo all he could handle in April last year. Lara’s rangy, awkward style may not win him many admirers outside the ring but opponents rarely look good against him. Canelo may live to regret his decision to pick Lara as his next foe after relenting to his constant social media taunts.
He disrespected me. But not only me, he disrespected all Mexicans. For him to be saying that he’s going to give me a boxing lesson and he’s going to take me to school, that’s very disrespectful.
Taking the bait
“A lot have asked me, ‘Why did you take this fight?’ I say ‘Why not? I will fight anyone. Style doesn’t matter,’” said Alvarez on a recent promotional stop in New York.
“The reality is that a year ago the fans didn’t really know Lara. Nobody really knew him. But he has been talking so much that now it’s built up and the fans asked for it, so I wanted to give them what they wanted. He disrespected me. But not only me, he disrespected all Mexicans. For him to be saying that he’s going to give me a boxing lesson and he’s going to take me to school, that’s very disrespectful.”
Lara’s taunts about Canelo building his record “on a Mexican street corner” clearly stung the young champion, but the Cuban is convinced the pressure he put on his rival via social media gave him no option but to agree to the fight.
“No-one wants to fight me because I’m dangerous and I beat everybody. He took this fight because of the pressure I put on him,” Lara said.
Meanwhile, De La Hoya praised his protégé for daring to be great: “Right now you are looking at the best 154-pounders in the division, Lara and Canelo.
“The fact that Canelo wanted this fight shows you that he wants to be great and he wants to fight the best in order to be known as great.”
While Canelo’s determination to face the trash-talking Cuban is worthy of praise when there are easier and more lucrative fights out there, it is a huge gamble when he is only just re-establishing himself as pay-per-view attraction following the Mayweather debacle.
Another comprehensive loss may convince proud Mexican fight fans that he is not the real deal after all. It’s a well-worn boxing cliché, but styles make fights, and Lara’s style is all wrong for Canelo. Unless the Mexican star can land a clean shot on Lara’s suspect chin, expect the slippery Cuban to use his speed and superior timing to outmanoeuvre his opponent and box his way to a decisive points verdict.
Knockoutpunch prediction: Lara by decision