Young boxers in the United States have a pretty set path to potential stardom in the fight game… a substantial amateur career (which increasingly may or may not involve the Olympic games) lasting until the fighter is 18-22 years old, then three or four years of facing increasing levels of opposition ranging from bums/hobos/no-hopers to faded former contenders. It is only after that process is complete, that a prospect will face a title-holder and be in the main event of a premium cable telecast. By the time a prospect moves from contender to titlist, he could be around 25-27 years of age and still a ways away from mainstream stardom. 24 year old three division titlist Adrien Broner is thought to be well ahead of the curve. Despite that, and his rumored inaugural foray into pay per view in December, it will still be sometime until Broner will be in a major pay per view event. Stated otherwise, it is extemely rare for a US based fighter under 25 to be involved in a major pay per view. Overseas, where fighters usually have longer amateur careers, it is rare for a fighter below 30 to be a major star.
Mexico, the home country of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (42-0-1) who faces Floyd Mayweather (44-0) in they year’s biggest boxing event at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, is much different. While the Mexican amateur boxing system is developing (Abner Mares and Top Rank promoted featherweight prospect Oscar Valdez are great examples of that), it is still common that fighters in Mexico have a handful of amateur fights and then turn professional in their teens. Canelo is a prime example of that… he started boxing at 13 years old, had 20 amateur fights and then had his first professional boxing match at 15 years old. So although he is only 23 years old, he has been a professional for eight years and has 43 professional bouts under his belt (it should also be noted that one of Canelo’s trainers, Chepo Reynoso, claims that Canelo has had 10 additional bouts, all knock out victories, but they are not on his record because of poor record keeping).
All of that professional experience seems to negate the general notion that a 23 year old would not be ready to be competitive with the world’s best pound for pound boxer. It makes for a fascinating topic of discussion: has Canelo been developed to the point that he is ready to fight Mayweather. If you asked the young Mexican who currently holds the Ring Magazine, WBC and WBA light middleweight titles, he has been ready for a while. Indeed, he called out Mayweather following his September 2012 knockout victory over Josesito Lopez. Boxing expets, on the other hand, are not so sure. Let’s take a look at five of Canelo’s highlights to see if he is ready:
- vs. Miguel Vasquez I (0-0, 2006) and vs. Miguel Vasquez II (21-2, 2008)
This may seem odd given that Canelo fought Vasquez in his third and 21st professional bouts (when Canelo was 15 and 17 years old!) but a credible argument could be made that Vasquez is the best boxer that Canelo has faced. Currently, Vasquez is the IBF lightweight titlist. He has held the title since 2010 and has victories over Bredis Prescott (when he was undefeated and coming off of his knock out of Amir Khan), Ji-Hoon Kim, and then-undefeated Leonardo Zappavinga and Mercito Gesta. His only other loss than the two to Canelo was a 2007 decision loss to Timothy Bradley. Throughout his career, Vasquez has established himself as a crafty boxer who, in a non-exciting fashion, avoids his opponents punches and lands just enough to win. Although weights are not available, it can be assumed both fights were at 140 or 147 pounds. The first fight was a split decision victory for Canelo and the second one was a unanimous decision for the redhead. Both fights are good examples of how Canelo used greater size and bigger punching power to overcome a defensive-minded boxer and win a decision. It also shows that he may not be frustrated by such as style. Mayweather, obviously, has a defensive style. If you are looking for exhibit “A” in why Canelo could beat Mayweather, the two bouts with Vasquez may be it.
- vs. Jose Miguel Cotto (31-1-1, 2010)
This fight was Canelo’s first major exposure to the public in the United States after becoming a budding superstar in Mexico. It took place on the undercard of Mayweather’s pay per view victory over Shane Mosley. For his introduction to the US, Canelo’s promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, placed him in a showcase bout designed to make him look good. As such, they choose the younger brother of the great Miguel Cotto to move up three weight classes (from lightweight to junior middleweight) in order to provide a “name” for Canelo’s resume but not a big challenge. Not surprisingly, Canelo dropped Cotto in the second round and stopped him in the ninth round. What was surprising, and the only reason why this fight is in this article, was that the much smaller Cotto landed a left hook in the first round of the bout that badly hurt Canelo and sent him stumbling backwards into the ropes. Although it was not called a knockdown by the referee, it could have been. Cotto again hurt Canelo with several follow up shots including a big right hand. There are both positives and negatives to be drawn from this bout. The positive is that, on a fairly big stage with a good amount of pressure on him, Canelo was able to survive a rocky moment and then go on to win by stoppage. He will certainly face rocky moments against Mayweather. The negative is that if a lightweight who was not all that quick could hit and hurt Canelo, it can be assumed that Mayweather, although not a big puncher, will be able to use his quick hands to stun and possibly hurt the Mexican. Mayweather is not known for going for the kill but if he has a chance, especially given that the stage is so big, he will likely do so and with his skill the chances for success are high.
- vs. Ryan Rhodes (45-4 2011)
Although Canelo won the vacant WBC light middleweight title by defeating Matthew Hatton in March, 2011, the boxing public was highly skeptical of how he won that bout. Indeed, his marquee fights at 154 pounds at the time he won the title were all against smaller and older fighters: Cotto (see above), Lovemore N’dou (a former 140 pound titlist who was 39 years old when he faced Canelo ), Carlos Baldomir (the former 147 pound champion, also 39 when he faced Canelo) and Hatton (a career welterweight who agreed to a 150 pound catchweight, a weight which Canelo came in a pound and a half over). Because of this history, there was excitement when Canelo agreed to face European junior middleweight titlist Ryan Rhodes. In fact, Rhodes was the first widely recognized top-ten 154 pound contender that Canelo faced. Many experts were predicting that Rhodes’ size (he fought at 160 pounds as well) and experience would give Canelo a world of trouble. No dice. Canelo dominated Rhodes and won every second of every round. Fighting in his hometown of Guadalajara, Canelo landed numerous hard punches, opened up two cuts on his opponent, dropped Rhodes in the fourth round, and had the British challenger in retreat early on. In the 12th round, Canelo turned up the pressure and stopped Rhodes. It was a complete performance that showed Canelo was a true junior middleweight who deserved his title belt and was a force to be reckoned with for any 154 pounder.
- vs. Shane Mosley (46-7-1, 2012)
Although Mosley had lost 3 of his last 6 (and had a boring draw with Sergio Mora in that stretch), Canelo defending his title against the former pound for pound ruler who held a title at lightweight and was a former champion at welterweight and junior middleweight was still a big deal. For starters, the fight was on the undercard of Mayweather’s bout with Miguel Cotto (the third time he appeared on a Mayweather pay per view undercard) and started the speculation that a victory would lead to eventual fight with Mayweather. That speculation even led to Canelo being given some exposure on the Mayweather-Cotto version of “24/7.” There was also speculation that despite Mosley looking horrible against Mayweather, Mora and, especially, Manny Pacquiao, he could turn back the clock against a Mexican banger similar to the way he did just three years earlier against Antonio Margarito. Finally, the boxing community was especially interested to see if Canelo would be the first fighter to stop the legendary Mosley. Unlike his prior fights, Mosley was active during the fight and threw a good amount of punches, especially to the body. None of those punches had any impact on the young Mexican titlist. Rather, Canelo returned fire and landed numerous hard shots (348 according to CompuBox) to the body and the head. Although Mosley was never in big trouble, Canelo caused substantial swelling to both of Mosley’s eyes and clearly wore down the future hall of famer during the second half of the bout. Despite not stopping Mosley, Canelo certainly earned his respect: after the fight, Mosley said of the young Mexican, “[h]e’s up there with the top guys… Mayweather… Cotto.”
- vs. Austin Trout (26-0, 2013)
In more was than one, Canelo really took control of his career with his April, 2013 victory over Austin Trout. Golden Boy Promotions wanted him to fight on the Mayweather-Guerrero undercard but when Mayweather refused to guarantee Canelo a shot at him, the Mexican refused the offer and, instead headlined his own show in front of 40,000 fans in San Antonio, Texas. This gave Canelo more negotiating power and resulted in his reported $12 million guarantee for Saturday’s fight. For the fight, Canelo chose Trout as his opponent even though his promoter and his management wanted him to fight, well… anyone but Trout. Prior to the April fight, Trout had established himself as a good sized junior middleweight with a slick southpaw style, good hand speed and a tight defense. He also won two fights in Mexico against Mexican fighters (one being Canelo’s brother Rigoberto Alvarez) and beat Miguel Cotto in New York which established that he would not be scared fighting in front of Canelo’s fans. The fight itself was extremely close. At time, Trout was able to counterpunch and win rounds. Then, Canelo would respond by tightening up his defense and also landing shots. A 7th round knockdown of Trout was the difference and Canelo won a unanimous decision over a fighter many experts were picking to beat him. This performance is the one most point to as the one that proves Canelo is ready for Mayweather… a victory over a prime defensive-minded title-holder where he won a close decision overcoming some rounds where he was outboxed.
So you can judge for yourself based on the above whether the 23 year old is ready for the best fighter in the sport (the author’s opinion will be in Friday’s Preview/Bettor’s Guide). The real answer will only be revealed inside the ring in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Tags: Boxing, Saul Alvarez