By Graham Houston
Photos: Sumio Yamada
One thing that I don’t think very many people expected was Saul “Canelo” Alvarez to outbox Austin Trout in Saturday’s junior middleweight title fight on Showtime. Once Canelo came out and started slipping Trout’s jab in the opening round it set the tone for the fight.
Trout was supposed to be the smarter, slicker boxer here, but Canelo was the fighter showing the superior head and upper-body movement. In the fifth round he had had Trout missing with four consecutive punches and seemed to give a little smile of satisfaction.
While the unanimous scoring in Canelo’s favour seemed a bit on the wide side, there was no question about who won the fight. Canelo’s knockdown of Trout in the seventh round was the punctuation mark on a very impressive display of boxing and fighting by the redheaded Mexican superstar.
I’ve always believed that the left jab from the orthodox stance can work well against a southpaw, and Canelo showed this. A jab that he landed in the fourth round seemed to stun Trout briefly.
For a 22-year-old, Canelo showed remarkable poise and ring maturity. He seemed to be enjoying himself at times. Trout always had the look of a fighter who was struggling to get something going. Even when Trout was doing well, getting in left hands to the body from his southpaw posture, one always had the sense that just one solid shot from Canelo could turn everything around.
All the really solid, eye-catching punches were coming from Canelo. His right hands to the body, through the middle of Trout’s guard, were pushing Trout back. The right hand that dropped Trout in the seventh was, of course, the biggest punch of the fight and in effect sealed the deal for Canelo. Even though the fight went the distance, it was really all over in the seventh. Trout couldn’t outbox Canelo, he couldn’t outjab him and he couldn’t hurt him — but Canelo could hurt Trout.
Trout was in a very difficult position. If he stayed on the outside he was going to get outscored by Canelo’s harder blows and what looked like superior hand speed. By going forward and backing up Canelo, Trout was able to enjoy a measure of success but at the same time he was placing himself at risk of being countered by heavy right hands, which included head-jerking right uppercuts. Canelo is known for being a powerful left-hooker but he showed sharp boxing acumen, focusing on landing the jab or the right hand, showed “another dimension” as they say.
It was clear to me that Canelo was winning the fight but this open scoring that the WBC uses is a real tension-killer. People watching in the arena wouldn’t have known, but Showtime’s Al Bernstein informed the TV viewing audience that the judges had Alvarez way ahead after eight rounds, with one judge not having given a single round to Trout. (In the U.S., the open scoring after four and eight rounds have been completed isn’t announced to the crowd but, as I understand it, both corners are informed of the scores.) The thing is, while we may think we know who is winning a fight, if we don’t know how the judges are seeing it we are kept in a state of suspense (unless it’s a Larry Holmes-Tex Cobb, Canelo-Shane Mosley type of one-sided fight). With Alvarez-Trout, once we knew the one-sided scores after eight rounds all the drama was sucked out of the fight — well, except for gamblers who had bet on a specific outcome, such as “Alvarez by KO” or “fight goes distance”.
Open scoring can affect the way the fight is fought, too. If Canelo was in the dark about the scoring, he might have been advised by his corner to finish strongly and try to hurt Trout and get him out of the fight. Knowing he was far ahead, Canelo seemed content to cruise home, doing enough to keep his nose in front but not seeking to put in a big finish. In fact, Trout had one of his better rounds in the 12th although the Filipino judge, Rey Danseco, gave the round to Alvarez. Interestingly, if Danseco had given the 12th to Trout, as did the other two judges, he would have had this as just a one-point win for Canelo, and I think that many observers would have seen this as an appropriate assessment.
Much has been made of Stanley Christodoulou’s score of 118-109, but in fact Christodoulou was the “odd judge out” in only one round — in the other 11 rounds Christodoulou was in agreement with at least one of the other judges. Yet while Christodoulou’s scoring wasn’t that far off in relation to how the other two judges scored the bout, the fight seemed closer, more like 115-112.
Regardless of the margin, though, there was only one winner. Canelo didn’t dominate every round, because he can be sparing with his punches and Trout was much the busier man in several rounds, but, to me, Canelo was always in control of the fight. Trout did seem to be gaining some momentum in the sixth, but then Canelo caught and dropped him with the right hand almost as soon as the seventh round started and that really was that.
I picked Trout to win this fight and of course I got the obligatory “great analysis” email, which went straight into the trashcan, unopened. Why do people feel the need to do this sort of thing? It’s never particularly pleasant to back the wrong fighter in a really big fight such as this, but we’ve gone 10-3 in what I call “official” wagering endorsements for subscribers in the last two weeks and I’m OK with that.
The great British writer George Whiting used to get a letter (in the pre-Internet days) after every big fight in which George had picked the wrong fighter. The letter — unsigned, of course — would simply say: “Wrong again” followed by a four-letter swear word that I won’t repeat here. George, a mild-mannered and gracious gentleman of the old school, took it all in good humour, merely remarking with a rueful smile: “My ‘friend’ reminded me that I didn’t pick the winner last week.” What we now call “haters” have been around a long time. There’s something in that old saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”