By Graham Houston
Video: Pepe Rodriguez
There’s no question that Floyd Mayweather Jr. versus Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is a colossal event, and “The One” will quite likely set a record for pay per view buys. Will the fight live up to the hype, though? Is this fight coming too soon for the hugely popular Canelo? I believe that the ingredients are there for a fight to remember. This clash of unbeaten champions pits a veteran master boxer going up against a strong young rival.
Some might even see it as a “hero vs villain” type of fight, with many no doubt hoping that the brash and boastful Mayweather gets his comeuppance against a quietly confident young man who at the age of 23 is 13 years Mayweather’s junior.
There is the perception, though, that the light-middleweight title fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night — Showtime PPV in the U.S.; BoxNation in the U.K. — could see Canelo stepping out of his depth.
Yet Mayweather, so astute at selecting the right opponents at the right time, on the face of it doesn’t expect an easy fight. Otherwise, why did his team insist that Canelo fight at a catchweight of 152lbs and not at the light-middleweight limit of 154lbs?
Maybe those two pounds won’t make a difference, but Canelo hadn’t been as light as 152 in more than two years and the only logical explanation for the catchweight clause is that Mayweather’s camp hoped that Canelo might drain himself a bit in making the weight. In agreeing to Mayweather’s weight stipulation, the Canelo camp is showing confidence. This is the fight that Canelo wanted, and it’s easy to overlook the fact that Canelo is the champion here, risking the WBC and WBA titles — but Mayweather is a superstar and can thus dictate terms.
Mayweather holds the WBC welterweight title but he has won two title fights in the light-middleweight division, defeating Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto. In neither of those bouts did he insist on a catchweight.
As ever Mayweather looked in impeccable condition at Friday’s weigh-in, coming in at 150½ pounds, but Canelo, I thought, looked impressive at the match weight limit of 152 pounds — he was impressively muscled and didn’t have a noticeably drained look.
Mayweather is rightly the favourite. There is a perfect symmetry to Mayweather’s boxing. A true ring artist, beautifully balanced, he seems able to make opponents miss with ease while seldom missing with a punch of his own.
Opponents facing Mayweather can find themselves caught up in a fight that is both frustrating and demoralising, with Mayweather playing a game of: “I hit you; you don’t hit me.”
There did seem to signs of slippage when Mayweather got caught more times by Miguel Cotto than we’re used to seeing him get hit, but the end result was a widely scored win — and I thought that Mayweather had Cotto hurt and ready to be stopped in the last round.
Canelo can get some encouragement from the Cotto fight, though, because there were at least a few rounds in which the Puerto Rican veteran was doing very well.
The problem for Cotto though, was that when Mayweather stepped up the pace and intensity of his boxing he pulled right away.
Canelo is younger and naturally bigger than Mayweather and you’d have to consider him the better one-punch hitter, but Canelo is more of a stand-up boxer than a power-and-pressure type of fighter and he tends to be conservative in his expenditure of energy, fighting in bursts.
It is difficult to imagine Canelo beating Mayweather in a textbook boxing match. He is going to have to be consistent and insistent, and that isn’t easy against a fighter who could be termed a defensive genius and who is quick to seize openings and punish errors.
While Canelo has demonstrated punching power, it’s one thing blowing away physically overmatched opponents such as Alfonso Gomez, Kermit Cintron and Josesito Lopez and another matter altogether trying to bring firepower to bear on a boxer of Mayweather’s prowess.
Even if Canelo can land his heavy hooks, he is unlikely to get Mayweather out of the fight, not unless he can hit him consistently or exactly right, which is going to be very hard to do.
It will be interesting to see if Canelo can keep the pressure on Mayweather to such an extent that the older man is obliged to fight more than he would prefer.
If Mayweather can glide through the early rounds and start to time Canelo and pick him off, the younger fighter could find himself struggling with Mayweather’s speed and accuracy. We haven’t seen Canelo in a fight in which he’s had to take punishment because he’s always been dominant.
Then again, apart from the Victor Ortiz fight this will be the first time in several years that Mayweather has been in the ring with a young fighter — one still in his 20s. Ortiz didn’t have the talent or the temperament to be a serious threat to Mayweather, but Canelo looks a different proposition entirely. Canelo has shown himself to be a young man with sound boxing acumen and he has good hand speed and an improved defence — his upper-body movement was, I thought, quite impressive in Canelo’s win over Austin Trout.
One who gives Canelo an excellent chance is his former adviser, the longtime manager and agent Rafael Mendoza. “This will be a very dangerous fight for Mayweather for the first six rounds,” Mendoza said over the phone from his home in Guadalajara. “In my opinion the best weapon Mayweather has now is his speed. I’ve never considered him a powerful puncher. Canelo is a very smart fighter. He thinks in the ring. The better the opponent, the better that Canelo is going to look.
“This is a compulsory fight for Mayweather because of the pay per view. He’s got to fight a guy who is going to be an attraction for Mexican Independence Day on September 14 — that’s why it’s a compulsory fight.
“I’m going to go with Mayweather by decision but Canelo will be a very dangerous opponent for the first six rounds. It was a mistake to make Canelo weigh 152 because he will train better, he will be faster than in other fights, but if he doesn’t slow Mayweather down in the first six rounds he won’t see Mayweather in the other six.”
Canelo’s tactics in the early rounds could indeed be the key to the fight. Mendoza believes that Canelo’s best strategy will be to jump on Mayweather and try to hit him anywhere he can — the arms, the shoulders but specially to the body.
The problem here is that for Canelo to go right at Mayweather and bring a high punch-rate to the proceedings would mean a departure from his normal style of picking his moments and attacking in spurts.
Also, everyone Mayweather meets goes into the ring with the same thought in mind — to bring pressure and try to wear him down — and no one has been able to succeed. Yet if Canelo stays on the outside and gets into a battle-of-wits, move-for-move boxing match with Mayweather he is likely to be outjabbed, outsmarted and outmanoeuvred.
Canelo’s best chance, it seems to me, will be to do what he does best, combining stand-up boxing with two-handed surges, but with a greater emphasis on speed and a higher punch-volume than we normally see from him.
While Canelo’s stamina has been questioned, I can’t say I’ve noticed a serious deficiency in this department.
Although Canelo didn’t close the fight strongly against Austin Trout, I got the impression that Canelo was content to win on points without taking risks because he knew he was in front — the judges’ scores were made available to the fighters’ corners thanks to an agreement between the WBC and the Texas commission.
Simply staying ahead and winning on points was good enough for Canelo.
This sort of patient fight won’t get the job done against Mayweather. Canelo is going to have to wage more of an attacking fight than he did against Trout while being conscious of defence. It is going to be a major challenge for Canelo to get the balance right.
Mayweather’s jab to body and head is a stiff and disconcerting weapon. If Mayweather gets his jab in the groove, rolls away from Canelo’s punches and fires in the quick, crisp right hands and left hooks while Canelo is trying to figure things out, we could see Mayweather putting on one of his boxing showcases.
What we don’t know, though, is whether Canelo can rise to the occasion and fight the great fight that will be needed for him to pull off the upset. We know what Mayweather can do when he’s at his best — but we may not have seen the best of Canelo. This is what makes the fight intriguing.
Timing is everything in fights such as this, and my suspicion is that the fight has probably come a year to soon for Canelo — but a cautionary note: Even the great fighters, and Mayweather can be called great, eventually lose if they fight on for long enough.
Visit fightwriter.com For subscribers this week: A 2,000-word betting-angled breakdown of Mayweather vs Canelo; a look at Lucas Matthysse vs Danny Garcia, and more.