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Conflicted Over Canelo: Is Alvarez The Goods?

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Alvarez NDou Espinosa11Matt Hatt probably is on the same level as Ndou, who Canelo handled in December. So we likely won't go far in figuring out what Golden Boy's new golden child is all about on Saturday. But beyond that..weigh in, TSS Universe. Will Canelo live up to lofty expectations? (Hogan)

It’s really not fair to try to guess whether a 20-year-old is going to be successful in life. How many sophomores or juniors in college even know what field they want to go into, much less whether they’ll be any good in their chosen career? Most 20-year-olds are focused on where the best party is and who’s buying the beer, not establishing their professional worth. So it’s probably unfair to attempt to extrapolate how far Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is going as a boxer as he stands before us now, more than four months away from his 21st birthday.

But then again … who cares if it’s fair? It’s FUN.

It’s what we do in the sports world. It’s why people were throwing the “next Jordan” tag at LeBron James when he was still in high school. It’s why the Philadelphia Flyers traded six quality players, two first-round draft picks, and $15-million for a teenaged Eric Lindros in 1992. Sports is largely about speculation, particularly in the case of unproven, young, high-ceiling athletes. So when someone like Alvarez comes along, we can’t help but speculate.

Alvarez is already a ticketseller and already the closest thing boxing has had to a sex symbol since Oscar De La Hoya. On the basis of the crowds and buzz he generates, Alvarez is someone who demands to be dissected by the fans and the writers. And as he prepares for his first live fight on HBO this Saturday, against Matthew Hatton, now is the time to get way ahead of ourselves and ask the question: Will Alvarez make it?

There are good arguments on both sides, so let’s break it down point/counterpoint style. (Traditionally, it takes two expert analysts to do a point/counterpoint. But you can also do it with one analyst who sees both sides of the issue and can’t make up his mind which side is right.) So here goes with why Canelo will make it … and why Canelo won’t make it:

CANELO WILL MAKE IT BECAUSE …

… the kid can punch. If you saw the left hook that shattered the rock-solid chin of Carlos Baldomir last September, you know what I’m talking about. And his recent blastouts of Brian Camechis and Carlos Herrera were fairly spectacular as well. With 26 knockouts in 36 fights, we’re obviously not talking about the second coming of Tommy Hearns, but Alvarez has legitimate pop.

And remember, a lot of fighters don’t develop their full “man strength” until they’re a little bit older. Maybe Alvarez has his already, or maybe he’s a good young puncher who’s going to mature into a truly great puncher. If that happens—if he’s going to get, say, 10 percent better in the power department over the next few years—then Baldomir’s won’t be the last thick beard to get shorn by Alvarez.

CANELO WON’T MAKE IT BECAUSE …

… there’s a chance he can’t take a punch. If you saw the left hook from Jose Miguel Cotto that made Alvarez’s knees do the double-jointed dance, you know what I’m talking about. Cotto turned pro at 122 pounds and had his best success as a lightweight, yet here he was seemingly a punch or two from kayoing 150-pound Canelo in the first round.

Hey, it happens, especially when it’s just a minute or so into a fight and a boxer hasn’t really gotten warmed up yet. And Alvarez showed heart and decent recuperative powers the rest of the round. Because Alvarez came back and won the fight, you couldn’t play the “exposed!” card afterward. But getting rocked in the first place by Cotto was at least a red flag, if not quite a Code Red, for the kid with the red hair.

CANELO WILL MAKE IT BECAUSE …

… he’s only 20 and barely had an amateur career. As Larry Merchant said on HBO.com’s preview video for the Hatton fight, “He is, for 20 years old, as good looking a young fighter as I’ve seen.” That’s some pretty stinkin’ high praise.

Alvarez first started boxing at age 13, had a measly 20 bouts in the unpaid ranks, and turned pro at just 15. There are two things worth noting about this: First, he’s obviously been learning on the job and has the potential to get considerably better than he is now. And second, he seems to be exceptionally mature for his age and experience level, which bodes very well indeed. Precocious talent is a fine place to start, but ask Tony Ayala Jr., Francisco Bojado, Ricardo Williams Jr., etc., how far talent takes you if you don’t have a good head on your shoulders.

CANELO WON’T MAKE IT BECAUSE …

… he’s slow as a turtle in molasses on a glacier, and you can’t teach hand speed. Okay, maybe that cliché combination is an exaggeration (not to mention you’ll rarely find molasses on a glacier), but Alvarez’ hand speed is average at best.

Look at the top of the pound-for-pound list; Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Sergio Martinez, and Nonito Donaire all get an “A” or “A+” in hand speed. There are, of course, ways to compensate for modest speed with technique and timing. But you have to question whether a guy like Alvarez can truly reach the elite level if, at that level, his opponents are all beating him to the punch.

CANELO WILL MAKE IT BECAUSE …

… he’s an action fighter, which means one or two or three losses won’t prevent him from getting opportunities. Once a stinker like Billy Dib suffers one defeat, that’s it; we’re done with him. But Alvarez makes for entertaining fights (except maybe last time out against Lovemore Ndou, a ho-hum boxing exhibition), and as Arturo Gatti reminded us, there’s more than one path to superstardom in this sport.

I’m not saying Alvarez reminds anyone of Gatti in the drama department, but perhaps he will when he starts facing true tests. Michael Katsidis loses every time he steps up and HBO welcomes him back regardless. If Alvarez wins some and loses some when he steps up, that might be good enough to make him one of the sport’s biggest stars over the next decade.

CANELO WON’T MAKE IT BECAUSE …

… action fighters with defensive deficiencies tend to have short careers. Gatti really bucked the odds by fighting into his mid-30s. More often, a guy who doesn’t move his head enough, gets hit a lot, and stands and trades when he doesn’t have to burns out in his 20s, a la Fernando Vargas or Juan Diaz or, if you want to go back a century or so, Terry McGovern.

Alvarez’s defense seems to be slowly improving and we haven’t yet seen his skin rip open, but he still gets hit more than is advisable. It’s not easy to exhibit good defense AND be entertaining, but it’s important that Alvarez find a reasonable approximation of that balance.

CANELO WILL MAKE IT BECAUSE …

… Golden Boy Promotions seems intent on guiding him carefully and will give him as much time as he needs to develop. For his age, Alvarez is being advanced somewhat quickly (especially when you compare his opposition with that of fellow Mexican mega-draw Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.). But when you take a close look, you see some very deliberate matchmaking going on here.

Herrera and Camechis had decent records (a combined 40-3) but modest punching power (16 combined knockouts). Cotto, as discussed earlier, was not really in the same weight class as Alvarez. Luciano Cuello’s record looked nice, but he wasn’t a puncher either and he hadn’t really beaten anybody. Baldomir was 39 and mostly used up. Ndou was also 39, a bit faded, and a bit undersized.

This is the way you’re supposed to do it: Feed a prospect opponents who aren’t bums, but who aren’t threats to upset him. Hatton is at best a sideways step from Ndou (I expect Alvarez to have an easier time with the Brit this Saturday night), and that’s good enough to get Alvarez on HBO because his promotional company has juice and because Alvarez has the boxing world buzzing. He can go on a while longer this way and not have to risk defeat against a championship-caliber foe until he’s ready.

CANELO WON’T MAKE IT BECAUSE …

… if he really wants to be great and make obscene money, he’ll have to face a top-of-the-line opponent eventually. Everybody but Jose Sulaiman and a few people with their noses uncomfortably entrenched in Jose’s rear knows that the Hatton fight won’t make Alvarez a champion. Deep down, surely Alvarez knows it. And there are plenty of major fights lurking for him at 147 or 154 pounds on the road to REAL champion status. This is the weight range where Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, Andre Berto, Kermit Cintron, and Alfredo Angulo reside. Merchant caused a collective spit-take from the boxing world mentioning Alvarez’s name in conjunction with Pac-Man’s last year, but eventually, a fight like that might happen.

If he’s as gifted as Merchant thinks he is, maybe Canelo can beat some of these top-flight fighters. If he’s not? Well, any second-rate fighter can win a belt nowadays, but Alvarez is in a weight range where a second-rate fighter doesn’t have a chance at becoming the true champion.

So which will it be? Will Canelo make it or not? I’m very much undecided, but gun to my head, I have to lean toward “not.” I see a fighter whose popularity will probably outrun his ability. But, again, that’s a conclusion reached with no conviction whatsoever.

All I can say confidently is that whatever your opinion of Alvarez at this moment, the Matthew Hatton fight isn’t going to change it.

Eric Raskin can be contacted at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin https://twitter.com/#!/search/%40ericraskin and listen to new episodes of his podcast, Ring Theory, at http://ringtheory.podbean.com.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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