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Is Canelo Being Oversold?

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AlvarezPrepares4Rhodes_Blevins14The tiny fragment of the world's population who can legitimately bear the title of “prodigy” often describe it as both a blessing and a curse.

The benefits are obvious.  Whether it is in music, academics, or athletics, being peerless and extraordinarily talented, particularly at a young age, is something most people would kill for.  The vast majority of the human race must toil merely to rise above the ranks of mediocrity; to have a natural proclivity for brilliance is something most cannot begin to comprehend.

Often overlooked, however, are the heavy drawbacks of such talent.  Unexpected notoriety, suffocating external pressures, and underdeveloped maturity have caused many prodigies to fizzle out short of the extremely high expectations placed before them.  The reality for most prodigies is that the initial trajectory of their talents is rarely a reliable indicator of where the story will end.

This reality is something that just might apply to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, the 20-year old phenom to whom the label “prodigy” has often been affixed.  Though Alvarez cannot legally consume an alcoholic beverage in the United States, he has already amassed an impressive record of 36-0-1 (26), and has created the type of buzz that already has fight fans watching and Golden Boy Promotions, who promotes Alvarez, drooling.  His remarkable poise coupled with his apparent athletic gifts have already produced scene-stealing performances on high-profile pay-per-views, and also netted HBO one of its highest-rated Boxing After Dark telecasts in recent years.  All this, along with Alvarez' charisma, good looks, and distinctive red hair, have made him the consensus choice for boxing's Next Big Thing.

With everything going for him, what could possibly go wrong?  The answer:  plenty.

The boxing landscape is littered with the memories of young fighters who never quite lived up to their fullest potential.  Names like Davey Moore, Tony Ayala, Jr., David Reid, and Francisco Bojado come to mind, just to name a few.  Cases of unfulfilled potential reveal that great fighters require more than great talent.  In most cases, the intangibles prove more important than skills.

Could Canelo Alvarez be the latest name to be demoted from The Next Big Thing to The Last Big Bust?   A comparison of Alvarez to another one-time phenom could provide insights into Canelo's prospects for ring greatness.  Though the parallels might seem sketchy at first, Alvarez and recent Hall of Fame inductee Mike Tyson hold much in common.  Tyson's supernova-like burst of brilliance, short but luminous, could foreshadow Alvarez' ultimate destination in boxing history.

An Unlikely Comparison:  “Iron Mike” and “Canelo” Alvarez

Comparing Tyson and Alvarez may seem unusual, especially considering that Tyson's stock at age 20 was exponentially higher than Alvarez' is currently; regardless, there are still striking similarities.  Like Alvarez, Tyson exploded on the boxing scene as an incredible young specimen, possessing incredible physical gifts and fighting instincts exceedingly rare in fighters, particularly in such a young man.  Tearing through a feeble heavyweight division, Tyson's strengths were made apparent in disturbingly violent fashion:  his undeniable punching power was delivered by often-overlooked handspeed and underrated footwork, all fueled by his warrior's mentality.  There were murmurs within the sport that Tyson, boxing's youngest ever heavyweight champion, could possibly go on to become the greatest heavyweight in history.

While Tyson's mystique grew, there were indicators during his title reign which indicated his unobstructed run to greatness might not go according to plan.  Hindsight clearly proves that Tyson had the physical makeup for greatness, but did not possess the maturity or discipline to complete the package of a truly great fighter.  Believing so firmly in the potency of his talents, Tyson refused to acknowledge his vulnerabilities.  He counted entirely on his fists to pulverize his opponents into powder that he lost sight of his weaknesses, namely his lack of height and range as well as his dependency on elusiveness to create openings to land.  This was illustrated even prior to his monumental upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas.  Tyson's youthful arrogance made him perhaps the biggest believer in his invincibility.  Tyson's refusal to compensate for his shortcomings defined most of his career and kept him from realizing the vast potential he had within his grasp.

What, if anything, does this mean for Canelo Alvarez?  

Put bluntly, he demonstrates the same disregard for his shortcomings that Tyson did.  Though he possesses impressive instincts and athleticism for such a young man, Alvarez seems to believe that his aggression and heavy hands will solve all his problems.  Alvarez, as a result, shows an unwillingness to broaden his skill set.  His level of competition is improving, but he still exhibits a marked lack of head movement and defensive awareness, especially considering that his unspectacular handspeed makes him fairly easy to beat to the punch.  He revealed himself to be a ready target in his previous bout against Matthew Hatton, who, thankfully for Alvarez, possesses featherweight power in a welterweight's body.  And though Alvarez' match with Carlos Baldomir is best remembered for his highlight-reel knockout of an anvil-chinned opponent, the fight action showed Alvarez taking unnecessary chances with a fighter against whom he possessed every possible advantage.  Prior to that, the Alvarez Express was almost derailed against the wholly pedestrian Jose Cotto, who had Alvarez in serious trouble early in the fight.

Chalk it up to being a developing fighter, attribute it to gaining on-the-job experience, but the hard reality is that Canelo Alvarez may top out as a fighter sooner rather than later.  His hands, while heavy, are far from the most lethal at 154 pounds, and are also fairly average in terms of speed.  His penchant for brawling and apparent aversion to defensive prowess show no signs of changing anytime soon.  The kryptonite for Canelo Alvarez is already clear:  place him in the ring against a fighter with relatively quick hands, a good jab, decent wheels, and solid pop on his punches, and Alvarez will be in for a long night.  Truthfully, it seems like this type of fighter will likely stymie Alvarez throughout his career, just as the same type of fighter always confounded Mike Tyson:  tall fighters with good chins who could back Tyson up, maintain distance with a jab, and who, most importantly, were not afraid of him.

Saul Alvarez faces his most formidable opponent to date when he squares off against Englishman Ryan Rhodes on Saturday.  Though Rhodes may not be the man to fully expose Alvarez' flaws, at the very least, he could shed light on whether the talk of greatness regarding Alvarez is warranted or, more likely, premature, or perhaps even fallacious.  For Canelo Alvarez, he may find  producing exciting fights and making devoted fans to be easier than navigating the path to ring immortality.

Follow John Nguyen on Twitter for updates and commentary:  @jnguyenboxing

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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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