By Tyson Bruce
The theme of this weekend’s PPV fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Alfredo “El Perro” Angulo is redemption. Both fighters are coming off of disappointing defeats—Alvarez from a humiliating boxing lesson at the hands of Floyd Mayweather and Angulo from an unexpected surrender against Erislandy Lara in a fight he was arguably winning. Both men are also Mexican’s who know how to throw a left hook to the body.
That, however, is where the similarities end because despite having much in common on paper—ethnicity, career position, and size—they are polar opposites in so many ways that lie beyond the surface. It is those factors that are beyond the surface that make this a truly compelling fight.
Few fighters, let alone twenty-three year olds, have the world at their fingertips quite the way Canelo Alvarez does. As much or more of his success and prestige can be attributed to his visage as his fighting ability or track record in the ring. He was simply born with unique features. He has flaming red hair and distinctly European features, yet he was born and raised in the barrio of Guadalajara, Mexico.
This had catapulted him to massive fame in Mexico because his appearance is in keeping with the European featured elite that represents Mexico’s cultural elite—yet he speaks with an accent that is distinctly of the working class. This has allowed him to cross social and cultural barriers in Mexico in a way that perhaps no other fighter ever has.
Alvarez is also a prodigious talent, as he turned professional at the tender age of fifteen and was a world champion by the time he was just twenty-one years of age. He was, until less than a year ago, the youngest titleholder in all of boxing. Now you would think that a guy who is just twenty-three and already has forty-three professional fights would be regarded as a phenomenon for having taken on so much in such a short time. Yet, it is quality of opposition and the perceived favoritism shown to him by promoters and networks that have garnered him the most flack.
Most of the criticism can be justified, as apart from a narrow decision win over Austin Trout and a blowout loss to Mayweather, Alvarez’s record and achievements have been carefully constructed on the backs of much smaller and less talented fighters. After all, he won his 154-pound “title” by beating Mathew Hatton—a fighter that had never once fought in that division and had spent most of his career as a 140 pounder. His other victories over guys like Carlos Baldomir and a wooden legged Kermit Cintron did little to convince the skeptics.
All of this does not mean that Canelo can’t fight because he most certainly has some serious skills and talent where it counts. Despite looking as fast as a glacier against Mayweather, Alvarez’s hand speed—especially when used in combination—is very good for the weight class. Although early in his career he was branded by HBO as an all-Mexican action fighter, Canelo is more of a technician than a warrior. He uses his competent defensive skills and poise to set up counter opportunities where his heavy hands stand to benefit most. In many ways the Canelo of recent fights is like a novice version of Juan Manuel Marquez. In other words, he is not your typical Mexican brawler.
Alfredo Angulo, on the other hand, is your typical Mexican brawler. Few fighters live up to their nickname the way Angulo does with “El Perro,” as he tries to make every fight he’s in a dogfight. Unlike Canelo, whose handsome features give him a pop star’s aura, Angulo sports a mean looking mug that fits the idea of how a prizefighter is supposed to look. Whether you think Canelo’s career has been coddled or smartly managed, it looks damn easy compared to what Angulo has had to go through in his.
After coming out of the Olympics with modest expectations Angulo quickly gained notoriety because of his brutal punching power and the reputation he gained from being Antonio Margarito’s chief sparring partner. You could tell very early on that Angulo was just one tough amigo. Many experts believed that his combination of will and one punch knockout power would make him the division’s premier star for years to come. After just fifteen pro fights he was already considered to be one of the divisions top fighters.
In 2009 things started to get very rough for Angulo. He came into the ring with the flu against Kermit Cintron and was shockingly out-boxed with relative ease. Angulo quickly rebuilt his reputation as a monster by vanquishing respected foes like Gabriel Rosado (KO-2), Joel Julio (KO-11), and former titleholder Joachim Alcine (KO-1).
The victories set up a long awaited action fight with fellow 154 terror James Kirkland. Kirkland, however, was just a few fights removed from a long stretch of inactivity and a humiliating first round knockout loss to Nobuhiro Ishida and was expected to be easy prey for the murderous punching Angulo.
It started out that way as well, as Angulo dropped Kirkland in the first round but made a horrible strategic error and completely blew his wad trying to finish him off. Kirkland recovered and proceeded to punch the living day lights out of him for the rest of the fight. Just like that any momentum Angulo had gained completely fell apart and you would have been hard pressed to find anyone who thought he would ever be a major factor again.
Things would only go from bad to tragic for Angulo, as after turning himself in to U.S. immigration because of an expired visa he was detained without charges for over seven months. Graphic video footage surfaced of an emaciated and despondent Angulo lamenting the course of his life while incarcerated. Many non-Hispanic boxing fans were suddenly made aware of a social and political travesty that is so awful it warrants it’s own exposé.
Against all odds Angulo has made his way back to the big time. After a series of comeback bouts he was brought in as a step up opponent for the vastly talented and avoided Cuban, Erislandy Lara. Angulo used his brute strength and reinvigorated passion for boxing under the guidance of Virgil Hunter to put Lara through a living hell.
Despite being raked with about a million counter punches from the much faster Lara, Angulo dropped the Cuban twice with massive left hooks and looked to be on the verge of a stoppage victory. As usual, luck was not on Angulo’s side as a Lara left hand, the kind he had absorbed a hundred times before, landed directly on his left eye and shattered his orbital bone.
Despite ultimately losing, Angulo looked pretty close to being the beast we all thought he was a few years ago. The beauty of the Canelo fight is that despite receiving a much smaller purse and being branded as the b-side opponent, he has a chance to undo a career of bad luck with one fell swoop. If he beats Canelo he will be on top of the world.
For Canelo it’s a chance to prove that he can beat a full-fledged junior middleweight with a punch and justify the hype that existed before the Mayweather fight. At just twenty- three years of age he can put the stink of a bad performance behind him pretty quickly with a few dominant performances against top-level opposition.
Make no mistake about it Canelo has a lot more to lose than Angulo in this one. That is what makes the fight so interesting because for once the paradigm has shifted and the hard luck case, Angulo, is suddenly in a can’t lose position. If he wins it will break unprecedented ground for him and if he loses he will be in essentially the same position as before.
A win for Canelo merely puts him back on course, but a loss would be utterly devastating. If the unthinkable were to happen Saturday night Alvarez wouldn’t just be losing another fight, he would be losing the future. His title as the future of boxing and next great Mexican boxing legend would become a bad punch line over night— from the next JCC to the latest Fernando Vargas. A loss to Mayweather is acceptable but a loss to Angulo is not.
The odds (nearly three to one) favor Canelo because he has the perceived edge in so many categories. Alvarez clearly has the edge in technical ability, speed, youth and defense. The one category Angulo unquestionably has the advantage in is punching power. Although both fighters have had stamina issues in the past it is Angulo who is likely the more reliable fighter in this category because of his history of high punch volume.
Although the intangibles clearly favor Canelo there is a feeling within the boxing community that this is a risky comeback assignment for him. Regardless of who you think will win it certainly appears to be a ‘can’t miss fight’, as Angulo’s pure aggression and Canelo’s more methodical approach appear to be perfect foils for one another.
There are many complex elements at work in this matchup, from elements of boxing class warfare, to national bragging rights. However, redemption is the defining element of this bout. For Angulo it is a chance to grab hold of a future that seemed lost long ago and for Canelo it’s a chance to regain his footing on the way to the top of the mountain. Fights are won in the ring, with fame and wealth meaning nothing once the bell sounds.