By Ivan G. Goldman
You can always find a way to tear down a fighter on his way up. Take Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, for example. You think a solid victory over Austin Trout Saturday would mean anything to his hardcore critics? Think again.
If Canelo wins handily, his detractors will say Trout, 27, was never much good, that his reputation was overblown all along, and they will immediately slam Trout’s roster of opponents the same way they’ve been slamming Canelo’s. If Canelo wins by close decision they’ll say he lost. And if Trout wins? Well, that doesn’t take much imagination. They’ll contend it means Canelo’s 41 wins never counted for anything, that he was the mere creation of a Golden Boy public-relations blitz and that now he’s been “exposed.”
But when I look at Canelo I see a junior middleweight who’s only 22, gets better every time out, and has yet to reach his potential. He used to look like a confused bull in slow motion. You could hit him with anything, but his power saved him. He’s learned a lot since then and clearly worked hard in the gym. He’s added subtlety to his game. He uses his feet, slips, feints, and counters.
On the other hand, let’s face it. He’s been moved along carefully, and his WBC title is a sham. He won it from a welterweight, Matthew Hilton, who came to the U.S. from England to pick up a quick paycheck and moved straight back to welterweight after his loss. Calling that a title fight was like serving baloney and labeling it sirloin. It was bad theater put together by Golden Boy and its hired hypocrite Jose Sulaiman of the WBC. It was also an insult to all the hard-working junior middleweights who deserved to compete for the vacant belt. But Canelo was just a kid, and I find it difficult to blame him for the trespasses of the cash register machine backing him.
WBA titlist Trout, 26-0 (14 KOs), is a bona fide threat, a good fighter who does everything well with one exception. He’s scored exactly one stoppage in his last nine outings. Canelo’s people figure their Mexican phenom should power through and knock him out. But even if their red-haired golden goose has a bad night they expect he’ll go the distance. Besides, they secured a rematch provision. Still, GB’s big thinkers have been wrong before. They figured the talented Victor Ortiz would be their next crossover star and then brought him along too fast. In his last outing he got his jaw broken in two places by Josesito Lopez. Speaking of critics, some of Ortiz’s detractors were aghast that he couldn’t continue against Lopez despite a life-threatening, potentially crippling injury. Sigh. Canelo is unlikely to get into that kind of trouble against Trout, but it’s not impossible either.
Canelo, originally slotted to fight Trout on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero on May 4, showed gumption when he demanded his own show on another date after he realized Floyd wouldn’t guarantee him a match should they both win. Trout and Alvarez both deserve praise for taking a fight that poses plenty of risks. But it’s Canelo who’s taking the bigger one. Because he has the bigger following, he has more to lose.
With tickets priced all the way down to $10, the crowd will be big, boisterous, and lusting for Canelo to score his 31st kayo. Laurence Cole has been chosen to referee. Ouch. Remember when he once told Juan Manuel Marquez what was on the scorecards during the fight? That was too much even for Texas, which suspended him three months.
Meanwhile, although Canelo’s critics are poised to tear him down no matter what happens in San Antonio, it would be foolish to try to define him by one fight, especially at this stage in his career. We don’t know at what point his learning curve will start to level off. That means it’s hard to say how good he’s going to get. But he’s an entertaining fighter up against an opponent who stands a chance to beat him, and we can see them on Showtime without counting out pay-per-view dollars. I suggest we all take that deal while we can.
Ivan G. Goldman’s boxing novel The Barfighter was nominated as a 2009 Notable Book by the American Library Association. Information HERE