On September 30, 2014, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez attended a luncheon at HBO to announce a multi-fight contract with the network. His red hair and green pullover shirt gave the impression of an early Christmas present.
One reason Canelo signed to fight on HBO was that he didn’t want to play second fiddle to Floyd Mayweather at Showtime. Beyond that, he’s a key puzzle piece in HBO’s desire to continue its appeal to Latino subscribers and Golden Boy’s attempt to maintain its standing as a major promoter.
“My focus is Canelo, one hundred percent,” Oscar De La Hoya told reporters at the luncheon. “Whatever he asks, I have to do.”
At age 24, Alvarez has established himself as a marketable commodity within the boxing community. He’s not a crossover star in United States. Nor is he an elite fighter. In ESPN’s most recent pound-for-pound poll, not one panelist gave him a top-ten vote. De La Hoya, by age 24, had won an Olympic gold medal and beaten the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker. And let’s not forget what happened when Canelo fought Floyd Mayweather two years ago.
That said; with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr imploding and Juan Manuel Marquez on the verge of retirement, Alvarez is Mexican boxing’s most promising hope for the future. He engenders good ratings. He has amassed a 45-and 1 (32 KOs) ring record against increasingly credible competition. And there have been times (most notably against Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout) when he went in tougher than he had to.
On Saturday, May 9, Alvarez entered the ring for the first time pursuant to his new contract with HBO. Bart Barry summed up the impending confrontation as follows:
“A week after Pacquiao-Mayweather, Mexican Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez will fight Texan James Kirkland at Minute Maid Park in Houston before a crowd that should be about three times the MGM Grand’s crowd. ‘But oh,’ cries a passel of aspiring businessmen from their parents’ couches. ‘They won’t make as much money.’ First of all, why the hell are you so excited about strangers making money? Second of all, three times as many aficionados and potential aficionados will have a chance to see a major event in a sport you care about, which is better for your sport in every single way.”
Kirkland entered the ring with a 32-and-1 (28 KOs) record. James has granite hands but a bit of glass in his chin. He came out punching at the opening bell. Canelo weathered the storm, mixed effective body punching with solid shots to the head, hurt Kirkland with a hard right to the body, and knocked him down with a straight right up top.
There was 1:20 left in round one. Kirkland was in trouble but survived the onslaught that followed, including a barrage that left him all but out on his feet at the close of the stanza.
Round two was marked by exciting back-and-forth action.
In round three, Kirkland was clearly tired and Alvarez seemed to be wearing down. Both fighters dug deep. A right uppercut put James on the canvas at the 1:50 mark. He rose. There were more punches. Then Canelo wound up an overhand right from so far back that everyone in Houston except Kirkland could see it coming. The blow landed flush on James’s jaw and knocked him out.
Last week, Evander Holyfield complained, “I’ve attended the three biggest fights of the year so far: Deontay Wilder vs. Bermane Stiverne, Wladimir Klitschko vs. Bryant Jennings, and now Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. And you know what I’ve seen? Not much boxing. In 36 total rounds, I saw zero knockdowns. I saw a lot of holding and hugging and a lot of running. I saw three 12-round unanimous decisions. What I didn’t see were punches being thrown and landed. No fighter in any of the three fights was ever threatened or even in trouble. I didn’t even see a fighter with a cut or a bruise after the fight. Everyone was just playing defense, trying not to get hit. How can you have a boxing match if guys aren’t throwing and landing punches? The answer is, you can’t.”
According to CompuBox, Alvarez outlanded Kirkland 87-to-41 over the course of three rounds with a 79-to-41 edge in power punches. That didn’t leave much room for jabs in the computation. Evander has been going to the wrong fights.
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Six hours before Alvarez-Kirkland, Hildago, Texas (300 miles southwest of Houston) hosted a Premier Boxing champions doubleheader on CBS.
In the opening bout, England’s Jamie McDonnell (25-2, 12 KOs) survived a third-round knockdown to score a hard-fought 114-113, 114-113, 114-113 decision over Japan’s Tomoki Kameda (31-0, 19 KOs). The final round (when McDonnell dug deep and Kameda didn’t) was the difference.
But the real story of the evening was referee Laurence Cole and three judges, who administed a dose of Texas injustice to Scotsman Ricky Burns (37-4, 11 KOs) in his fight against local favorite Omar Figueroa (24-0, 18 KOs).
Prior to the bout, Figueroa (who was moving up from 135 pounds) showed a lack of professionalism by weighing in 1.5 pounds over the 140-pound contract weight. But the day’s most relevant number might have been ”22” (the number of miles that Figueroa lives from Hidalgo).
As early as round two, CBS commentators Mauro Ranallo, Paulie Malignaggi, and Virgil Hunter were commenting on Cole’s conduct of the proceedings.
“Cole has become a big factor in this fight,” Hunter noted. As the fight wore on, Virgil added, “Laurence Cole continues to pull Ricky Burns’s arm away [in clinches], putting him in a dangerous situation . . . Right now, you see Figueroa holding and hitting, and he’s not being warned. Let’s have a fair fight here.”
When Figueroa led with his head (which he did often), Cole warned Burns for pushing Omar’s head down.
“I don’t like that warning,” Malignaggi said on one such occasion. “I’d like to see Cole warn Figueroa as well.” After a similar warning later in the fight, Hunter objected, “You have a right to protect yourself. The head is a dangerous weapon.”
“He [Cole] continues to inject himself unnecessarily,” Ranallo opined.
In round eight, Cole deducted a point from Burns for “holding,” prompting Malignaggi to observe, “When both guys are jockeying for position like that, it’s not even holding.” In round eleven, Cole deducted another point from the Scotsman.
It was an exciting fight. Figueroa is a volume-punching, come-forward brawler, and Burns obliged him. But the bout was marred by the refereeing and also by the nagging suspicion that Ricky would be jobbed by the judges when it was over.
That’s what happened. I thought that, even with Cole’s intercession, Burns won. The judges ruled otherwise, scoring 117-109, 116-110, 116-110 in Figueroa’s favor. To say that Burns won only three or four rounds was frivolous.
It’s no accident that every time there’s questionable officiating in Texas, it favors the house fighter.
Figueroa is an exciting fighter. But he gets hit too much. If Omar faces a big puncher, not even Texas refereeing and judging will save him.
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TruTV’s introductory boxing telecast on Friday, May 1, was lost in the frenzy surrounding Mayweather-Pacquiao. Its second telecast took place on May 8.
In the opening bout, Seanie Monaghan (23-0, 15 KOs) took on Brazil’s Cleiton Conceicao (20-6-2, 16 KOs).
Looking beneath the surface of Conceicao’s record, the last man he beat had 36 losses and had been knocked out eight times in a row. The eight men Cleiton defeated before that had a composite ring record of 8 wins, 64 losses, and 1 draw. He’d been brought to the Prudential Center in Newark on the assumption that he’d take punishment without dishing out too much.
Monaghan scored effectively to the body in the early going. But Seanie gets hit a lot, and Friday night was no exception. He was cut early over his right eye, which was closed by the end of the fight. And he faded late, which is uncharacteristic of him. A flurry of punches in round nine, starting with an overhand right to the ear, put him in a bit of trouble. But he pounded out a 99-91, 98-92, 98-92 decision.
The main event matched Glen Tapia (23-1, 15 KOs) against Frenchman Michel Soro (25-1, 15 KOs).
Seventeen months ago, Tapia suffered a brutal knockout loss at the hands of James Kirkland. He was put in soft in his next three outings (as had been the case in most of his outings before the Kirkland fight).
Soro had won all 25 of his fights contested on French soil and neither of the two fights contested away from home. That changed in round four, when an explosion of punches beginning with a solid right hand put Tapia out on his feet, forcing referee David Fields to stop the fight.
Ray Mancini’s expert commentary was a plus throughout the telecast.
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When Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquio met in the ring on May 2, “those in attendance and the millions of people watching around the world” knew that something was wrong. Michael Buffer (the real “TBE”) could barely talk.
The promotion of Mayweather-Pacquiao was marked by turf wars at every turn. The division of ring announcing duties was no exception. Buffer is identified with HBO. Jimmy Lennon is Showtime’s guy. After extensive negotiation, a narrative was scripted that divided announcing duties between them as evenly as possible.
Then, on the morning of the fight, Buffer woke up and his voice was gone. Too many interviews during the week had robbed him of his magical powers.
The original plan had been for Buffer to open the show by welcoming viewers at the start of the pay-per-view telecast. He’d also been slated to read the introductions and results for Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Gamalier Rodriguez. Those chores were reassigned to Lennon.
Meanwhile, Michael spent the day drinking tea with honey and communicating by email only. By fight night, his voice had recovered to the point where he was able to introduce the Filipino national anthem, call Manny Pacquiao to the ring, and intone his iconic, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”
But his voice was noticeably hoarse.
Michael Buffer without his voice is like a fighter with a torn rotator cuff.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing- was published by the University of Arkansas Press.