Prizefighting vs. Boxing: Canelo and Kirkland Show the Difference

One week after the “Dud of the Century,” an under-rated and less heralded showdown between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and James “Mandingo Warrior” Kirkland in Houston erased the bad memories of the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao match.

It highlights one important fact that most of America missed. There’s a significant difference between boxers and prizefighters. One grouping is tedious, the other is exciting.

Excitement is what Alvarez and Kirkland brought to Minute Maid Stadium before 31,000 fans. Both are prizefighters bent on destroying each other, not avoiding each other. Alvarez knocked down Kirkland and eventually knocked him out in the third round of a furious battle. The world loves a knockout puncher.

Boxers like Mayweather and Erislandy Lara have been taught to avoid punches and hit and run. If that fails, tie up the opponent. Nothing is less appealing than watching that style of boxing that dominates amateur boxing. It’s a major reason few people are interested in amateur boxing.

In the pro world, judges are taught not to give too much credit to the amateur style that is more like touch and run, than hit and hurt. Prizefighting is “the hurting game” as the great Sugar Ray Robinson one stated. Amateur boxing is more about scoring with quickness. It’s all about athleticism.

The pro game favors hurting the other opponent. That’s why a knockdown results in two points. In amateur boxing a knockdown doesn’t result in anything special. It’s like any other scoring punch. Pros are taught to hurt the opponent. But there are some that would rather out-score an opponent than knock him out.

It’s not to say that no one appreciates a good boxer who can maneuver and out-slick a stronger and more powerful opponent. But those that do like that style are few. If you match two pure boxers against each other in Minute Maid Stadium, you wouldn’t be able to sell 4,000, let alone 31,000 tickets.

Some amateur boxers make the transition from a pure boxing style to a boxer-puncher style such as Gennady Golovkin, Oscar De La Hoya and Andre Ward. Yes, at one time Golovkin was a boxer, not a puncher.

Many of my own favorites are pure boxers such as Sergio Mora, Paulie Malignaggi, Lara, Guillermo Rigondeaux. Not everyone looks forward to their fights but their abilities are proof that strength and power are not enough in the boxing ring.

Then you have the boxer-punchers that are both skilled and able to render an opponent unconscious. My favorites in this category are James Toney, Keith Thurman, Canelo, Chocolatito, Manny Pacquiao, Robert Guerrero, Amir Imam and Juan Manuel Marquez.

Canelo’s furious fight with Kirkland reminded fans what they loved about prizefighting. Three rounds can be a lifetime worth of memories, a la Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler. Last weekend, Canelo and Kirkland brought us another lifetime memory.