When Canelo Alvarez walked out of the ring last Saturday night after disposing of James Kirkland in spectacular fashion, the boxing world was abuzz with starry-eyed exclamations, ready to proclaim the young Mexican fighter as the next big thing.
To be clear, Alvarez could not have given fight fans much more than he did on that evening. That being said, let’s slow our roll just a tad.
Alvarez has been a phenom on the come for some time now. He has some solid wins on his resume, many of those look better by name than by circumstance. His victories against Carlos Baldomir, Kermit Cintron, and Shame Mosley all look stronger on paper than they do when given proper context. Baldomir was 39 years old and had lost 3 of his last 5 fights. Cintron suffered defeats in 2 of his previous 3 bouts. The 40 year old Mosley was calcifying in front of our very eyes when he and Alvarez made their in-ring acquaintance, having not won a fight in over three years.
Canelo did score a decisive victory over the then undefeated Austin Trout but no one had Trout pegged for greatness—all due respect. At 23, Canelo then took on Floyd Mayweather Jr., whose craft and experience helped him box circles around the younger challenger. There’s no shame in that. Floyd does that to everyone. More troubling was his performance against the defensive maestro Erislandy Lara in July of last year. While Alvarez scored a split decision victory over the Cuban fighter, Lara actually landed more punches and often controlled the fight. Many observers both ringside and couch sitting thought Lara was victimized by bad judging.
To be fair to Canelo, no one looks good against Mayweather or Lara. Both are slick defense-first fighters who excel in making their opponents look baffled and frustrated. Nonetheless, those two results coupled with the lack of a signature win left Canelo looking like something of a mystery. We all know he’s good. Hell, very good. But is he great?
Despite the electrifying nature of his win over the Kirkland, some of those questions still remain. The truth is, many of those flipping for Canelo after his 3rd round KO over the brawler are giving Kirkland a bit too much credit.
Let there be no doubt, Kirkland is an exciting fighter. However, at this point, we should consider a number of factors when it comes to the southpaw from Texas. Kirkland was coming off a nearly year and a half layoff due to another round of legal troubles. He was also without trainer, Ann Wolfe, for the second time in his career. On the other occasion he took to the ring without her, he came away with a disastrous, puzzling first round KO loss to the feather fisted Nobuhiro Ishida.
His 6th round TKO of Alfredo Angulo in November of 2011 restored his reputation to a degree, but a DQ victory over Carlos Molina raised questions again. Kirkland was down on the scorecards when the fight was stopped in the 10th after Molina’s corner entered the ring before the round was over, and referee Jon Schorle curiously stopped the fight. Kirkland had just dropped Molina, but it was clear he was not hurt. If Molina would have been given the final two rounds, he would have only needed to stay upright to take the decision.
So let’s recap, Kirkland had not fought anyone in 17 months, was without the trainer who turned him into a name fighter, and had been far less than consistent in recent years.
That is not to say that Kirkland did not test Canelo. He looked to be in excellent condition when he entered the ring and on that night his heart was as big as his home state. We should not be fooled though. Other than one brief portion of the first round when Kirkland backed Canelo into the corner and got some work done, this was a one-sided fight. When Canelo dropped Kirkland in the first after the latter’s flurry, his opponent was never the same. Oh, Kirkland kept coming, but the starch on his punches never returned. When Canelo floored Kirkland with a perfect right hand in the third, it was simply the culmination of the inevitable, no matter its brutal suddenness.
I don’t want to take too much credit from Canelo. He did a number of things in the fight that were decidedly impressive. He never once lost his composure. Whenever he threw, it seemed he could not miss, and when he got his opportunity, he took it and he did so with great style. There is not a single fault that can be found in Canelo’s performance. We should not forget who he was fighting though.
Kirkland may fancy himself as the next Mike Tyson. He’d be wrong about that. James Kirkland is the new Edison Miranda. A lightly skilled, hard punching bruiser who has no plan B if the guy in front of him can weather his blows and return fire. Like Miranda, Kirkland will always have a puncher’s chance. Maybe one day one of those massive blows will land against an A list fighter and he will prove me wrong, but I’m betting Kirkland never achieves pound for pound status and in fact will likely not beat an A grade boxer.. This is intended as no insult to Kirkland. He makes great fights and I can’t wait to watch his next one. It’s just that we know where his ceiling is now and it’s below the top floor.
Certainly, Canelo took a step forward last Saturday night. It was an exceptional performance. One that we should all be excited about. Lord knows, boxing needed that kind of fight after the Mayweather/Pacquiao snorefest. But if we are being honest with ourselves, when we ask the question, “Is Canelo a great fighter?” we still don’t know…yet.