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Canelo-Khan – On May 7, Mexican idol Saul “Canelo” Alvarez knocked out Englishman Amir Khan at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to successfully defend the hybrid championship that he won last year with a unanimous-decision victory over Miguel Cotto. The selling point for Alvarez-Khan was Canelo. Boxing fans were told, “Watch him because he’s a star.”

Canelo takes questions from the media in English but answers in Spanish.

“I don’t like to talk trash just to sell fights,” he says. “I train hard and do my talking in the ring. I want people to respect me and to follow my fights, not because of what I say but what I do.”

In keeping with that philosophy, Alvarez steers away from controversial utterances. But he spoke movingly when asked three days before the fight about presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comments regarding Mexico and the Mexican people.

“It hurts and offends,” Canelo answered. “I want him to understand and for people to know that, when I’m out there running, I see a lot of countrymen working hard, working in the fields. Not everybody is coming here to rob and steal. A lot of immigrants, we come here to succeed.”

Meanwhile, Khan was in Las Vegas as a sacrificial offering. Amir is a natural 147-pound fighter with a notoriously brittle chin. Canelo weighs in at 155 pounds, enters the ring above 170, and was far and away the hardest puncher that Khan had faced.

“You never know,” Amir told the media on Wednesday of fight week. “This could be a good weight for me. I’m respecting his power. I know he can hurt me, but that works in my favor. When I fought Danny Garcia and Breidis Prescott (each of whom knocked Khan out), I didn’t think they would hurt me and I wasn’t as careful as I should have been.”

But moments later, Amir acknowledged, “I’m not supposed to win this fight. Normally I’m the favorite. This is the first time I’ve been the underdog. I’m going into this fight thinking that I might not have the power to hurt him. But I believe that my skills can win this fight.”

Most observers thought otherwise. By Saturday night, the odds in Las Vegas (which had opened at 3-to-1) were roughly 5-to-1 in Canelo’s favor. If Khan won, it would be the biggest upset by a British fighter since Lloyd Honeyghan knocked out Donald Curry in Atlantic City thirty years ago.

Throughout the pre-fight build-up, Bernard Hopkins (who has an equity interest in Golden Boy, which was promoting the bout) had done his best to propagate the notion that Canelo-Khan shaped up as a competitive contest. But even the Alien-Executioner conceded, “Amir Khan has heavy feet. He doesn’t move his feet as well as he moves his hands.” Hopkins also noted, “A fighter needs a chin to go with his heart.”

There had been relatively little buzz in the media center prior to the bout. The fight-night attendance of 16,540 was well short of a sell-out. But this was Cinco de Mayo weekend. And the crowd, which was highly partisan in its support of Canelo, came to life for the main event.

In the end, Canelo’s fans got what they came for.

Khan started well, circling away from his foe, mounting a quick in-and-out attack highlighted by fast right hands. The pattern for round two was similar to round one. Canelo stalking; Amir getting off first; Alvarez failing to cut the ring off effectively; Alvarez missing with wild left hooks.

But Canelo did land a solid right to the body in the second stanza that was a harbinger of things to come. In rounds three and four, the rights to the body began to add up with each one taking something out of Khan. By round five, Amir was throwing with less conviction than before and had started to slow down. Then, with a half-minute left in round six –-

BOOM ! ! !

Canelo feinted with his jab, which blinded Amir to the right hand that was coming behind it. The punch landed flush on Khan’s jaw, and he corkscrewed to the canvas, unconscious before the back of his head hit ground zero with a sickening thud. Referee Kenny Bayless dispensed with the formality of counting to ten and ended matters by waving his arms over Khan’s prostrate body.

Great punch. Suspect chin. It was a highlight-reel knockout.

Afterward, Amir predictably declared, “I stepped up too far. I tried to eat and put more weight on. But for some reason, I just couldn’t.”

Meanwhile, throughout fight week, Gennady Golovkin cast a shadow over the proceedings.

The last World Boxing Council “middleweight” champion to compete in a legitimate middleweight championship bout was Sergio Martinez, who claimed the throne by decision over Kelly Pavlik in 2010. Miguel Cotto defeated Martinez in 2014 to seize the crown. But that bout was fought at a catchweight of 159 pounds at the insistence of Cotto (a smaller man who had the greater economic leverage). Cotto then lowered the catchweight to 157 pounds for a successful title defense against Daniel Geale and 155 pounds for a losing effort against Alvarez. 155 pounds suits Canelo just fine and was the contract weight for Canelo-Khan.

The problem is that the middleweight limit is 160.

Gennady Golovkin has been knocking out opponents at 160 pounds en route to claiming multiple championship belts and has been installed by the WBC as the mandatory challenger for Canelo’s crown.

Virtually every time that Alvarez or Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya had a microphone thrust in his face during fight week, the subject of Golovkin arose. Neither man seemed anxious for a Canelo-Golovkin confrontation and maintained that, if one were to occur, it would have to be at a contract weight of 155 pounds.

“One-fifty-five is not a division,” Abel Sanchez (Golovkin’s trainer) countered. “We have seventeen divisions in boxing. Why would we need any more? Gennady is not going to bow down to a diva. It’s not the Canelo title. It’s the middleweight title, which is 160 pounds. The history of Mexican boxing, they expect something from their hero. They expect something from Canelo. If he doesn’t deliver, there will be repercussions. They’ll turn on him, and he’ll pay for it one way or another.”

As fight week progressed, Alvarez looked and sounded like a man who was tired of hearing about Golovkin. The same was true of De La Hoya.

Golden Boy’s fighters can be divided into Canelo and everyone else. And with the possible exception of Luis Ortiz, the “everyone else” assets are hard to monetize. A Canelo loss would impact adversely on Golden Boy’s bottom line.

After disposing of Khan, Alvarez invited Golovkin into the ring to – in his words – “prove I’m not afraid.” But his words lacked conviction. Canelo can prove he’s not afraid by signing to fight Golovkin at the legitimate middleweight championship limit of 160 pounds.

In theory, that’s what the WBC will order him to do if the Alvarez and Golovkin camps can’t reach agreement on contract terms. But the ties that bind the WBC and Mexican fighters are longstanding and strong. For the WBC to strip a fighter of Canelo’s magnitude, or a fighter of Canelo’s magnitude to discard the WBC belt, would be heresy in some circles. Thus, if Alvarez continues to steer clear of Golovkin, look for an accommodation of sorts. Canelo, because of his distinguished lineage, will likely be allowed by the WBC to fight for a phony “diamond” strap or other bauble at a weight of his choosing. And Golovkin will receive the WBC’s “world” middleweight championship belt.

That said, Alvarez now finds himself between a rock and a hard place. If he refuses to fight Golovkin at 160 pounds, he risks seeing his name change in the headlines from “Canelo” to ‘Pollo” or “Chichen Itza.”

Everyone understands that, if Canelo instructed De La Hoya to “make the Golovkin fight happen,” Golden Boy would see that it happened. After all, De La Hoya is the man who, on September 30, 2014, told a media gathering at HBO, “My focus is Canelo, one hundred percent. Whatever he asks, I have to do.”

One might add that, throughout Canelo-Khan fight week, the assumption was that Canelo would beat Amir. The more intriguing issue was how many pay-per-view buys the bout would engender. And more specifically, does Canelo need a good dance partner to generate stratospheric pay-per-view numbers? The early returns suggest that he does.

Trainer Dan Birmingham once opined, “Courage is the willingness to fight anyone.” Right now, it appears as though Golovkin wants to fight Canelo far more than Canelo wants to fight Golovkin.

“My whole thing,” Canelo said during an April 19 media conference call, “is I want to be a legend.”

Beating Golovkin at 160 pounds would make him one. Still, a word of caution is in order.

Richard Russell was one of a dozen southern Democratic senators who controlled that legislative body in the mid-twentieth century. Russell never had occasion to comment on fighting Gennady Golovkin. But he often told the tale of a bull that charged headfirst into a locomotive.

“That was the bravest bull I ever saw,” Russell would tell his listeners. “But I question its judgment.”

*     *     *

Big fights in Las Vegas are marked by myriad promotional activities. Two days before Canelo-Khan, Golden Boy arranged for a panel discussion featuring Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya, and Bernard Hopkins.

Evander stole the show. Among the thoughts he offered were:

*         “I became heavyweight champion of the world. And the next day, they told me, ‘But you didn’t beat Tyson.’ I said, ‘I beat the guy that beat Tyson.’ And they said, ‘That don’t matter.’”

*         When I fought George Foreman, he was throwing boulders and I was throwing rocks. But I threw a lot of them.”

*         “You get hit and it hurts. But you got to act like it don’t.”

*         “I was a 20-to-1 underdog when I fought Mike Tyson. But Mike didn’t think that.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (A Hurting Sport) was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

 

 

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