This past weekend's junior middleweight bout between top contenders Saul "Canelo" Alvarez 44-1-1 (31) and Erislandy Lara 19-2-2 (12) has created quite a stir regarding the split decision that went in favor of Alvarez by the scores 115-113, 117-111 and 113-115.
However, there's more to glean from the fight than who you actually thought won it. And briefly, judge Levi Martinez who scored the fight 117-111 Alvarez, is either blind or inept.
Takeaways from the fight:
For starters, there's been a lot of chatter since the fight that goes something like this: "If you prefer the fighter who fights more as the boxer who hits and moves, you probably saw it for Lara." On the other hand, "If you like the aggressor who lands the harder punches, you most likely think Alvarez deserved the decision." Sure, that's fair, but Lara was really underwhelming with his low punch output. If you're the boxer you better be getting off. And Alvarez was very sub-par regarding his effective aggression. For the record, I had a family emergency Saturday night that prevented me at the last minute from seeing the fight live. As I always say, if you didn't score the fight live and in the moment, your score doesn't count. I found that when watching a fight that goes the distance and knowing the result, we usually favor the "boxer" whereas when watching it live more often than not the "bigger puncher" usually looks more effective than he really was.
Knowing that the fight went the distance going in, I scored it 6-5-1 / 115-114 Lara. No, I don't think Lara ran, I think he moved left to right in order to befuddle and force Alvarez to have to reset, which is now the book on how to fight him. At times Lara was on his bicycle a little too much, but if you want to see ineffective aggression at its best, watch Alvarez pursue Lara, which I'll touch on more.
The one common theme during the fight was, Lara was fighting the fight he planned to going in, Alvarez wasn't. Canelo had so many gaps where he couldn't touch Lara, who is no Hector Camacho when it comes to movement. You can count on one hand how many clean shots that Alvarez landed to Lara's face. It's amazing that he managed to cut him and if it weren't for his terrific body work in spurts, you wouldn't have even known he was there. And it's not like Lara was moving and hitting him so much that it was a task for him to get inside and work him over, which he obviously intended and needed to do in order to execute his fight. Had I seen the fight live I think there's a good chance I might have had it for Alvarez by a point because I'm sure his big shots to the body would've looked a little more impressive live than on replay. Either way it was close and it could've gone to Alvarez or Lara by a point or two.
My takeaway is, Lara didn't get off enough as a boxer to really seal the deal and left too much to chance. Had he let his hands go a little more, and he could've, there would be less fuss about the decision in the aftermath. And that's on him because Alvarez sure wasn't making him pay for his inactivity. In regards to Alvarez, he has no style identity. He was not an effective aggressor and if he could cut the ring off even a little bit, he would've forced Lara to fight more than allowing him the room to pick his spots and box.
Think about all of the upper-tier boxers today. They all have an identity when it comes to their fighting style. Wladimir Klitschko is a boxer-puncher who pushes the fight behind his strong jab in order to set up his right hand and left hook. Andre Ward is a counter-puncher who manipulates his opponents into counters. And you know if they move away, he'll go get them, if they try to bring it, he picks them apart on the way in. Gennady Golovkin is an attacker who applies bell-to-bell pressure looking to get his opponent against the ropes and work them over. Floyd Mayweather is a boxer/counter-puncher who will box and pot shot from outside and beat you inside if you try and push the fight. Guillermo Rigondeaux is a smooth boxer, who if you try to impose your will on him, he'll also sharp shoot you in a vital spot with something that'll discourage you from trying it again. Manny Pacquiao is an attacker, although he boxed smartly in his last fight against Timothy Bradley.
Canelo doesn't have a defined style. He's not a life-taker regarding his power, nor does he cut off the ring or apply constant effective pressure. He follows and comes in straight without letting his hands go. When it comes to making opponents who can really box, fight, forget about it. When it comes to doubling up his jab to set something up, if it happens, it's by accident. On the plus side he is a great body puncher and has a sturdy chin. But move on him, keep him having to regroup, jab him, and he turns into a robot. And I haven't seen that desperate urge to win or kick it up a gear.
In the main, Alvarez is a solid boxer with good fundamentals and basics. But he's not going to out-box anybody that isn't a walk-in, take three to get one off mauler. He's not good enough at closing the distance and getting into range without being disrupted by a fighter who moves and throws two or three shots at him. He isn't a big enough puncher to stop real world class guys with one or two shots like a Thomas Hearns, and he doesn't overwhelm his opponents with volume punching and activity. He's also not fast enough via hand or foot to really be a good counter-puncher.
The style best suited for Alvarez is to try and fight as a boxer-puncher. Move in behind multiple jabs, set up the right hands and body hooks. Learn to cut the movers off and not follow them and a little head movement wouldn't hurt. If he can get a fight with lineal middleweight champ Miguel Cotto next, he better do everything in his power to do it. Cotto cannot box and fight him like Mayweather and Lara did. Oh, he might try but once he's tagged real good he'll try and fight Alvarez off and that will lead him into being out-gunned and most likely stopped.
However, if the Cotto fight doesn't come to fruition, Alvarez better stay away from Demetrius Andrade or Gennady Golovkin, because he needs to clean up his style and figure out exactly what he's trying to do in the ring first. The takeaway from the Alvarez-Lara fight is this: they were both average at best. Neither shined but it can be said that Lara fought more of his fight than Alvarez did, which doesn't necessarily mean that he conclusively won. He was also lucky that Alvarez isn't sure who he is as a fighter stylistically, at least not yet.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com