Within the confines of my own column (the one place in the world where I actually hold some authority), I’m officially placing a ban on comparisons between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Starting … now.
Starting … now.
Okay. Starting at the end of this column.
This will be the last time I compare Alvarez with Chavez, and the only reason I’m doing it is to point out why I shouldn’t be. Until their most recent fights, it was reasonable to suggest boxing’s two most popular young Mexicans were of similar ability and were on an eventual collision course. But after watching Alvarez completely dismantle Ryan Rhodes in Guadalajara on Saturday night, I’m finally sold on enough of the Alvarez hype to declare that, no, they aren’t of similar ability, and if Canelo and Chavez are on a collision course, it runs over Bob Arum’s dead body.
This is not meant as a knock on Chavez, who’s a decent enough boxer, a guy who fights with heart and who deserves some credit for making it through 44 bouts without a loss (even if the judges had to help him out a time or two). It’s just that Alvarez is substantially better. If they fought now, Alvarez would drub him. And the longer they wait, the worse it’s going to get for Chavez.
Yes, Chavez is still improving. But he’s doing so very incrementally. He’s now 25 years old, and I’d estimate we’re currently seeing about 90 percent of his potential. He can definitely get better under the tutelage of Freddie Roach; he just isn’t going to get a whole lot better. Anything more than another 10 percent or so doesn’t seem realistic.
Alvarez, on the other hand, is only 20 years old. He’s making dramatic leaps, if not from one fight to the next, then at least from one year to the next. This isn’t women’s tennis, where you hit your prime at 20. I’d guess Alvarez is fighting at about 60 percent of his prime potential now. You can never say for sure that a fighter is going to be great until you’ve seen him prove himself against the best in the world—and even then, it takes time to establish greatness—but based on what I saw against Rhodes, I now think there’s a chance that Alvarez is on his way to being great. I’ve never had such a thought about Chavez pass through my mind.
(Full disclosure: I do some freelance work for The Ring magazine, which is owned by Golden Boy Promotions, which promotes Alvarez. However, before you accuse me of any bias, note that Golden Boy Promotions took away half my workload earlier this year by putting the kibosh on my web column for reasons that remain unclear. If anything, I could easily be biased in the other direction. The point is, any praise I give to Alvarez is my honest, unbiased opinion, and I hope that my nearly 14 years of professional, ethical boxing writing has built up a little trust among fight fans.)
For a time, I perceived Alvarez to be a solid fighter who was headed for defeat the moment he stepped up against the elite. To use some U.S. Olympians as examples, I thought maybe he’d be a Rocky Juarez or a Jeff Lacy or a David Reid. Somewhere in that range—good fighter, maybe he snags a belt, never sniffs the pound-for-pound list. Now I’m seeing his talent as more in the Fernando Vargas range. (In his prime, Vargas did sniff the P-4-P list, defeated Ike Quartey, eked by Winky Wright, and lost very competitively to future Hall of Famers Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya.) And if someone is setting Vargas as the line and forcing me to go “over” or “under” with Canelo, I think I’d take the over.
Before Saturday’s fight, Rhodes told the HBO broadcasters in the fighter meeting that he believed he was catching Alvarez at the right time and that 18 months later, it would be too late. Rhodes didn’t come close to winning a round and was stopped 48 seconds into the 12th.
And it didn’t go that way because Rhodes was worse than advertised. Some observers criticized his lack of effort and punch output, but I don’t know what fight they were watching. Rhodes never stopped trying to win. He never backed down. He just couldn’t get any business done against Alvarez, no matter what he tried. Criticism of Rhodes was misplaced. I thought back to the night Floyd Mayweather retired Genaro Hernandez; “Chicanito” tried about five different strategies and none of them worked because his opponent was, at his young age, already untouchable relative to him.
Nearly every time a fighter fails to let his hands go as much as we’d like, the guy throwing punches at him deserves the bulk of the credit for making that happen.
Specifically, Alvarez deserves credit for a body attack that hurt Rhodes. He deserves credit for faster hands than he’d shown before, and fast hands tend to make the other guy fearful of counters. He deserves credit for sharp defensive radar, which left a frustrated Rhodes throwing punches that missed the mark by a half inch time and again. He deserves credit for punching in combination more and more as the fight went on. He deserves credit for being technically sound and not looping his punches, thereby limiting Rhodes’ opportunity.
Rhodes tried. I’m not saying he gave an effort reminiscent of Wayne McCullough vs. Naseem Hamed or Erik Morales, going all-out balls to the wall to close the talent gap and be surprisingly competitive in a fight he could never win. But Rhodes tried. He just didn’t expect Canelo to be this much better than him already.
“I think I probably underestimated his power,” Rhodes said afterward. “His bodyshots were fantastic all the way through the fight. He just took a toll on me in the 12th round, he really caught me with some good bodyshots … He’s a superstar. Twenty years old, he’s a superstar. This isn’t the end of Ryan Rhodes. I’ve been beaten tonight by a superstar in boxing.”
The one area where I might be inclined to disagree with Rhodes is with regard to Alvarez’s power. But then again, I’ve never been hit by Canelo (and here’s hoping it stays that way). Still, HBO analyst Roy Jones’ insistence before and throughout the fight that Alvarez has exceptional one-punch power seems like a case of Jones letting the evidence presented in the Carlos Baldomir fight override most of the other evidence. The Baldomir kayo was spectacular, but Alvarez seems most of the time to have wear-you-down power, the type that results in one-sided fights and late-round stoppages like we saw against Rhodes.
However, that power could certainly improve. After all, as Rhodes pointed out, Canelo is only 20. I think back to the way I was at 20, still trying to figure out what kind of person I was, testing the limits of my alcohol consumption, sleeping until noon, and it blows my mind to see a 20-year-old with his act together the way Alvarez seems to. He’s so poised and mature in the ring, you almost forget how young he is. But here he is, still a month away from turning 21. There’s a lot of room for him to grow, to start hitting harder, to keep getting technically sharper. He’s already where Rhodes thought he would be 18 months from now. Imagine where he might actually be when those 18 months are up.
Alvarez conducted his postfight HBO interview in Spanish, but then in a vaguely profound little moment, answered Bob Papa’s final question with a simple English phrase: “I’m ready for everything.”
It might still be a little too soon for “everything.” Realistically, it might be that Alvarez will never be ready for a pound-for-pound elite performer like Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather or Sergio Martinez. But Alvarez is legitimately ready for just about everything else.
And he’s undoubtedly more than ready for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. The 20-year-old is already a level above the 25-year-old, and that gap is only going to get wider.
So let’s all stop using the names “Alvarez” and “Chavez” in the same sentence.
Starting … now.
Eric Raskin can be contacted at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin and listen to new episodes of his podcast, Ring Theory, at http://ringtheory.podbean.com.