Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (42-0-1) faced and overcame his biggest test Saturday night in San Antonio. But despite outpointing previously undefeated Austin Trout (26-1) in a tight, tense fight, the 22-year-old Mexican superstar still has a lot to prove, and his legions of supporters might be in for a rude awakening if, as many hope, he faces pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. (43-0) later this year or in 2014.
For much of the fight, Alvarez showed an unwillingness to engage and was often outboxed by a crafty Trout. Fortunately for Alvarez, he came into the fight armed with a nearly 40,000-strong army of supporters packing the Alamodome and faced an opponent with little punching power and no constituency to speak of. Had Alvarez been fighting a more fan-friendly and established fighter, it’s hard to believe we wouldn’t be debating the result today.
That’s not to say the win was without merit.
The young Mexican has big-time power and hand speed, and showed it throughout the fight, knocking Trout down with a straight right hand at the beginning of the seventh round and rattling him several times with sharp upper cuts. He also demonstrated stronger defensive skills than he has in the past, dodging many of Trout’s flurries. And the minimal power Trout brought into the ring was diminished even more by his respect for Canelo’s strength. Trout rarely threw with conviction all night.
Still, the American won rounds – arguably enough to win the fight – with his jab, crisp combinations, smart movement and volume punching. Trout largely controlled the tempo of the fight, outlanding and outhrowing Alvarez, who was quiet for long stretches.
In the end, Alvarez, his power punching and his celebrity got the benefit of the doubt in a very close bout, winning a unanimous decision (one that included an absurd 118-109 scorecard from Judge Stanley Christodoulou).
After the fight, Alvarez again called out Mayweather. While the fight would be a pay-per-view bonanza, there’s no telling what Mayweather will decide to do. And despite Alvarez’s obvious interest in the fight, he and his team would be advised to take it slow and let the young fighter develop more before jumping into the fire with the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter.
Against Mayweather, Alvarez not only would be facing a fighter with superior speed, skills and intelligence than Trout, but also wouldn’t be the default favorite of the judges. Despite the improved defensive skills he displayed on Saturday, Alvarez remains a hittable fighter, and Mayweather, better than anyone else in the sport, knows how to neutralize a powerful opponent with slick defense and sharp, effective counterpunching.
Of course, Floyd is 36 years old and faces a tough fight against Robert Guerrero (31-1-1) on May 4. He showed some signs of physical decline against Miguel Cotto last May, winning a clear decision but getting roughed up more than we’re used to seeing. As a result, Canelo and his team might think Floyd is as vulnerable as he’s ever been. But while Mayweather’s legs aren’t what they once were, he remains the most mentally sharp fighter in the sport and would pose a multitude of strategic problems for the young Mexican.
Alvarez is a charismatic fighter on the rise with a huge built-in fan base and many fan-friendly qualities both inside and outside the ring. But he still finds himself in a situation where his rapidly expanding fame is not commensurate with his current skill set. And against Mayweather, chances are he would be exposed and humbled on the biggest stage in the sport.
He was impressive in spurts on Saturday in his biggest fight so far and could eventually work his way up the pound-for-pound list. But let’s wait before we start calling him elite.