All eyes were on the MGM Grand Garden Arena this weekend as Mexican sensation Saul “Canelo” Alvarez continued his campaign to conquer the boxing world.
Saul Alvarez looks set to inherit the mantle of boxing’s biggest star when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao finally depart from the sport. Canelo deserves enormous credit for the choice of opponent he has made thus far in his career. He has shown no fear of losing and a desire to take on the most challenging opponents, regardless of the financial side of the sport.
His decision to accept the challenge of Cuba’s Erislandy Lara was just another example of Canelo’s “take on all comers” attitude. Lara is a boxer whose risk-reward ratio is skewed heavily towards the risk side. He is the type of fighter that is usually avoided by big names – a skilled and dangerous southpaw with little or no following and not the most exciting style. Taking on Lara brought a real risk of defeat and the Cuban does not have the kind of star power to make that risk financially worth it for many fighters in the 154 pound division.
Lara defected from Cuba in 2007 to turn professional and entered the fight effectively unbeaten. The sole loss on his record, against Paul Williams three years ago, was down to judging so terrible that all three judges involved were suspended. Whilst taking on Floyd Mayweather last September brought Canelo his first defeat, that blow was cushioned somewhat by the fact that Alvarez earned well over $12 million for that fight. Taking on Lara, Canelo was set to make a measly $1.5 million for a fight many saw as 50-50.
All the pre-fight indicators suggested this would be a close fight and one that would be difficult to score. And it proved to be exactly that. Lara showed all the slickness and movement we’ve come to expect from Cuban amateur stars. He worked his jab and landed the higher volume of accurate punches.
Canelo, despite being much more than a stereotypical Mexican pressure fighter, was often reduced to chasing Lara around the ring. When he did corner the Cuban, he succeeded in landing the more telling punches.
Lara dominated the opening rounds and there were boos of frustration from the wildly pro–Alvarez crowd by the third round. Lara had raced into an early lead and the pressure was beginning to grow on Alvarez. But in the 4th round he managed to establish himself in the fight landing with some powerful body shots.
By the middle of the fight, those body shots began to slow Lara down. Alvarez continued to push the pace and was able to win rounds through his work-rate and the fact that he was the fighter coming forward. Lara’s work was still the better quality but he spent too much time in open retreat.
Lara enjoyed a mini revival in the 10th round and started the 11th round well before reverting to dancing mode and handing the initiative back to Alvarez. Ultimately that unwillingness to engage was what cost Lara the fight. While Lara was dancing and running around the ring, Alvarez was busy impressing the judges and stealing rounds.
You could make a case for Lara winning a couple of the closer rounds, and indeed judge Jerry Roth did just that, scoring the bout narrowly in favour of Lara. But he was overruled by judges Dave Moretti and Levi Martinez who both scored the fight in favour of Canelo who claimed a split decision victory.
In the opening fight of the card, Ireland’s Jason Quigley took just 82 seconds to claim his maiden victory. Quigley blasted the over matched Howard Reece almost from the opening bell and forced the referee to step in before the first round was even half way through. Quigley did what was expected of him but knows that much tougher tests will come.
The weekend’s other big card took place in Liverpool at the Echo Arena. Topping the bill was Evertonian Tony Bellew. The card served as a showcase for the brightest young talent in British boxing, as well as featuring Bellew’s Welsh rival Nathan Cleverly in order to build the desire for a rematch between the two.
Cleverly and Bellew’s careers have been closely interlinked for the last few years. Their first meeting, three years ago, saw Cleverly emerge with a narrow victory and the WBO light-heavyweight title. Since then, both Cleverly and Bellew have been knocked out by Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson respectively. Both took their knockout losses as an indication to leave the light-heavyweight division and move to cruiserweight.
On Saturday, Cleverly was in action on the undercard while the hometown hero Bellew topped the bill. Cleverly looked in good shape physically and displayed the textbook boxing skills that saw him rise to world title level. The biggest problem for Cleverly is his lack of one-punch power and it remains evident at 200 pounds. His opponent, Alejandro Valori was overmatched and provided little in the way of offence. Cleverly did get his stoppage but it was more down to the accumulation of punishment Valori had taken through the four rounds.
Later in the evening, Bellew too would get a stoppage win. The Bomber looked significantly doughier at 200 pounds than he did at 175. It was not a stellar performance from Bellew. His opponent, Julio Cesar Dos Santos, was a veteran who had never been stopped but had lost on both previous occasions that he made any serious step up in class. Bellew looked a little ragged at times but, unlike Cleverly, his power seems to have been improved by the added weight. A left hook in the 5th round stopped the Brazilian for the first time in his career.
Afterwards, there were WWE-type scenes with a ringside standoff between Bellew and Cleverly. Whilst the standoff was likely manufactured, the animosity between the rivals seems genuine. Their rematch later this year will likely be make-or-break for both men. I’m not convinced either has the necessary skill set to be a player in the cruiserweight division at world level, which means the loser faces an uncertain future in the sport.
The rest of the Liverpool card saw Hearn give outings to the impressive array of young talent in the Matchroom stable. Anthony Joshua, Anthony Ogogo, Luke Campbell, Callum Smith and Gamal Yafai all have bright futures in the sport and all got relatively comfortable victories on Saturday. Joshua and Callum Smith were particularly impressive.
Joshua continues to decimate the British heavyweight scene by laying waste to Matt Skelton in two rounds. Skelton is an experienced heavyweight who has been in with guys like Kubrat Pulev, David Price and Ruslan Chagaev but had no answer to the power of Joshua. Callum Smith on the other hand was given an ideal 10 round workout by tough southpaw Vladine Biosse.
Rocky Fielding too took another step towards a potential world title challenge by stopping former George Groves victim Noe Gonzalez to claim the WBA inter-continental title.
Michael McCarthy, Pundit Arena.