For still growing boxing superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, choosing to face Erislandy Lara was a horrible business decision. The slick Cuban offered far more risk than reward with his limited mainstream appeal and lack of excitement between the ropes. It also didn’t help that Lara’s style was more Floyd Mayweather than Alfredo Angulo. The former embarrassed him last September with movement and defensive prowess while the latter was more stationary and ripe for the picking as Canelo scored a 10th round TKO in March.
But the 23-year-old Alvarez is a different breed of fighter who has an utter disregard for the business side of boxing and employs an “anyone at anytime” fight mentality. Lara goaded him into this fight even though Golden Boy Promotions’ Oscar De La Hoya pleaded with him to decline due to the challenge the Cuban presented. His machismo nearly cost him not only a victory but could have damaged his reputation.
Nevertheless, Canelo and Lara engaged in an intriguing clash of styles that saw Canelo narrowly escape with a split decision win in front of 14,239 rabid fans at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. Lara’s plan was ripped right out of the Floyd Mayweather playbook as he used lateral movement to make the aggressive Mexican whiff on a number of big swings. When Lara threw punches, they landed. For the first half of the fight, it appeared that Lara was the better athlete who would skillfully pick apart his assertive opponent. But Canelo learned something when he lost to Mayweather: stick to the game plan.
It was a combination of Canelo’s persistence and Lara’s offensive lapses that ended up swinging the pendulum in Alvarez’ favor. For Lara supporters, they felt like the Cuban was winning but were growing ever so frustrated with Lara’s diminishing punch output as the fight progressed. His Cuban amateur style was perfect for the Olympics, but not the same in a professional fight where he looked to be on the run against his stalking opponent. Meanwhile, Canelo slugged away at the body and didn’t allow the fight to slip away. As long as he kept coming forward and throwing punches, the close rounds would be his.
When the scorecards were read, you can almost feel the sigh of relief escape from Canelo’s handlers. He barely won the fight but proved that he fears no man. When Lara chose to box, Canelo endeared the audience and the judges with his willingness to fight. Those are the decisions superstars make and a fighter like Canelo could effectively change the landscape of boxing. “I’ve accomplished so much at such a young age but I’m still not satisfied. I want to be so much more,” said Saul “Canelo” Alvarez during the opening scenes of Showtime’s All Access show. “I have the opportunity to choose my opponents; the same as Pacquiao or Mayweather but the difference is I choose the most dangerous opponents.”
Established superstars in boxing seem to prefer the reward over the risk. What’s best for the fans is usually not what’s in their best interests. You don’t see fighters demanding to face the best anymore. Far too often, top tier fighters hand pick opponents that will make them look like a million dollars in the ring in an effort to generate interest. A challenge from a fighter who doesn’t carry mainstream appeal is too risky to accept. But Canelo is a fighter’s fighter and that’s the reason why losing this fight is tolerable in a sport that puts too much emphasis on record rather than level of competition. “I will fight whoever,” Canelo said during the post fight press conference. “I wanted this fight because you all said I didn’t want it and that he was going to take me to school. I don’t think anyone wants to go to his school. I want to let everyone know I will take any fight.”
What Canelo carries is an MMA mentality that will hopefully translate and seep into the pores of the future stars of the boxing. For him, it is pointless to mow down lower level competition just to pad his record. If you want to be the best, you fight the best. Why wait? If you lose, learn from your mistakes and become a better boxer. There’s a reason why Canelo’s stock didn’t drop after losing to Floyd Mayweather last year. Unlike most of Mayweather’s victims who fade into the background, many still believe that Alvarez has a future in this sport. He was simply outclassed by a more experienced boxer. The fact that the loss came so early in his career helps more than hinders. And the experience of being inside of the squared circle with the best pound for pound fighter has given Canelo all the perspective he needs.
With a list of possible opponents for Canelo, which includes Gennady Golovkin, James Kirkland and Miguel Cotto, there’s no limit on how far the redheaded Mexican can go. His appeal isn’t simply that he wins; it is that he’ll accept the toughest challenge out there regardless of their popularity. At 23 years of age, he is already one of boxing’s biggest earners and will only see his reputation rise as his stellar career continues. His good looks, engaging personality and disposition to accept any and all challenges is a money making formula in a sport that has become more about the business than the challenge. Canelo is all about both.
Regardless of who won, Alvarez should be rewarded for his willingness to fight anyone at anytime. Having a 40-0 record against a legion of bums shouldn’t be viewed in the same light as a fighter having a 35-5 record with those losses coming to the best the sport has to offer.
Thanks to fighters like Saul “Canelo” Alvarez helping set the precedent, perhaps boxing will embrace this always-competitive spirit and fans will be the ones to benefit most.