by Cliff Rold
It’s hard to ask for much more as a fight fan.
Two undefeated fighters, both with belts in tow, in what has often since the 1980s been one of boxing’s glamour divisions.
There are expected to be close to 40,000 butts in the seats.
It’s not on pay-per-view (Showtime, 10 PM EST/PST).
The Jr. Middleweight unification clash between WBC titlist Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (41-0-1, 30 KO) and WBA titlist Austin “No Doubt” Trout (26-0, 14 KO) at the Alamodome in San Antonio has all the makings. Both men are in their 20’s, Alvarez 22 and Trout 27. They’ve each had just enough seasoning to suggest bigger things while lacking the depth of tests that provides definitive proof of place.
While Floyd Mayweather’s shadow still extends over a division he occasionally flirts with, there will be many who view the victor of this contest as the best fighter active at 154 lbs.
Will the victor and the winner be the same thing?
On Thursday, WBC president Jose Sulaiman posted to Twitter “Yesterday I met (Trout) and had a talk, he is such a nice man. I promised him neutrality in ring official's decisions if the bout goes the long way.”
Isn’t it reassuring that, on the eve of a big fight, one of the sports leading governing officials makes a strong public statement that the fight will be adjudicated fairly?
Not so much, right? It says a lot that boxers need to be reassured that they will get a fair shake. It’s hard to imagine David Stern pulling Kevin Durant aside before the NBA Finals last year to let him know the Oklahoma City Thunder would have impartial officiating against the Miami Heat.
It’s the grey cloud hovering over the fight this weekend, the question gnawing at the back of the mind before the bell sounds: can Austin Trout get a fair shake in what is essentially a road fight this weekend?
It would be nice if boxing were perceived as a sport where decisions were always rendered in an ideal vacuum. It doesn’t take long watching the sport to walk away feeling otherwise. There have been too many nights that end in disgust.
2013, so far, has been a solid year as far as verdicts go. There have been a couple of ugly calls but, for the most part, things have gone well. The action quality has been largely exceptional and, while there have been scores worthy of debate (Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov being an example), the howls of ‘robbery’ have been contained. Even when the scores are too close for comfort (see: Guillermo Rigondeaux-Nonito Donaire), the right guys are getting the nod.
It’s been a pleasant surprise. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
This is a fight with all the ingredients for a night where the scorecards could really count. Alvarez and Trout might mix for a very good fight. Trout showed in December, against veteran Miguel Cotto, that he can be pushed into an exciting fight and thrive. Trout is more comfortable countering. Alvarez comes to bang.
Alvarez also comes with the bulk of the crowd.
There is no doubt (pun intended) who the star of the show is here. The red headed Alvarez would have been a boxing matinee idol in an era where the term still applied. The jury is still out on how high his ceiling is in the ring, but he can clearly fight. Trout might get a fair shake and still get beat this weekend.
Whatever is settled in the ring, the sky’s the limit at the box office.
Alvarez has global superstar possibilities. He is already a superstar reality in Mexico and, given television ratings and ticket sales, is arrived in the U.S. as well.
The monster draws are few and far between in any era. They are even more valuable in an era in the U.S. where a fight is considered a wild success if the ratings indicate more than a million households, a slight total compared to many other sporting events, tuned in. Star power matters and, in a fight with close rounds, star power combined with hitting power can sway judges.
Maybe it’s the locale that adds an extra air of dark intrigue. Twenty years ago, September 1993 to be precise, the Alamodome was host to one of the most notorious decisions in the history of boxing. Pernell Whitaker and Julio Cesar Chavez entered the ring recognized as the two best fighters in the world. Whitaker appeared to win eight or nine rounds, silencing a crowd more rabid for Chavez in his time than they are for Canelo now.
Whitaker retained his WBC Welterweight crown…with a draw. It was a stain.
Trout, to his credit, hasn’t expressed a ton of concern in the run up to the bout. He has reason to see all this wonder as much ado about not his problem. His experience says he can overcome the home field advantage.
Trout’s December win over Cotto wasn’t just a crowd pleaser. It was also an eye opener. In a fight he clearly deserved to win, most at ringside had him winning between seven and nine rounds of the fight. Two of the judges came up with the latter. One of the judges gave him eleven. It was the rare occurrence of a questionable score going against a more branded fighter.
Trout, a southpaw, boxes but he doesn’t run. When Cotto landed hard shots, Trout came back with some of his own. He rose to the occasion and now has that experience to build on. It should help in the ring this weekend. Trout’s experience says if he does what it takes to win, he will.
No matter who wins this Saturday, all we can hope is that on Sunday morning the talk remains as positive as it has been for most of the year to date. Keep recent positive trends in big fights going, it might even become an expectation.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]