By Cliff Rold
The development of championship level fighters is a sensitive process that can look so simple. Ultimately, it’s about keeping a guy winning until they are ready for the moment of truth. This Saturday at the Alamodome is a moment of truth for two talented Jr. Middleweights without a loss between them.
Both in their twenties, this is the sort of clash that promises to give us answers about a pair who still have plenty of questions. There is little better in the sport.
Because he is the star of the show, because he has been managed like a star, the bigger questions are about Saul Alvarez. It’s hard to ignore he’s walked a gilded path. He owns a belt that was all but given to him by the WBC, a then-vacant title he was allowed to compete for against a man who wasn’t really a Jr. Middleweight and whose biggest qualification was his last name (Hatton, Matthew).
That doesn’t mean he can’t fight.
Trout showed the world he could fight last year. This is, in a sense, his second moment of truth. In December, he got a crack at veteran Miguel Cotto inside Madison Square Garden and took care of business. Now he gets another big star, in front of a bigger crowd, with even higher stakes. He came by his belt in only slightly more difficult fashion, picking up the WBA’s bastard ‘regular’ belt off of the brother of Saul, Rigoberto Alvarez.
Cotto began the legitimizing of his title claim. Alvarez provides a chance to make a case for being the best Jr. Middleweight in the world.
Let’s go to the report cards.
Titles: WBA Light Middleweight (2011-Present, 4 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’9 ½
Hails from: Las Cruces, New Mexico
Record: 26-0, 14 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-0, 1 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 1 (Miguel Cotto UD12)
Title: WBC Light Middleweight (2011-Present, 5 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 153 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Guadalajara, Mexico
Record: 41-0-1, 31 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-0, 4 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 4 (Carlos Baldomir KO6; Lovemore N’Dou UD12; Kermit Cintron TKO5; Shane Mosley UD12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Trout B+; Alvarez B
Pre-Fight: Power – Trout B; Alvarez A-
Pre-Fight: Defense – Trout A-; Alvarez C
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Trout A; Alvarez B
One of the things that really stands out here is a gap between perception and reality. Because Alvarez has had star treatment, it has obscured for some that there really isn’t much of an experience gap between these two men. Cotto gives Trout an edge in terms of who has a better best win, but overall the quality competition scale is about even if not leaning to Alvarez.
That’s part of what makes the fight fun. We’re still learning about both these guys. What we know about Alvarez is that his hands are a little quicker than they appear even if his feet are sometimes lacking in life. He has good offensive variance with a long right, wicked uppercut, and commitment to the body.
Trout chooses his punches well. Coming from the southpaw side, he does an excellent job mixing his fastballs and change-ups, keeping his hands moving. Against Cotto, he outpaced him offensively. In what was a dull affair with Delvin Rodriguez, he used the jab to always stay a step ahead.
One area where he appears to have a decided edge is in his application of defense. Alvarez isn’t hard to find and his head movement is average. He covers up well when under attack and has a knack for throwing back before an opponent gets too much momentum going. However, he isn’t subtle about his transitions. Canelo is on offense, or he is on defense. He doesn’t do both at the same time very well.
He is agile in transitioning from one to the other, able to slide his shoulder to make a foe miss and come back through the holes left open. That could be a big factor in this fight because Trout also appears to have quicker hands and feet. He can’t match Alvarez for power but he might not have to. If he can make continual contact, the chance to swell or cut Alvarez as the fight wears on could be high.
Trout showed a lot of guts and poise against Cotto last year, as well as the ability to take a pretty good shot. He also has shown he’s not afraid of playing the visiting team. Alvarez has weathered what shots he’s taken to now but we haven’t seen him tested in similar fashion. For now, the intangibles of the fight favor Trout though Alvarez has plenty of room to provide new proofs this weekend.
The feeling about this fight hasn’t changed since signing in this corner: Trout should win because he’s a better fighter. Even if he does win, will he get the verdict? The late news, as reported by BoxingScene’s Jake Donovan, shouldn’t make anyone feel comfortable. According to Team Trout, a promised balance in officials (half WBA/half WBC) has somehow slanted towards the WBC on the eve of the fight. Combine that with some other ominous signs.
It’s happening at the site of one of the worst decisions of all-time (Pernell Whitaker D12 Julio Cesar Chavez).
It’s happening in a state where Paulie Malignaggi openly worried a few years ago about being robbed against native son Juan Diaz and then was.
It’s still too cynical to pick an outright bad decision, and one can’t ignore that Trout is affiliated with super advisor Al Haymon. Haymon fighters often get well more than fair shakes. Sure, Trout might need to win nine rounds to win by a point. It appears he can do it. He showed real bottom in the way he seized the fight against Cotto in December; he didn’t shrink from the moment. Alvarez is younger, and has fewer miles on him, than Cotto. That doesn’t necessarily make him a tougher test.
Trout’s superior defense should create effective counters against Canelo all night, frustrating and often freezing the younger man en route to a big win.
Report Card Picks 2013: 8-11
This might be the biggest fight of the week but it’s not the only big fight on tap…At Heavyweight, the size and technical improvement of Tyson Fury (20-0, 14 KO) should be a little too much for former Cruiserweight champ Steve Cunningham (25-5, 12 KO). Fury might score a stoppage against a Cunningham vulnerable early. If not, a points verdict is likely…In what could end up a better fight than most see coming, Light Heavyweight beltholder Nathan Cleverly (25-0, 12 KO) should outwork Robin Krasniqi (39-2, 15 KO) in a fight that goes the route. Krasniqi lost two his first three fights and is undefeated since…Finally, fighting for a 122 lb. belt vacated by Nonito Donaire prior to his fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux, two veterans on winning streaks will try to cap their runs. Victor Terrazas (36-2-1, 21 KO) has won ten in a row since a stoppage loss to tough Rendall Munroe in 2010. Former unified 115 lb. titlist Cristian Mijares (47-6-2, 22 KO) has won eleven in a row since a three-fight losing streak that derailed some pound-for-pound type considerations. Terrazas will bring the fight, and is a little bigger naturally. Mijares though is still a smidge faster and appears to have a slight edge in class. The pick is Mijares in what could end up an absolute war.
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]