By Mark Whicker
It was more vanilla than cinnamon, that’s for sure. But thyme (and time) is still on the side of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
Just don’t expect the spicy discussions about Saturday night’s split decision at MGM Grand Garden Arena to subside anytime soon.
Canelo chased Erislandy Lara around the ring for 12 rounds and threw enough windy misses to supply power to most of Clark County for a week.
But since Lara didn’t get off his unicycle long enough to mount an offense, Canelo came out the winner, much to the relief of Golden Boy chief Oscar De La Hoya.
Judge Levi Martinez gave Canelo a 117-111 nod, hard to digest in a bout where most of the rounds should have gone to arbitration. Jerry Roth favored Lara, 115-113, and Dave Moretti gave it to Alvarez by the same score.
“Levi Martinez should be looked into,” Lara said.
A vast majority of the crowd of 14,239 exploded when Canelo’s winning score was announced. Ronnie Shields, Lara’s trainer, waved his hand dismissively at all concerned, and Lara, incredulous, was held up against the turnbuckle by two of his handlers.
“There’s an old saying that if you want to make love, you need a partner,” Canelo said later. “If you want to fight you need a guy who wants to fight.”
If anything, the fight only proved that Canelo, now 44-1-1, isn’t a very good matchmaker. Against the advice of De La Hoya and Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez, Canelo decided he would fight the mystifying Lara instead of someone more forthcoming.
“I took this fight because you guys said I wouldn’t take it,” Canelo told the media afterward. “He (Lara) said he wanted to take me to school. Well, nobody wants to go to THAT school.”
But credit Canelo for realizing when school was almost out. When the 12th bell sounded, he finally sprung into action, pressing the action against Lara’s vulnerable ribs and commanding a round for maybe the only time in the fight. Then again, Martinez gave that round to Lara, so go figure.
That late burst was significant because Canelo entered the ring at 170 pounds, according to Showtime. He was 15 pounds lighter at the weigh-in Friday. And he spent almost every minute in Tom-and-Jerry mode, pursuing Lara from pillar to post and rarely connecting.
“He weighed 170 with his clothes on,” De La Hoya said, shrugging. “He was probably 165 in the ring. That wasn’t a concern.”
Canelo did some good body work in the eighth round and had some truly specdtacular misses, particularly with an uppercut in the second. He also rocked Lara enough to cause him to stumble, although referee Robert Byrd ruled it a slip.
Afterward, De La Hoya said Canelo will be back in the ring in November, after the fighter celebrates his 24th birthday in Guadalajara. “Twenty-four,” said De La Hoya, shaking his head. “I wish he’d give me a couple of those years.”
Miguel Cotto would be the most dynamic alternative, but De La Hoya keeps mentioning James Kirkland, and, with a bit of a twinkle in his eye, even nominated Gennady Golovkin.
De La Hoya also said he didn’t think Canelo needed to win the 12th round to survive.
“I thought he definitely landed enough punches,” De La Hoya said, even though Lara landed 107 to Canelo’s 97. “The combinations he threw, the hard, effective punches that he threw….I thought he fought very well.
“But Lara was not our first option. He is an elite fighter. He is the most avoided fighter on the planet. This is what Canelo wanted. I don’t blame him. It speaks very well for him, the fact that he wants to fight the best.”
Still, it would have been interesting to get Oscar’s blood pressure reading in the early rounds, when Lara was motoring back and forth, paralyzing Canelo with his movement, and occasionally stinging him with left-right combos.
But Lara (19-2-2) became too infatuated with that success and apparently thought he could win the fight on presentation, like a figure skater.Too many times he let Canelo’s defense go untested, and Canelo got close enough to pile up just enough body shots to be convincing.
Well, at least for most people.
“I didn’t respect him before,’ Lara said. “I don’t respect him now. He knows he lost. It was disgraceful, and we need an immediate rematch.”
“You can’t win a fight by running,” Canelo said. “You can only win a fight by hitting. He talks about a rematch. I’ll give him a rematch when he learns how to fight.”
The statistics, for whatever they are worth, showed that Canelo probably won Martinez’s heart, and pencil, with 73 power body shots. But he also missed 77 percent of his punches overall and connected with only nine jabs out of – could this be right? – 183 attempts.
“Canelo wasn’t just missing, he was missing by a lot,” Shields said. “The first two scores were 115-113 and I can accept it. They said 117-111 and I thought, good, finally we’re going to win one. I thought we won the fight easy.”
Even thought there was little armed conflict in the main event, the sellout crowd got plenty of bang on the undercard.
Francisco Vargas beat Juan Manuel Lopez so frightfully in the second round that the former champ from Puerto Rico did not answer the ball for the third. That probably finishes Lopez, to any serious extent, and boosted Vargas to 20-0-1 with 14 knockouts.
Abner Mares, in his first fight under the guidance of Virgil Hunter, searched vainly for his rhythm until about midway through his decision over Jonathan Oquendo, which made him 27-1-1 and set up a rematch with his only conqueror, Jhonny Gonzalez.
And Mauricio Herrera continued to impress with a persistent right hand and a high boxing IQ when he took the WBA interim super lightweight title, over Johan Perez by majority decision.
In the end, De La Hoya laughed as he flashed back to another night when he tried to use the Schwinn-to-win philosophy.
“I got on the bicycle against Felix Trinidad and lost that fight,” De La Hoya said.
At the time Oscar thought he won that one, just as Lara thought he won here.
“I didn’t think it would be that long of a marathon,” Canelo said later.
And he didn’t even have to watch it.
Mark Whicker has been a sports columnist in Southern California for 27 years.