by David P. Greisman
Canelo Alvarez knew he had won the fight long before it was over, when there were still four rounds remaining, when any moment of those 12 minutes could have seen him suffering a cut, an injury or a dramatic knockout loss.
But his fight with Austin Trout was being contested under the rules of open scoring.
Alvarez knew he was in the lead after the first four rounds.
He knew he was even farther ahead after eight.
He knew he could hurt Trout, given that he had floored him with a single right hand in the seventh.
And Alvarez had not often been hit in return, nor had he ever been hurt.
It was not at all a dominant performance, not even close to the victories he had scored in recent years over smaller opponents or faded foes.
Alvarez would actually be credited with hitting Trout less often than Trout had hit him. CompuBox saw Alvarez landing just 124 of 431 punches — about 10 punches per round out of only 36 thrown. (His recent average, meanwhile, had been 24 of 52.) In terms of power punches, he landed just 96 in total, or 8 per round for every 19 thrown, a far cry from his usual 17 of 32.
Trout’s statistics showed him to be busier but not much better: While he landed 30 more punches on the night, that meant just two and a half more landed shots per round. Trout was 154 of 769 — about 13 punches per round out of 64 thrown, or about one punch hitting its target for every five sent out. As for power punches, Trout went 95 of 353, or 8 of 29 per round.
The fight was close enough that journalists watching the bout from ringside and from the comfort of their own homes had scores ranging from Trout winning nine rounds to Alvarez winning eight.
Yet Alvarez knew mid-fight that the three official judges saw otherwise. He did not need to seek to impress the fans or the arbiters of this bout. He did not need to endanger himself to ensure victory.
All he needed was a win.
Alvarez hadn’t actually needed this fight with Trout. The skilled southpaw was seen as a difficult opponent, an obstacle between Alvarez and an expected fight this fall against Floyd Mayweather. The expectation is that Mayweather-Alvarez will happen during Mexican Independence Day weekend this September (Mayweather will face Robert Guerrero this May).
Alvarez merely needed to stay busy for now, but he saw Trout as a worthwhile challenge, and he saw their bout as a chance for him to exact revenge for his brother Rigoberto, whom Trout defeated two years ago.
There were still questions over whether he could even handle a fighter such as Trout, but Canelo didn’t need to answer them just yet.
He just needed to stay undefeated — and unhurt.
That’s because Alvarez has already become a truly significant attraction without any truly significant victories. After more than 40 fights since he turned pro as a 15-year-old, he is an established celebrity in his native Mexico and a budding star among Mexican-Americans and boxing fans in the United States.
On Saturday against Trout, the card’s promoter announced that nearly 40,000 had come to the arena in San Antonio, a figure almost never heard for boxing in the U.S., about twice the size of the best crowds Miguel Cotto had attracted at Madison Square Garden and about three times more than the audiences at the biggest fights held in Las Vegas casinos.
It does not matter, then, whether Alvarez’s in-ring accomplishments are seen as having earned him a fight with Mayweather. Nor does it matter whether Alvarez’s performance against Trout gives any indication that he can trouble the man most see as the best boxer in the world.
It does not matter that this was Alvarez’s first true test. It does not matter that Trout’s own best win had just come this past December against a declining Miguel Cotto. It does not matter that neither man had faced or beaten the other titleholders or emerging contenders in the junior-middleweight division, not Erislandy Lara or Vanes Martirosyan, not Carlos Molina or Ishe Smith, not Gabriel Rosado or Alfredo Angulo.
But Alvarez beat a fighter who had nevertheless been ranked No. 1 at 154 by boxing writer Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, No. 2 (behind Mayweather) by this site’s Cliff Rold, No. 2 (behind Mayweather) by a group of writers calling themselves the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and No. 3 (behind Mayweather and Alvarez) by “The Ring” magazine.
However meaningless that ranking is, given the lack of bouts between many of the division’s claimants, it means that Mayweather will be able to tell people that he is facing a top fighter at 154, a bigger man who is coming off the best win of his career and is still getting better.
More important than that, he will be able to sell eight figures’ worth of tickets in Las Vegas, pack in crowds for movie theater showings and closed circuit broadcasts, and capitalize on the significant domestic and foreign pay-per-view sales that their bout will bring.
You earn a Mayweather fight with earnings — with revenue, not with respect.
All Alvarez needed to do this past Saturday against Trout was win. He had done far more than enough for the “Money” fight already.
The 10 Count
1. Boxing promotion done right: Canelo Alvarez vs. Austin Trout drew an announced crowd of 39,247 people to the Alamodome in San Antonio.
It probably won’t end up bringing in revenue near the eight-figure gates that we’ve seen for Floyd Mayweather’s and Manny Pacquiao’s fights, but that’s not a bad thing. The tickets were prices as high as $300 and as low as $10, making this an accessible event that the average boxing fan was able to attend.
This is how you cultivate customers, by investing in the long-term. Boxers and promoters get rich through their mega-events and pay-per-views. But more people can watch the sport when tickets are affordable and when they do not need to pay extra to see a broadcast.
The niche sport of boxing won’t be strengthened by making the limited fan base go to their wallets again and again. Instead, the sport will only grow by increasing the pool of people who watch and enjoy the fights — and then become more willing to shell out for them.
2. Boxing promotion not done anywhere near as well: While the enjoyable afternoon boxing card on NBC on Saturday hopefully pulled in a good TV audience
for the heavyweight main event between Tyson Fury and Steve Cunningham and the middleweight undercard of Curtis Stevens vs. Derrick Findley, the show at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden must have struggled to sell.
Last week, the $250 and $50 tickets were available online at a 50 percent discount.
Madison Square Garden is often referred to as boxing’s Mecca. New York City and its surrounding metropolitan area are home to about 19 million people. Philadelphia, where Cunningham is from, has nearly 6 million in its metro area. The East Coast is quite populous from Washington, D.C., all the way up to Boston, all of which are a day trip’s drive to and from Manhattan.
If more fighters were made into local stars, more of their fans would be willing to travel for them. It sounded as if Fury had fans fly in from overseas to support him. There aren’t many American boxers who can say they have such committed contingents.
3. With that said, it’s not cheap to travel to or stay in New York City. Fury’s fans were willing to consider the flight, hotel and tickets expenses given the thrill of a trip to another country’s top tourist destination.
One important tactic, then, is to give New York’s boxing fans reason to travel. Only three fighters on the six-fight card hailed from the Big Apple: Stevens and undercard boxers Edward Valdez (who was 12-9-2 coming into his bout) and Adam Kownacki (who was 4-0 coming in).
Then again, the first fight card to take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn had less than 10,000 people despite having six boxers from New York City and one from the city’s suburbs.
4. Poor Erislandy Lara.
It’s not that his boxing life is too bad — after all, he is being featured on a June 8 tripleheader on Showtime, with an important and interesting bout against Alfredo Angulo.
But it must have frustrated him to see Austin Trout, a boxer from outside the Golden Boy Promotions stable, get a first crack at Canelo Alvarez. Lara has been waiting for that shot for some time, and he’ll be made to keep waiting.
That’s because we’ll likely see Alvarez’s next bout come against Floyd Mayweather, should Mayweather triumph over Robert Guerrero in two weeks, and should Mayweather and Alvarez be able to come to terms for what would be the biggest pay-per-view of the year.
The winner of Lara-Angulo will probably be the mandatory challenger for the World Boxing Council belt at 154 pounds. That title is presently held by Alvarez, who also picked up the World Boxing Association title with his win over Austin Trout.
That doesn’t mean we could see Lara facing Alvarez or Mayweather any time soon.
I expect Mayweather will top Alvarez in September, and then he will return to welterweight for his next appearance. That should create a vacancy for Lara to fight for that world title, but it would not give him the high-profile payday he has long sought.
Some of this is because Golden Boy has never given Lara a big push.
Some of that is Lara’s fault, but not all of it.
Lara’s lackluster draw with Carlos Molina in 2011 didn’t do him any favors. Then again, the judges who robbed Lara of a win over Paul Williams later that year didn’t help either. Nor did Golden Boy, which didn’t get him a rematch with Williams or another big fight afterward.
Instead, Lara stayed busy for the first part of 2012, demolishing Ronald Hearns and then taking a decision over Freddy Hernandez. That put him into an eliminator bout against Vanes Martirosyan on a Top Rank-promoted card. Lara-Martirosyan ended as a split technical draw.
It doesn’t help, though, that there is not yet a sizable fan base turning out for the very talented Cuban boxers fighting in the United States.
Lara will need to become a star through his performances. He just needs to be given a chance. And if anyone can give him that chance, it will be Angulo.
5. The announcement last week about the drug testing for next month’s fight between Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute was a joke:
“InterBox, Lucian Bute, Jean Pascal and Groupe Yvon Michel (GYM) hereby confirm that antidoping tests are in place leading up to their fight scheduled on May 25th at the Montreal Bell Centre,” read the statement sent out last week. “All parties have agreed on all procedures and both fighters have approved the antidoping program.
“The program is inspired by the highest standards in the industry and calls for unannounced testing for each boxer before, during and after the May 25th fight.
“At the request of the third parties involved in this effort, all procedures and intervening companies shall remain confidential. Both promoters, together with their respective boxers and team members, will not comment further on any aspect related to the program or procedures in place.”
There are two groups that primarily benefit from knowing that stringent drug testing is taking place: the fighters, so that they can be more certain that their opponent is not doing anything illicit; and the fans, some of whom want to know that athletes are neither frauds nor cheaters.
This announcement can instill confidence in the fighters and promoters, but not the fans.
Why in the world would the testing organization need to be confidential? What good does it do to not give people a better idea of just how stringent the testing will be?
No harm can come from public knowledge. This declaration only makes you wonder why Pascal, Bute and their promoters do not want the specifics held up to public scrutiny.
6. Sticking with the topic of drug testing for a moment, let us return to the case of Mickey Bey, whose minimal punishment for an extraordinarily high testosterone to epitestosterone ratio was documented in this space three weeks ago.
To recall: The Nevada State Athletic Commission voted 3 to 2 to suspend Bey for three months and fine him $1,000.
Bey can and should now expect that he will be subject to more drug testing than other fighters might face in that state. On April 3, he, Floyd Mayweather and Robert Guerrero had drug tests, according to Keith Kizer, the commission’s executive director. All three tests came up negative for banned substances, Kizer said.
Bey maintains that he did not intend to cheat when he went to a clinic that prominently advertises its use of testosterone, and that he went there out of legitimate health problems. He points to a doctor’s note in his file as proof he voiced concerns over taking performance-enhancing drugs prior to his next fight — even though he knowingly allowed himself to receive three testosterone shots.
If Bey is as dedicated to being clean as he claims, then he deserves the opportunity to prove it. I think that any fighter who tests positive for a performance-enhancing drug should be fined an amount that would then pay for regular, random and stringent drug testing for the duration of his license.
7. Francisco Sierra was supposed to be 169 pounds for his April 12 fight with Farah Ennis. Instead, he came in at 186.5.
As horribly overweight as Sierra was, the offense wasn’t overly surprising. He has a history of failing to make weight.
In July 2011, he came in at 175 pounds for a 168-pound fight with Jesus Gonzales (although admittedly he came in on late notice).
He was also a late replacement when he came in overweight at 171 pounds for a July 2010 bout against super middleweight Donovan George.
8. The WBC’s move to make Andre Ward a “Champion Emeritus” at super middleweight — essentially stripping him of its world title — was not at all surprising.
It was a way for the WBC to save face without following its own rules. Ward has been a unified titleholder since December 2011, despite the WBC having forced other unified titleholders to choose between its belt and the other sanctioning body’s belt.
It’s a silly rule, but it’s the rule nevertheless. If it’s going to be applied, it needs to be applied to everyone. We’ll see if the WBC finally makes Danny Garcia pick between the WBC and WBA belts (should he beat Zab Judah this weekend), and if Canelo Alvarez will also be forced to choose now that he’s added Trout’s WBA belt to his collection.
9. The metaphorical wisdom of Teddy Atlas, as brought to you on ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights” before Round 2 of the undercard bout between John Jackson and Cerresso Fort.
Commentator Bernardo Osuna had asked Atlas what he expected of that night’s main event between Javier Fortuna and Miguel Zamudio. Teddy’s answer?
“You know, Bernardo, tomorrow night I think the NBA Finals are getting started. And I think that the Miami Heat have a darn good chance — I don’t think it takes any great handicapper to say that — to repeat again. I think that Zamudio has no chance. I can’t make a real huge argument for that man, Zamudio. He’s moving way up in class.
“The question to me is how does Fortuna knock him out? How does he get rid of him? Is he shooting the three-pointer on the outside, or is he going to the paint and looking to dunk him? For me, for my money, I think he’s looking for the dunk, I think that maybe we’ll go back to the Shaquille O’Neal days where you see the whole basket come crashing down. So the fans at home, stay around and find out who’s going to clean up the glass.”
Teddy turned out to be quite right. Fortuna knocked Zamudio out in just 68 seconds, and Zamudio was taken from the ring in a stretcher.
10. Teddy’s metaphorical monologue was only 15 seconds shorter than the fight itself…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]