by Cliff Rold
When stars collide in boxing, everything feels possible.
There are always big fights. There are not always Superfights. We have a Superfight this weekend. Anytime a weigh-in has more butts in the seats than most main events, one knows they are witnessing a spectacular event.
Floyd Mayweather is the biggest star in US boxing, maybe the biggest star since the heights of Mike Tyson and Ray Leonard. For the first time since those men, the biggest star also appears to be the game’s greatest fighter. Across the ring, he’ll find a young man desperate to supplant him.
This is already great theatre. The opening bell looms and we wonder if we will also get a great fight. To prepare for the hour at hand, a deeper examination is in order of the fight: its stakes, its historical implications and context, and its possible outcome.
We begin with the numbers.
Titles: Lineal World Welterweight Champion (2010-Present, 2 Defenses); WBC Welterweight (2011-Present, 1 Attempted Defense); WBA “Super” Super Welterweight (2012-Present, 0 Defenses); Ring Magazine Welterweight (2012-Present, 0 Defenses)
Previous Titles: Lineal/WBC Jr. Lightweight (1998-2002, 8 Defenses); Lineal/Ring/WBC Lightweight (2002-04, 3 Defenses); WBC Jr. Welterweight (2005); IBF Welterweight (2006); Lineal/Ring/WBC Welterweight (2006-08, 1 Defense); WBC Jr. Middleweight (2007);
Weight: 150.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 147.3 lbs.
Hails from: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Record: 44-0, 26 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 22-0, 10 KO including lineal title contests
Rankings (at 154): #1 (Ring), #2 (TBRB, BoxingScene)
Current/Former World Champions Faced: 18 (Genaro Hernandez RTD8; Gregorio Vargas UD12; Diego Corrales TKO10; Carlos Hernandez UD12; Jesus Chavez TKO9; Jose Luis Castillo UD12, UD12; DeMarcus Corley UD12; Arturo Gatti RTD6; Sharmba Mitchell TKO6; Zab Judah UD12; Carlos Baldomir UD12; Oscar De La Hoya SD12; Ricky Hatton TKO10; Juan Manuel Marquez UD12; Shane Mosley UD12; Victor Ortiz KO4; Miguel Cotto UD12; Robert Guerrero UD12)
Title: WBC Super Welterweight (2011-Present, 6 Defenses); WBA Light Middleweight/Ring Jr. Middleweight (2012-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’7 ½
Weight: 152 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 153.8 lbs.
Hails from: Guadalajara, Mexico
Record: 42-0-1, 30 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 7-0, 4 KO
Rankings: #1 (TBRB, ESPN, BoxingScene, BoxRec)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 6 (Miguel Vazquez SD4, UD10; Carlos Baldomir KO6; Lovemore N’Dou UD12; Kermit Cintron TKO5; Shane Mosley UD12; Austin Trout UD12)
While the Mayweather marketing machine often points first to mythical pound-for-pound designations, there is a very real world title on the line this weekend. Alvarez already has a Ring Magazine belt in the division by way of the magazine’s unnecessary decision to recognize a fight between the then #2 and #3 rated Alvarez and Austin Trout for their 154 lb. title, bypassing their #1 Jr. Middleweight at the time in Mayweather.
Patience would have led to what should fill the vacancy: #1 vs. #2.
That’s what we ultimately have here. Mayweather’s win over Miguel Cotto, and Alvarez’s win over Trout, stand out from the rest of a title crowd currently made up of Ishe Smith.
While some dispute about the lineal claim of the winner of this weekend’s fight may occur, it is safe to say the winner will overwhelmingly be seen as the legitimate World Champion in class. The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, which this author is a member of, will recognize the winner as champion.
If that is Alvarez, he completes his validation as a champion after a comical start. The WBC belt was nearly handed to him for beating Ricky Hatton’s unqualified, unrated in the division, brother Matthew.
If it is Mayweather, he becomes only the second man in the history of boxing to win lineal World titles in four divisions after rival Manny Pacquiao accomplished the feat in 2009. How remarkable is the case of Mayweather from 130 to 154 lbs?
Consider this: the only division he has competed in where he was not the lineal king was 140 lbs. At 147, in a memorable 2007 clash of unbeatens, he defeated the lineal 140 lb. king Ricky Hatton. Had that fight occurred just a single division lower, he could have had an unheralded sweep of lineal crowns in every division he has competed in.
Record Accomplishments Near for Mayweather
While Floyd has never stayed in one weight class long enough to make a run at double digit defenses, as noted above he has won more than twenty title fights in his career without a loss. To be exact, he’s won 21 with an alphabet title on the line; 22 if one counts his win over Shane Mosley as the resumption of the Welterweight title reign he abdicated during a retirement from 2008-09.
And it should be counted. Mosley, who defeated Antonio Margarito off Margarito’s win over Miguel Cotto, had the win to position himself as top man in class while Mayweather was away.
Regardless if one counts the mark at 21 or 22 title fight wins, it is a rare company, even in the alphabet title era, to compete in so many title affairs. To do so across five weight divisions, without a defeat, is laudable. If he can protect that unbeaten mark, these are the men Mayweather is closing in on historically:
• Most Title Fight Wins Without a Loss: Ricardo Lopez (25-0-1) at 105 & 108 lbs.
• Most Title Fight Wins Without a Loss or Draw: Joe Calzaghe (24-0) at 168 & 175 lbs.
• Most Title Fight Wins: Julio Cesar Chavez (31) at 130, 135 & 140 lbs.
Of these marks, Chavez’s may be the hardest to reach. For completeness sake, the 38 defenses of Sampson Dutch Boy Gym for a lightly regarded WBF belt at 115 lbs. can also be mentioned.
That isn’t likely to be matched by anyone.
Some might also point to Floyd closing in on a 49-0 mark but, really, that isn’t a record like those above. It’s just a single fighter’s record: Rocky Marciano’s. Floyd isn’t a Heavyweight and has already had three times the title fights Marciano did. It’s not apples to apples.
Canelo is the latest obstacle but one Mayweather is favored to overcome. Should he become the second man in history to win lineal titles in four weight classes, more history is imminently in reach.
Canelo vs. Chavez?
Of course, Canelo is more than just an obstacle. He is a live, dangerous underdog this weekend. Some are already wondering if he is the heir to global mega-stardom Mexico has waited for since the heyday of Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
A blasphemous proposition…right?
At least not in the right context.
While Alvarez has a long way to go to compare to Chavez’s career, it is interesting to contrast them at similar stages. Chavez won his first major title, a vacant WBC belt at 130, in a bout with Mario Martinez in 1984. He was 22 years old and 43-0.
Only a year older at 23 and entering his 44th fight, it is fair to argue that with wins over Miguel Vazquez and Austin Trout among a few other solid opponents, Alvarez is ahead of where Chavez was at the same point in his career. Should he beat Mayweather, he’ll have a sizable lead on Chavez at similar career stages.
And Chavez arguably never beat anyone as good as Mayweather.
Of course, Chavez made it to 87-0 before the blemishes started and had plenty of great wins in that number. Should Alvarez beat Mayweather, we’ll see what Alvarez can do to keep pace over his next forty or so fights. It’s too soon to compare them, but it’s fun to do it anyways.
Jr. Middleweight Title Clashes of Unbeatens
Another big part of the fun this weekend is that neither man has ever lost as a professional. Barring a draw outcome, one of them will feel that sting Sunday morning. Clashes between undefeated champions are always welcome and this week has seen plenty of keyboards bruised with recounts of some of the most memorable across weight divisions.
But what of the annals of the 154 lb. class?
Since Denny Moyer and Emile Griffith inaugurated titles in the division days apart in 1962, there has been only a smattering of title clashes between unbeaten fighters.
Some remain exceedingly memorable while others are well forgotten. They began with an upset:
• June 25, 1966: Ki-Soo Kim (22-0-2) SD15 Nino Benvenuti (65-0) – World
• October 24, 1979: Ayub Kalule (30-0) UD15 Masashi Kudo (23-0) – WBA/Lineal
• December 6, 1979: Ayub Kalule (31-0) UD15 Steve Gregory (20-0-2) – WBA/Lineal
• February 2, 1982: Davey Moore (8-0) TKO6 Tadashi Mihara (15-0) – WBA
• August 23, 1986: Mike McCallum (26-0) TKO2 Julian Jackson (29-0) – WBA
• October 16, 1987: Matthew Hilton (27-0) TKO2 Jack Callahan (23-0) - IBF
• March 3, 2000: Felix Trinidad (36-0) UD12 David Reid (14-0) - WBA
• December 2, 2000: Felix Trinidad (38-0) TKO12 Fernando Vargas (20-0) – WBA/IBF
• October 10, 2001: Harry Simon (20-0) TKO5 Wayne Alexander (15-0) – WBO
• May 19, 2007: Sergiy Dzinziruk (33-0) KO11 Carlos Nascimento (15-0) – WBO
• July 7, 2007: Joachim Alcine (28-0) UD12 Travis Simms (25-0) - WBA
• April 20, 2013: Saul Alvarez (41-0-1) UD12 Austin Trout (26-0) – WBA “Super”/WBC/Ring
Exploring some of the most notable clashes, Kim’s upset of the undefeated Benvenuti was a shocker in its day and not without those who thought the Italian great had done enough on the road to escape with his crown. Benvenuti would go on to win the Middleweight crown twice while Kim would lose the Jr. Middleweight crown in his third defense. There was never a rematch.
The underrated Kalule would win his title versus Kudo and immediately defend against Gregory, ultimately making four defenses before being unseated by Sugar Ray Leonard on the eve of Leonard’s Welterweight unification clash with Thomas Hearns.
In a case of a fight happening before everyone knew how special it was, McCallum and Jackson squared off in an explosive bout. McCallum was badly rocked in the opening frame only to turn matters around in the second and stop Jackson. Both went on to later title victories on separate roads.
Felix Trinidad knocked off two undefeated US Olympians in a three-fight campaign in the year 2000, coming off the floor to win in both affairs. Reid, a Gold Medalist in 1996, dropped Trinidad in the third only to take a terrible beating over the bout’s second half in losing his crown. Later in the year, Trinidad would drop Vargas twice in the first and a rout seemed to be on. Instead, Vargas dropped Trinidad in the fourth and stayed in the fight until late in what Ring Magazine rated the greatest Jr. Middleweight title fight of all time in 2002.
Then of course there was the spectacle of Alvarez-Trout in front of approximately 40,000 at the San Antonio Alamodome just months ago. Mayweather-Alvarez has already surpassed that fight as an event. Can it provide drama on par with Trinidad-Vargas? Would an Alvarez win be an even bigger upset than Kim over Benvenuti?
One thing is certain: when undefeated fighters square off at 154 lbs. we know that history has provided more than its share of thrills.
History aside, there is the fight itself. How do the two fighters stack up?
Let’s go to the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Mayweather A-; Alvarez B
Pre-Fight: Power – Mayweather B+; Alvarez A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Mayweather A; Alvarez B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Mayweather A; Alvarez A
One sigh of relief can be had: Alvarez made the contracted catchweight of 152 lbs. A little more than a year after declaring he wanted his opponents to come in comfortable, Team Mayweather opted to level some discomfort at the biggest man Mayweather has faced to date.
In the ring, Alvarez is likely to outweigh Mayweather by more than ten pounds and he looked fine enough at the weigh-in to put aside some worries about the impact of excess weight shedding on the fight. One thing that stood out at the weigh-in was Alvarez won’t look down at Mayweather. The reigning Welterweight Champion is a hair taller, and has about a two-inch reach advantage. Hiding behind his famous shoulder, Mayweather can make those inches count.
Alvarez has improved his head movement and has a hard jab. It sets up a thudding left to the body and a stiff right upstairs that can get there suddenly. While Mayweather has the edge in speed, Alvarez has developed good timing and is well balanced. His speed is best in combination. If he can stun Mayweather, he’s got enough quickness to pounce and multiply the effect.
He has to seriously touch him first.
Very few have done that over the years.
DeMarcus Corley, Zab Judah, and Shane Mosley are the only fighters to ever visibly rock Mayweather. All brought out Mayweather’s nasty side. When hit, Mayweather fights with a chip on his shoulder. He’s not there to touch gloves and make nice. All those men took beatings to prove it.
Alvarez has more size than all of them and youth to go with it. He also has shown he too can be hurt. Jose Cotto had him wobbled with the sort of blind shot one might expect Mayweather capable of landing. Alvarez can’t take Mayweather’s punching power for granted; he can’t just charge.
He also can’t just wait. Alvarez-Trout was highly competitive, in part because Alvarez chooses to fight in spots. Mayweather isn’t as active as Trout, but he is more accurate and more explosive. If Alvarez trades pot shots with Mayweather, he can’t win.
One thing we can say is both men are prepared for this moment. Alvarez has been groomed like a star and didn’t flinch from the stage against Trout. Mayweather, after safely boxing by Oscar De La Hoya in the fight that exploded his brand, has accelerated and come to embrace the limelight like few others.
Someone’s “0” is likely to go. Whose will it be?
Mayweather's laughable hypocrisy on the catch weight issue gives at least some pause about the danger seen in this opponent. It's a short pause. Mayweather is a master of his craft and, at 36, has shown no real signs of decline. No, he’s not as fast or offensive as he was at 130 but he’s still nearly as hard to hit.
Both guys like to counter and in those sort of style matches, the man who makes the other lead has the edge. Floyd will make Canelo lead. Early there might be drama but as the fight wears on, Mayweather’s sense of timing and immaculate defense will have Canelo all sorts of frustrated. Look for Mayweather to pull away and box to a safe, solid points victory.
Report Card Picks 2013: 34-20
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 firstname.lastname@example.org