By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Three years, 11 months and 22 days.
That’s how long it’s been since Saul Alvarez entered the ring as a newbie.
Lest anyone forget, that night – Sept. 14, 2013, to be exact – a 23-year-old version of Canelo stepped in against the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and, after 36 minutes of one-sided combat, was determined to be not quite ready for a prime-time Money shot.
The loss prompted a six-month hiatus for the youngster, who’s since returned to record seven consecutive victories (four by stoppage) while rebuilding the cinnamon-haired brand into one that’s again sharing a marquee for a significant premium cable-sanctioned pay-per-view show.
And while violent defeats of guys named Angulo, Kirkland, Khan and Smith don’t necessarily warrant a fast-track enshrinement in Canastota, the 27-year-old fighter who’ll climb through the ropes to face Gennady Golovkin later this month at the T-Mobile Arena appears to be markedly different in substance, if not in style.
“I think he's matured a lot in many different ways,” said Kevin Rooney Jr., director of public relations for DiBella Entertainment and son of Mike Tyson’s ex-trainer.
“He's a legitimate superstar and he has embraced it and knows how to handle it and deal with it, while still focusing on his training and keeping his mind on the fight. It's not an easy thing to do, especially at such a young age, but he seems to have found a happy medium.”
Indeed, though he projected assurance across a 10-city hype tour that preceded the Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight, the Alvarez that emerged from the corner that night instantly put himself behind the 8-ball by ditching hell-bent-for-leather aggression for the champion’s somnambulant pace.
He was in a 5-1 hole on two scorecards by the halfway point, and – lunacy of C.J. Ross notwithstanding – didn’t truly find his groove until the first few rounds against Angulo half a year later.
He barely escaped a would-be track meet with Erislandy Lara in July 2014, then followed up the Mayweather-Pacquiao chess match in May with a two-fisted bludgeoning of Kirkland that HBO’s Max Kellerman called “maybe, all things considered, the most electrifying” of his career.
Though he’s neither as one-dimensional as the “Mandingo Warrior” nor as vulnerable to single blows as “King Khan,” Golovkin’s aggressive style still strays far nearer to Alvarez’s wheelhouse than Mayweather’s ever did – and if the fighter who’s appeared post-Mayweather shows up again on Sept. 16, it’s no stretch to suggest he could pull off what Vegas odds-makers would consider a minor upset.
Particularly because Golovkin is 35, and, after nearly a decade-long KO streak, looks vulnerable after a narrow decision over Daniel Jacobs that many had shaded in the other man’s direction.
He’s also never been on a pay-per-view card approaching this one’s reach.
Add that to the mojo Alvarez gained from the first trip to the circus and it feels like a different proposition this time, too.
Toward that end, the initial version of HBO’s 24/7 preview series showed viewers an Alvarez whose close-cropped haircut and measured tone makes him appear ready for a smashing encore.
“Once you’ve been through it, it becomes old hat,” said Ray Mancini, an International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee who’d won and lost a world lightweight title by age 23.
The fighter himself agreed.
“I have more experience now. I feel more confident. I’m more of a mature fighter now,” he said. “Obviously not just that fight, but the fights that followed have got me to this point. But yes, I’ve changed and I learned from it, and I just feel I’m more of a complete fighter now. I have more experience, and the confidence is probably the one thing that I can point out the most.”
This week’s title-fight schedule:
Vacant WBC super middleweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
David Benavidez (No. 4 WBC/No. 21 IWBR) vs. Ronald Gavril (No. 6 WBC/No. 35 IWBR)
Benavidez (18-0, 17 KO): First title fight; Only one fight beyond eight rounds (1-0, 1 KO)
Gavril (18-1, 14 KO): First title fight; Only one fight beyond eight rounds (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Neither guy legitimately deserves a single-digit ranking, but Benavidez seems to have more upside when it comes to a head-to-head comparison. He’ll show that impressively. Benavidez in 6
Vacant IBO cruiserweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Kevin Lerena (No. 14 IBO/No. 10 IWBR) vs. Youri Kalenga (No. 29 IBO/No. 17 IWBR)
Lerena (18-1, 9 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight scheduled for 12 rounds (3-0, 2 KO)
Kalenga (23-3, 16 KO): Second title fight (0-1); First fight in South Africa (fought in seven countries)
Fitzbitz says: Lerena has the home-turf advantage and the glittery record, but he’s also got more to prove on the high level. Is he capable of getting it done here? Crystal ball says no. Kalenga in 10
WBC super flyweight title – Carson, California
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Roman Gonzalez (No. 1 WBC/No. 2 IWBR)
Rungvisai (43-4-1, 39 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten since May 2014 (16-0, 14 KO)
Gonzalez (46-1, 38 KO): Seventeenth title fight (15-1); Held titles at 105, 108, 112 and 115 pounds
Fitzbitz says: Precisely no one expected a 46-0 champ to fall when these men met in March, and no one believes he’ll lose two straight. It’ll be another good one, but the favorite will find a way. Gonzalez in 6
WBO cruiserweight title – Berlin, Germany
Oleksandr Usyk (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Marco Huck (No. 9 WBO/No. 5 IWBR)
Usyk (12-0, 10 KO): Third title defense; Two 12-rounders in three fights after nine straight KO/TKO
Huck (40-4-1, 27 KO): Twentieth title fight (15-3-1); Held IBO and WBO titles at 200 pounds
Fitzbitz says: Huck has been one of the division’s best for nearly a decade, but the field has begun to catch up. Usyk seems to be the best of the new breed and he’ll make a clear statement. Usyk in 8
WBO junior bantamweight title – Carson, California
Naoya Inoue (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Antonio Nieves (No. 7 WBO/Unranked IWBR)
Inoue (13-0, 11 KO): Sixth title defense; First fight in the United States
Nieves (17-1-2, 9 KO): First title fight; First fight at 115-pound weight limit
Fitzbitz says: Nieves is an unheralded American who gets a title shot on U.S. soil, but outside of the nice story the reality is that he really doesn’t belong with this guy at this weight. Inoue in 5
Last week's picks: None
2017 picks record: 59-21 (73.7 percent)
Overall picks record: 881-295 (74.9 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.