By Cliff Rold
20-year old Mexican crowd favorite Saul Alvarez (37-0-1, 27 KO) won his then-vacant WBC Jr. Middleweight belt in March with a win over a fighter who wasn’t even a Jr. Middleweight. The hollow accomplishment began a path to validation Saturday night at the Arena VFG in Alvarez’s native Jalisco, Mexico with a dominating twelfth round stoppage of a sturdy fringe contender within his class, 34-year old Ryan Rhodes (45-5, 31 KO) of Sheffield, England. It was Rhodes’s third knockout loss.
Both men came into the contest below the division limit of 154 lbs., Alvarez at 153 ¼ and Rhodes at 152 ½.
Alvarez began circling to his left away from Rhodes, slipping a soft lead left from Rhodes near the ropes. They tested each other with measuring, missing jabs, Alvarez missing his own lead left wildly near the halfway point of the round. Rhodes picked off a right and landed a left hand to the face of Alvarez with about a minute to go. Alvarez would answer in the final thirty seconds with some combinations, Alvarez able to touch Rhodes with a left hook and right hand before the first three minutes had passed.
Rhodes again came forward at the start of the second but the roles quickly reversed. Rhodes played with his stance in the round, spending the latter half in his natural southpaw form. Playing the aggressor, Alvarez brought roars from the crowd with brief combinations. Alvarez struggled as the round progressed to get his right hand through against the southpaw guard of Rhodes, the crowd occasionally booing the uneven action. The description was apt in the third as well, Rhodes truing to box his man and Alvarez settling for single, hard shots where openings allowed.
Matters took a turn in the fourth. The deliberate pace was sped up by a surge from Alvarez, a combination to the body and head near the ropes setting the stage for a right hand moments later to send Rhodes to the deck. Rhodes was up quickly to beat the count of referee Hector Afu and stayed on his feet despite another big Alvarez right before the bell.
Into the fifth, Rhodes struggle to find answers for Alvarez continued, the younger man’s strength and superior combinations dominating the affair. A right against stunned Rhodes in the frame and he looked discouraged in the corner between rounds. While there were some moments for Rhodes late in the sixth, the tide of the contest was unturned as the heavy handed Alvarez continued to grind Rhodes down.
A cut was open underneath the right eye of Rhodes, blood streaming when a shove to the floor in the seventh had the partisans thinking another knockdown was at hand. Afu waved it off and the methodical dismantling of Rhodes resumed. At the bell for the eighth, it was Alvarez pacing back and forth in the corner, waiting to continue the hunt for a finish. The passion of the crowd boiled over, a fight breaking out in the masses, while Alvarez held steady.
The contest remained in its pattern from rounds nine to eleven, Rhodes supplying a token connect on occasion and absorbing blows from Alvarez. With his corner telling him to risk being knocked out in the final round in pursuit of victory, Rhodes came out to find Alvarez willing to oblige. Closing the show with flourish, Alvarez let loose with both hands and had Rhodes in big trouble. Rhodes’s corner threw in the towel just a step behind Afu stepping in to halt the contest at 48 seconds of the twelfth and final round.
Rhodes acknowledged Alvarez’s talents after the contest. “I think I probably underestimated his power. He’s a strong young kid. He caught me with a lot of body shots every round and it took a toll on me.”
Alvarez agreed with the assessment of Rhodes. “I could really feel him flinch (when hit to the body) and I tried that a little more.” Now with a title defense under his belt, Alvarez looked forward to bigger names, but didn’t respond directly to any particular name when asked about the likes of WBA 154 lb. titlist Miguel Cotto, contender Alfredo Angulo, or recently crowned WBC Middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. “I’m ready to really fight anyone. My managers will tell me who to fight. If I have to fight the devil, I will fight the devil.”
If the main event sometimes felt like it dragged on too long, the televised support contest was over just about as soon as it started.
That was a very good thing for the victor.
After an uneven performance in what had been hoped would be his coming out party in March versus veteran Daniel Ponce De Leon, 21-year old Jr. Lightweight Adrien Broner (21-0, 17 KO), 128 ½, of Cincinnati, Ohio, delivered an explosive first round knockout of 27-year old Jason Litzau (28-3, 21 KO), 129 ¾, of St. Paul, Minnesota. It was Litzau’s third knockout loss and the end of a five bout winning streak that included upsets of former U.S. Olympian Rocky Juarez and former unified 122 lb. titlist Celestino Caballero.
Litzau seemed the more relaxed of the two at the start but neither began guns blazing. Litzau slipped in a right to the body, Broner meekly attempting a long lead left hook past the minute mark. The boo birds were out by halfway through the opening round, the fighters responding by each throwing blocked lead lefts. Inside the final thirty seconds, each man landed a clean right. For Broner, it was a sign of better things.
For Litzau, his last gasp of offense for the night.
Backing Litzau into the ropes, Broner landed a right hand clean to get Litzau in big trouble. Frozen, Litzau didn’t hold even as Broner failed to connect in the early part of his finishing flurry. He settled, finding some crushing left hooks, the last of them seeing Broner turned around with the shot as Litzau sunk along the ropes towards the floor. Referee Curtis Thrasher halted the bout without counting at 2:58 of the first.
Broner, who comically ensures his hair is brushed by a ring second during ring intros, took over the job himself before commenting on the action. “I knew (Litzau) was going to come to fight. 28-2, 21 knockouts; he didn’t just get that record for nothing. You know, he fought some people, he knocked out a lot of people, and he had some good victories. Coming into the fight I knew I had to stay focused, listen to the corner, and stick to the game plan.” Broner appeared open to facing any of the titlists in the class going forward, stating after the bout, “sky’s the limit.”
Broner can hope to exploit one of his ratings in the four notable sanctioning bodies, three in the top ten (#8 WBC, #7 WBA, and #6 WBO). All of those should rise as Litzau was rated #4 and #2 in the WBC and WBA, along with a #3 rating from the IBF (where Broner entered rated #14). As the #1 slot of the WBA was vacant heading into Saturday, an elevation to mandatory there is not out of the question for Broner. The current WBA titlist at 130 lbs. is talented Japanese battler Takashi Uchiyama (17-0, 14 KO).
Uchiyama is rated #3 in the world at Jr. Lightweight by ESPN and Ring Magazine, and #1 by BoxingScene.
The card was televised on HBO as part of its “Boxing After Dark” series, promoted by Golden Boy Promotions.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]