By Jake Donovan
Austin Trout came up short in a fight that either would have put him in position to participate in the year’s biggest event, or at least prevent it from having actually happened. He’s had seven months to dwell on that April night where three judges decided early into the evening that nothing he would do against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez was going to be enough to win.
Instead, thanks to the beauty of open scoring, Trout knew as early as round eight that he didn’t stand any chance at all of emerging victorious. With that came the realization that he wasn’t going to land a third straight life-changing payday in the form of a showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Trout long ago came to grips with what took place in San Antonio that evening. It’s the fact that he’s been forced to sit on that loss for more this long that has made the past seven-plus months a struggle with which to contend.
“The loss taught me that there were a lot of things I had to tighten up,” says Trout. “Spiritually, mentally, I had to tighten up a lot in my game. I’ve done those things; I just haven’t been given the opportunity to prove it.”
That finally changes this weekend when the 28-year old squares off against Erislandy Lara. The bout and the circumstances which surround it – returning to New York, fighting for the same belt he held a year ago – are considered by Trout to be “a blessing. I feel like my career has come full circle. This is the path they’ve have put me on. I have to show I’ve learned from the loss and can come correct.”
Some would complain about not gaining any ground after participating in back-to-back fights with two of the biggest draws in the sport. The four biggest paydays to be found in the sport today all come within the same general weight class. Short of ever landing a fight with Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, Trout managed to score life-changing paydays in consecutive fights, first versus Miguel Cotto last December and then with Alvarez this past April.
The bout with Cotto was a breakout performance for Trout, who prior to his trip to Madison Square Garden was considered the poster child for hard-luck talent.
Still, fans were divided on his chances once the Puerto Rican superstar agreed to face the then-unbeaten 154 lb. titlist. Some believed there was no way Trout was going to march into Cotto’s home away from home and come out victorious; others believed Cotto was taking an unnecessary risk, and the sport would suffer the consequences if he lost in New York City.
Neither scenario turned out to be the case. Trout won in convincing fashion, and in a fight that proved to be as entertaining as the New Mexico native proved to be likeable.
Cotto threatened retirement at the time, but has since returned to the ring, knocking out Delvin Rodriguez in three rounds this past October. He is currently mulling two separate offers – a chance to face Alvarez in a blockbuster event next March, or moving up in weight in pursuit of middleweight king Sergio Martinez and a title in a fourth weight class.
Even if Trout were to have beaten Alvarez, it’s doubtful he would be in the same position. Some fighters just manage to get to that point where their careers are bulletproof. Cotto has earned that right after nearly 13 years of service. Alvarez’ massive following on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border keeps the 23-year old near the top of the list of any major fight at or near the super welterweight division.
Who knows how the rest of the year would have played out had Trout beaten Alvarez. It’s safe to say that the record-breaking pay-per-view event between Mayweather and Alvarez would not have taken place in September, though it stands to reason that – with time – options for the easily identifiable red-headed Mexican still would have remained open.
Because of that, there existed the pre-fight belief that the odds were against Trout to duplicate what he accomplished in New York City. Beating an aging Cotto is one thing; taking an unbeaten superstar in his prime and in hostile territory meant bringing it to another level.
Trout knew the score going in; it took for the fight to play out the way it did, however, for reality to truly settle in and realize what it took – if anything at all – to overcome those odds.
“Going into the fight, we knew we had a handicap. We knew we would have to do more than offer the average performance,” Trout recalled of fighting in front of a pro-Alvarez crowd of 40,000 fans. “My thing always was, if I’m going to win, let me win with dignity. If I lose, let me do in the same manner. I still walked in with those things going against me.
“Do I believe I could’ve won if we were on a level playing field? Of course, but that wasn’t what I was up against that night. If he won that fight by a point or two, it would have been easier to believe I was given a fair chance. Those scorecards read (including 118-109 from Stanley Christoldoulou) were out of line.”
As bad as it was to hear that he lost by nine, five and three points in the end was the fact that he was so far down four rounds before reaching that point. Hearing a final outcome different than what you believed was the case is one thing; knowing that fate while the fight is still going on is a different kind of obstacle no fighter should be forced to overcome.
“The open scoring messed with my head. Open scoring is bogus. I felt like it took my confidence away,” Trout admits, especially after hearing he hadn’t yet won a round on one card after eight rounds. “It changed my game plan. I had to change a lot of things. I got caught doing it. I do want my rematch.”
In order to get to that point, Trout just asked for the opportunity to shine. Instead, the past seven months were spent more often in a courtroom than in the gym. A bitter dispute with co-promoter Greg Cohen forced an extended leave of absence from the ring, including a missed opportunity to appear on the Mayweather-Alvarez pay-per-view undercard.
Terms were eventually reached for Trout and Cohen to part, a hurdle the fighter knew he had to clear before moving on with his future. The first step of the rest of his life begins this weekend, against an opponent with which he can easily identify; a fellow 154 lb. fighter nobody else is in a hurry to face.
The move is a risk, as many believe the fight can go either way. Worse, it’s a risk that doesn’t provide immediate financial reward – their bout serves in supporting capacity to a scheduled 12-round bout between Brooklyn friendly rivals Zab Judah and Paul Malignaggi.
But it’s not at all the way Trout views what Saturday night in Brooklyn truly represents.
“This fight can put me back into the running. I expect to get thrown back into the mix,” Trout believes where he will land with a win. “I can’t even talk about fighting a Floyd Mayweather until I beat Canelo. The way he beat the hell out of Canelo… I have little goals to fulfill until I come at the king. Lara is the first one in my way of reaching my goals.”
The transformation also meant a change in the way he physically approaches the game, which also led to a healthy way to supplement his income. A change in diet was aided by his newfound role as a Brand Ambassador for USANA Health Sciences.
“I need to be able to train and perform with everything I have, and with that I need to be able to recover quickly and give my body the nutrition it needs,” said Trout of the factors leading to his joining the nutritional company, whose headquarters are in Salt Lake City, Utah. “USANA’s supplements are high-quality and trustworthy products that I know I can trust to help me stay on top of my game.”
Trout not only has to be on top of his game to beat Lara, but also has to deliver the type of performance that allows him to separate from the pack.
The show in Brooklyn marks the first of two consecutive weekends in which Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime team up to present a loaded televised quadrupleheader. Trout’s scheduled 12-round vacant title fight with Lara is, simply put, one of eight fights on the menu for the next two Saturdays.
“To be on a card with all of that talent, you have to stick out. I want to stick out. If you keep standing out among these great fighters, one day you become that superstar pay-per-view fighter,” Trout theorizes. “I look at a show like this as my audition, to rise the top.”
Trout was one fight away just seven months ago, but now finds himself back in line. Earning the way to the top of the queue has never been a concern; if anything it’s the path he continues to prefer.
“I knew the grind I had to do beforehand. That fed into my confidence. I want to prove that I’m here to fight anyone. I just want to prove my grit in this game. Boxing fans have learned that about me and are more aware of me now as a result.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox