By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Given all he’s accomplished, it’s easy to forget Canelo Alvarez is just 26.
He turned pro as a 139-pound teenager, won his first regional title before he could buy a drink to celebrate and was a world champion for the first time at age 20.
It’s a level of prodigy that neither Floyd Mayweather Jr. nor Manny Pacquiao can match.
But while his youth might lead fans to believe there’s still significant room for improvement, there’s equal reason to surmise that after 12 pro years and 51 pro dates, Canelo is what he is.
The truth probably lies in the middle.
Though it’d be ludicrous to expect Alvarez to morph into a swarming aggressor like Mike Tyson or a defensive wizard like Pernell Whitaker, there are still some tweaks that would serve him well as he prepares to compete with the likes of Gennady Golovkin.
SUSTAIN THE AGGRESSION
It’s hard to find real fault with most of his results. And whenever a fighter has the sort of pop that can render an opponent unconscious with a single punch, he’s never prohibitively out of a fight.
Nevertheless, there’s still some reason for concern against top-end foes.
As early rounds against the likes of Amir Khan drifted to the middle, there wasn’t a huge difference in how the sessions looked. The Brit had faster hands and was moving strategically, and while Alvarez was able to intermittently land with blows to the body and occasionally to the head, it wasn’t as if the knockout had appeared at all imminent at any point.
Similar to how he looked against Mayweather in 2013, he instead appeared content to fight at his opponent’s pace with the hope that something would eventually come out of nowhere.
It ultimately did, but a truth serum dose to Team Canelo would have surely revealed a good bit of angst as the rounds piled up.
If the shot hadn’t come, who knows?
USE THE JAB MORE
Most would agree that while Alvarez is a proud Mexican, he’s not the typical “Mexican” fighter.
Instead, many suggest, the stratum he occupies is somewhere between relentless and sublime.
He labels himself as a boxer rather than a puncher, but the strategy he executes toward that end –particularly when his foes are not of the straightforward variety – makes those matchups difficult.
There was a noticeable lack of jabbing against Khan, a factor that helped allow the Englishman to control the pace.
It was even more noticeable in 2013 against Mayweather, who was able to keep Canelo’s overall output to barely more than 40 punches a round while winning the 36-minute jabbing contest by a 139-44 count.
Canelo is faster than a lot of Mexican fighters, which allows him to use other shots and masks the fundamental void to some extent. But when the match with Golovkin comes off, keeping the Kazakhstan slugger busy with a punishing range-finder will make the task a trifle easier.
CUT OFF THE RING
Those who remained awake through all 12 rounds of Alvarez’s 2014 track meet with Erislandy Lara will recall the continual trouble he had engaging with the fleet-footed Cuban.
A fighter who’s determined not to engage will be a challenge for anyone, but Canelo spent a significant portion of the fight following Lara’s lead rather than using footwork to limit his routes.
He’s done a much better job of it since, though the strategy of subsequent opponents has been built far more on hand speed and far less on the sort of movement Lara relied upon.
If he finds himself in with another would-be sprinter, Alvarez will be best served by space-saving fundamentals like moving laterally, maintaining effective punching space and varying the power of his shots – using light shots to establish distance and then scoring points with damaging hard shots.
THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE
The bottom line, in Alvarez's case, is ironically simple.
Barring a drastic change in corner staff or a declaration that he wants to take a 180 from an approach he's employed since age 15, it'll be quite difficult to teach a mid-20s dog new tricks.
And given the fact that said dog has won two world titles and reached the top half of most pound-for-pound lists, such full-scale upheaval is really not necessary.
Subtle tweaks would provide situational help for stylistically difficult foes like Lara and Khan. Meanwhile, the acumen he's already proven on the way up will be enough to let him compete with most of the others he's likely to come across as his career evolves through its peak years.
Will he ever be the world's best fighter? No.
But that doesn't mean he won’t be worth watching this September.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF mini flyweight title – Site TBA, Mexico
Jose Argumedo (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Gabriel Mendoza (Unranked IBF/Unranked IWBR)
Argumedo (19-3-1, 11 KO): Third title defense; Seventh scheduled 12-round fight (6-0, 3 KO)
Mendoza (28-4-2, 23 KO): First title fight; Never won a fight outside of Colombia (0-2, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Argumedo has succeeded over the distance against a higher grade of foe. Add the fact that Mendoza’s never won on non-home turf and this one becomes an easy mark. Argumedo in 7
WBA super flyweight title – Birmingham, United Kingdom
Khalid Yafai (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Suguru Muranaka (No. 10 WBA/Unranked IWBR)
Yafai (21-0, 14 KO): First title defense; Two KOs in three Birmingham fights (3-0, 2 KO)
Muranaka (25-2-1, 8 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled for 12 rounds
Fitzbitz says: The challenge has a decade’s worth of experience, though none of it comes on a particularly high level or away from his backward. That’ll show when adversity arrives. Yafai in 8
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Parker)
2017 picks record: 31-10 (75.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 853-284 (75.0 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.