There are always outliers. (photo by Ryan Hafey)
No matter the topic, it’s never impossible to find those who insist smart money is wrong.
The Earth is flat. Elvis is alive. Elections are rigged.
Unless, on that last one anyway, your candidate wins.
It’s no different when it comes to boxing.
You’ll always encounter at least someone so in love with their own reasoning – or so desperate to be contrarian – that they’ll insist a four-round club fighter could topple a world champ.
The best remedy is to be polite and continue walking as they doff their tinfoil hats in your direction.
Every now and then, though, the outliers do have a point.
And when someone whose opinion you actually respect is riding the margins when it comes to forecasting a particular fight, it’s wise to pay a little more than routine attention.
That’s where things stand before Canelo Alvarez and Jermell Charlo this weekend.
The slam dunk inclination is that picking Canelo, being that he’s the bigger and presumably stronger man, would be a no-brainer. Charlo, after all, is a quality fighter, but he’s never weighed-in as much as 156 pounds for a fight, while Alvarez has KO’d full-timers all the way up to 175.
A good big man, after all, always beats a good little man.
But there are people who know what they’re looking at that suggest it’ll go differently.
Freddie Roach, for one.
The ex-fighter and veteran trainer has never shied from doling out opinions, particularly in favor of guys with whom he’s working at any given moment. And while there have been plenty of instances where his partisan forecasts have been inaccurate, the times he’s been right have been plenty memorable.
He sounded the alarm about Oscar De La Hoya’s inability to pull the trigger while nearly everyone else saw the 2008 match with Manny Pacquiao as a walkover for the larger man. And just six months later, he told anyone who’d listen that “Pac Man” would smash Ricky Hatton in two rounds, countering the popular belief that while Pacquiao was a worthwhile favorite it was more likely to be a war of attrition.
So when Roach told me he not only thought Charlo would win, but he was sure of it, I listened.
Especially when he doubled down and said it was on small man merit, and not big man fade.
“This is all about Charlo,” he told Boxing Scene. “I am really impressed with where Charlo is right now. I originally went with Canelo, but then I looked at video of the last two or three fights for each guy and I was very impressed with what I saw from Charlo and did a 180 on my selection.”
Still, while Freddie’s a great barometer of how competitive a fight might be, he’s not infallible.
And in order to really believe Charlo is a legit threat as a 3-to-1 underdog, more was required.
Kermit Cintron, a pre-Mayweather foe of Alvarez from 2011, provided more.
A lot more.
“Charlo is gonna beat him,” the former IBF welterweight champ told Boxing Scene.
“Not saying Canelo is underestimating him but yes, I believe he is. Jermell is way too athletic for Canelo. He’s fast, good footwork, nice jab, which I think is key, can punch, throws combinations, give angles, and can box. And he’s big and he has a good chin.”
Let’s not pretend he doesn’t have a point.
Though he’s a champ these days in a class 14 pounds down the ladder, Charlo is taller and longer than Canelo and there’s a worthwhile case to be made that he could maintain a bit of natural strength by not boiling his body down to 154. Alvarez has long had trouble with athletic fighters who can move, and if he’s unable to consistently corner Charlo or trap him along the ropes, it could be a difficult task.
“I think he is a legit upset prospect,” ex-IBF middleweight title challenger Billy Lyell told Boxing Scene.
“Mainly because he is a lot taller than Canelo, I think he will carry the extra weight well. The fight will come down to two factors. Can Charlo make Canelo respect his power? Not that he needs to down him down or hurt him, but can he hit him hard enough where Canelo cannot just walk through his punches?
“Is he strong enough to hold his ground on the inside? Obviously, he is going to try and box but can he hold his ground when they do engage? If the answer to those questions is yes, I like Charlo’s chances.”
Especially if Canelo isn’t, well…Canelo anymore.
While he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer within the requisite years of his retirement, the now-33-year-old pay-per-view stalwart hasn’t exactly been dominant across his last few appearances.
He finished unifying the titles at 168 with a punishing stoppage of Caleb Plant in November 2021, but he’s just 2-1 in three fights since – first losing a clear decision to Dmitry Bivol in an unsuccessful retry for a light heavyweight belt, then finishing the Gennadiy Golovkin trilogy with an intermittently impressive performance last September and subsequently going the distance with John Ryder this past May.
Is it age? Is it wear? Is it hunger?
All are in play, suggests ex-HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley.
“Canelo has had a long, highly concentrated career and has gotten wealthy far beyond what were likely his wildest dreams at the start,” he told Boxing Scene. “At what point is enough enough? People forget these are very fine competitive margins, even when you see a knockout.
“Charlo is a quick athlete, most dangerous kind of opponent for Canelo at this career stage, and just because he is moving up in weight doesn't guarantee it will hurt him. Might even help him.
“So it's not a shocker if it happens. Just a normal boxing upset.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO super middleweight titles – Las Vegas, Nevada
Saul Alvarez (champion/No. 1 Ring) vs. Jermell Charlo (Unranked/Unranked Ring)
Alvarez (59-2-2, 39 KO): Sixth WBA/WBC title defense; Undefeated at super middleweight (8-0, 4 KO)
Charlo (35-1-1, 19 KO): Tenth title fight (7-1-1); Never weighed-in heavier than 155.75 pounds
Fitzbitz says: Canelo is an all-timer and he’s been peerless at 168. But there are plenty of people who know what they’re looking at that say this isn’t the right fight. Hunch. Charlo by decision (51/49)
IBF cruiserweight title – London, England
Jai Opetaia (champion/No. 1 Ring) vs. Jordan Thompson (No. 5 IBF/Unranked Ring)
Opetaia (22-0, 17 KO): First title defense; Third fight outside of Australia (2-0, 1 KO)
Thompson (15-0, 12 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled beyond 10 rounds
Fitzbitz says: Thompson’s a big, strong guy who’s getting his first title shot and fighting at home. So there’s a lot to like. But there’s a reason Opetaia is a better than 5-to-1 favorite. Opetaia in 10 (80/20)
Last week's picks: 3-0 (WIN: Lopez, Teraji, Nakatani)
2023 picks record: 32-11 (74.4 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,282-419 (75.4 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.