by David P. Greisman
Michael Jordan, as a high-school sophomore, was unable to make the varsity basketball team. Tom Brady was relegated to the sidelines in favor of Drew Bledsoe at quarterback, only getting a chance to start after Bledsoe suffered an injury. Bernard Hopkins lost his first pro fight.
Ryan Leaf was the No. 2 draft pick for the San Diego Chargers in 1998, was off the team by 2001 and done with football by 2002. Kwame Brown was the No. 1 draft pick for the Washington Wizards in 2001, was off the team by 2005, and while he is still playing pro basketball, he remains an overpaid underachiever. Brien Taylor was the No. 1 draft pick of the New York Yankees in 1991 but never made the big leagues.
Lesson No. 1: Greatness is often bestowed upon someone long before such acclaim has been earned.
Lesson No. 2: Others have greatness within them but just need the chance to work toward it.
Lesson No. 3: We spend far too much time declaring whether someone is deserving of the hype, especially when such summary judgments are either under-informed, unnecessary or both.
We are tempted to do such a thing whenever a boxing match ends. To us, the bout doesn’t just decide which man is better, but it also indicates where a fighter stands among his peers.
This is fair – even though we do it too much. This is fair so long as we are educated in our analysis rather than careless in our conclusiveness. This is far so long as we admit that there’s a possibility that he can prove us wrong, that the guy who didn’t make the cut, who’s riding the bench, or who just suffered a defeat might still be better than we know.
We’ve now seen enough of Saul Alvarez to realize what he is and what he isn’t – for the moment, at least.
What Saul Alvarez Is: A Beltholder
Granted, Alvarez is but the latest young fighter to win a world title despite earning both his shot and his belt via the path of lesser resistance.
His five fights preceding this past Saturday’s title bout were victories over Brian Camechis, Jose Miguel Cotto, Luciano Cuello, Carlos Baldomir and Lovemore N’dou. Those shouldn’t have qualified him for a title shot – but the junior-middleweight division is full of prospects who talk about fighting each other yet never fight each other, and the World Boxing Council also knew that getting its belt around Alvarez’s waist would allow them to get their cut of sanctioning fees from a bonafide ticket seller.
Alvarez at least had done more at 154 than his opponent on Saturday, Matthew Hatton. Somehow Hatton’s ledger at welterweight was enough to garner a shot at the vacant title despite him being a welterweight whose list of victories wouldn’t make him a top contender at 147, never mind a top contender one division above.
And the WBC also ignored that it had other boxers in its junior-middleweight rankings who not only were more qualified to face Alvarez, but also were available: Vanes Martirosyan and Ryan Rhodes.
This is just another case of a world title not meaning much until the person who holds it compiles some more victories. This isn’t new, though. Arturo Gatti’s world title didn’t make him a top fighter at 140. And it wasn’t until two-and-a-half years after Juan Diaz won his first lightweight title that he started facing – and beating – some of the other top 135-pounders around.
What Saul Alvarez Isn’t: The Guaranteed Future Champion at 154 Pounds
Alvarez has technique. He has some experience. He also has flaws.
He is young, a 20-year-old who turned pro when he was just 15 years old. And while he has fought 37 times, winning 36 and fighting to one draw, he still needs seasoning against the type of challenges that the upper echelons of opponents will bring.
But he also has awareness of what he needs to do in the ring and how he can do it. He puts together combinations, has power, and uses good timing and good technique to land punches.
He’s slow. And head movement is a foreign concept to him.
We don’t know how Alvarez will do when facing fighters who will actually hurt him when they hit him, who won’t be smaller men intimidated by his size, who won’t be declining veterans who are coming to the crossroads and heading in the wrong direction.
We do have a good idea of how those fights might look, however.
What Saul Alvarez Isn’t: A Fighter Who Needs to be The True Champion
Just because we can see Alvarez’s limitations – and just because we expect that those limitations will eventually be exposed – doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy of our attention.
Flawed fighters can make for phenomenal fights.
Yes, the best boxers can also be thrilling, leaving fans in awe with their dominant performances and superlative skills. But some of the most exciting bouts in recent memory have been between fighters whose styles are heavy on offense and deficient in defense.
There are several such fighters at and around 154, including (but not limited to) Alvarez, Alfredo Angulo, James Kirkland, Kermit Cintron, Pawel Wolak, David Lemieux and Fernando Guerrero.
Alvarez fighting and beating any of those other names wouldn’t mean greatness should be bestowed upon them. Him fighting and beating any of them wouldn’t yet justify the hype behind him.
The hype leads people to make snap judgments and to be harsher in their evaluations.
We see Saul Alvarez featured on HBO broadcasts and on pay-per-view undercards. We hear the thousands of fans roaring for him when they see him fight in Mexico and in the United States. We figure he’s getting paid well from ticket sales and television license fees, even if his paydays are not necessarily commensurate with his accomplishments.
It doesn’t matter what he will be or will not be, though. It’s unnecessary to worry about the future when our energy is better spent enjoying what Saul Alvarez brings us in the present.
That’s only the case if Alvarez is in fights that are worth seeing – and that this isn’t another case of the fans being strung along by a marketing machine of gimme fights and million-dollar paydays.
The 10 Count
1. The moment Saul Alvarez’s face showed up on my television screen, I suddenly had a hankering for Wendy’s…
2. Saul Alvarez’s opponent, May 1, 2010: Jose Miguel Cotto.
Saul Alvarez’s opponent, March 5, 2011: Matthew Hatton.
Why stop there?
Jan. 7, 2012: Bobby Pacquiao.
Nov. 10, 2012: Demetrius Hopkins
Sept. 14, 2013: Head up to middleweight and face Tarvis Simms.
July 19, 2014: Head up to light heavyweight and face Daniel Judah.
And cap it off on May 23, 2015: Saul Alvarez makes his heavyweight debut against George “Monk” Foreman III.
3. Early reports that Brandon Rios had broken his right hand in the eighth round of his Feb. 26 title bout with Miguel Acosta – and then used that broken right hand to knock Acosta out in the 10th round – weren’t true.
“After further review,” began BoxingScene’s very own Ernest Gabion, sounding like a football referee making an instant replay ruling, “the hand was found to be badly bruised, not broken.”
That’s good news. Let’s see Rios back soon.
It’s a shame that the Golden Boy/Top Rank feud – and boy, could the first half of this sentence fit with so many different second possible second halves – will probably keep there from being a bout between Rios and the winner of April’s Michael Katsidis-Robert Guerrero fight.
4. While Brandon Rios’ hand isn’t as bad as it was once thought, Wladimir Klitschko’s abdominal muscle injury is the opposite.
The muscle tear that postponed his keep-busy fight with Dereck Chisora from Dec. 11 to April 30 apparently hasn’t fully healed, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com.
I say this because, as of March 3, both sides of the Klitschko-Chisora fight had confirmed with Rick Reeno of BoxingScene.com that the fight was still on. And as of March 4, Klitschko’s manager talked to a Russian reporter, denying that the fight was being canceled.
And then as of this past Saturday, March 5, Klitschko had withdrawn.
Klitschko’s camp recently renewed negotiations with David Haye’s team for a late June/early July fight between two of the three top heavyweights. The fight is very close to being made.
Rafael asked Klitschko’s adviser, Shelly Finkel, the necessary question:
Wrote Rafael: “Although the timing of the cancellation of the Chisora fight looks convenient and enables Klitschko to make a deal with Haye, the Klitschko camp said the two are not related.”
Said Finkel: "Canceling the Chisora fight was no condition of any deal."
I err on the side of believing Klitschko – though Klitschko likely understands why people might question the injury.
5. Good news: “The Fighter” won Oscars for best supporting actor and best supporting actress.
More good news: There are thoughts about doing a sequel, according to movie star Mark Wahlberg.
And yet the best thing that Hollywood executives could do for Micky Ward is to find a way to get his trilogy with Arturo Gatti included with the DVD as part of a special edition box set.
They haven’t. They won’t.
How does boxing keep missing opportunities to capitalize on the great things that happen in this sport?
6. Boxers Behaving Badly: What do you get when you combine a prison sentence and a 1-1 ring record compiled over, oh, two fights in 11 years?
This headline: “Ex-boxer jailed in sex extortion case.”
That’s what the Toronto Sun had in its story about Michael Jerace, who, interestingly, had more mixed martial arts bouts than he did boxing matches.
Jerace, 41, was sentenced last month to four years in jail on charges of attempted sexual assault and unlawful confinement. He was found guilty of posing as a mall security guard and then “extorting or trying to extort sexual favors from young women he found shoplifting,” according to the newspaper report.
He’d previously served prison time on a similar conviction. Due to various factors, including time served while awaiting trial, Jerace has only 18 months remaining behind bars.
Oh yeah, about that headline… Jerace won a boxing match in 1995 and lost one in 2006. He won one MMA bout in 2005 and lost one each in 2005, 2006 and 2010.
7. June 9, 2007: Miguel Cotto and Zab Judah headline an HBO pay-per-view.
March 5, 2011: HBO airs a “Boxing After Dark” card. Zab Judah headlines an independent pay-per-view.
March 12, 2011: HBO airs a “World Championship Boxing” card. Miguel Cotto headlines an independent pay-per-view.
8. It’s a shame that the cards have to coincide this way.
Judah and Cotto are still relevant in their respective divisions – heck, each holds a title belt, for what that’s worth, and each has the experience and ability to compete with the other beltholders and contenders at junior welterweight and junior middleweight, respectively.
But the networks will buy what they want to buy. And the promoters must still find a way to get themselves and their fighters paid.
I don’t know how many people watched Judah’s knockout of Kaiser Mabuza instead of watching HBO.
I don’t know how many people will skip Sergio Martinez-Sergiy Dzinziruk in favor of Cotto-Mayorga.
But I hope the promoters will find a way to get additional exposure for their fighters after what likely will be pay-per-views seen by small audiences. Could replays be streamed online, say, a month later – such a delay giving some incentive for people to buy the show rather than waiting?
The additional exposure would only help drive the market for people wanting to see these fighters the next time they fight – even if it’s on yet another small, competing independent pay-per-view.
9. March 6: The series premiere of Animal Planet’s “Taking on Tyson,” a show about Mike Tyson and pigeon racing.
March 21: The season premiere of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” on which Sugar Ray Leonard will compete.
This is the pinnacle of what the cross-pollination between boxing and reality series can be.
This is much, much better than the possibility of seeing Chris Arreola on “Man vs. Food.”
10. It was easy to spot Amir Khan and Victor Ortiz bookending Oscar De La Hoya ringside during Alvarez-Hatton, but did you notice Timothy Bradley in the background?
I took one look at him, and my head started bleeding…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]