Sunday, November 27, 2011

Notes from Alvarez-Cintron, Broner-Rodriguez

Saul Alvarez demonstrated remarkable poise last night against Kermit Cintron. Cintron wisely started the fight throwing scores of jabs. Perhaps one way to defeat Alvarez is to simply outwork him. By throwing tons of punches in the first two rounds, Cintron was hoping to land enough to rack up points. Through the first two frames, the strategy was working. However, like a seasoned pro, Alvarez didn't let Cintron's high work rate dissuade him from his game plan. He looked for opportunities to land his three and four-punch combinations. He didn't force his shots or try to match Cintron's output; he patiently waited for his openings. Even in the final round when Cintron was winging desperate power shots, Alvarez did not let the fight devolve into a war. He seemed almost relaxed during Cintron's final stand and continued with his methodical approach.

Alvarez countered Cintron's jab beautifully throughout the fight, throwing a perfect right hand over the top of his opponent's jab. The punch landed with pinpoint accuracy. Alvarez scored his knockdown in the fourth with that same counter right. After the knockdown, Cintron dispensed with his jab almost entirely. Alvarez's counter shots may be the most impressive technical aspect of his game.

Facing a taller boxer who preferred to fight at a distance, Alvarez expertly adapted his offensive approach last night. He left his lead uppercuts in his pocket, which was the right decision because Cintron was too far away and too tall for them to land. This may seem like a basic point but Alvarez took what was given to him. This aspect further demonstrates Alvarez's boxing intelligence. Unlike many fighters, he hasn't fallen in love with a particular punch. Some boxers, for instance, love their left hook. They will throw it even when it's not appropriate or would put them at greater risk. They just love their left hook and damn it, they are going to throw it. Alvarez has matured beyond this point. The lead uppercuts weren't there, so he didn't force them. Again, this illustrates high-level decision making.

Cintron was able to land some good shots. He cracked Alvarez with a nasty left hook in the second round and landed some more hooks and right-hand haymakers in the fifth. Alvarez, to his credit, took the punches well and he remained steadfast with his fight plan. Alvarez's defense certainly wasn't impenetrable but he reacted well to getting hit. 

For Cintron, he didn't have the confidence to commit to his right hand until it was too late in the fight to make a difference. He tried to beat Alvarez with just a jab, which isn't enough against high-level boxers. As early as the first round, he seemed acutely aware of Alvarez's skill at counterpunching.  As a result, Cintron was reluctant to throw his power shots. 

Under Ronny Shields, Cintron had made improvements as a technical boxer, but last night he didn't have the fluidity or creativity to outbox Alvarez from the outside. Sure, he could out-land Alvarez with his jab, but Canelo's power punches had a much greater effect on determining the winner of each round and the overall tenor of the fight.

This marks the end of Cintron's career as a viable, top-level boxer. As a prospect and young champion, he tantalized so many in the boxing community with his crushing right hand, size and athleticism. His career is a valid reminder that the intangibles – psychology, self-belief and will, to name three – play a supreme role in separating prospects from elite fighters. In many ways, if you were constructing a boxer from scratch, you would give him Cintron's height, reach, power and body, but certainly not his psychological or emotional attributes. 

Alvarez is ready for anyone at junior middleweight. Golden Boy should have the confidence to match its meal ticket with the best in the division. Alvarez may not win fights against every one of the top junior middleweights, but he's certainly in their class. In 2012, Golden Boy needs to take its shiny new car out of the garage and give it a ride. It may get nicked up or scratched but what good is having a fine automobile if you never take it out on the open road.

Adrien Broner scored a spectacular knockout last night against Martin Rodriguez. He landed a lead right uppercut near the end of the third round that instantly dazed his opponent and pushed him back towards the ropes. Broner followed with a series of shots: overhand rights, left hooks to the body and straight right hands. He ended the sequence and the fight with a perfect left hook on the chin. Rodriguez wasn't even close to beating the ten count.

Broner had a tough match earlier in the year against Daniel Ponce de Leon, where he won a debatable decision (he may have been overmatched at that point in his career). During that fight, he looked tentative and was uncomfortable with Ponce de Leon's aggression. However, in his last two fights against Jason Litzau and Rodriguez, Broner displayed all of the attributes that have excited many boxing observers. His package of power, athleticism and technical skill is an electrifying one.

Perhaps the most important decision that Broner needs to make in the next year is what kind of fighter he wants to be. Last night he had excellent moments in the first round when he led exchanges. His jab and left hook were too fast for Rodriguez. However, Broner seemed more comfortable fighting as a counterpuncher, although he did get hit with several sharp right hands and left hooks while in counterpunching mode.

Hopefully, Broner learns the finer points of leading and countering. There are certain fighters, like Chad Dawson, for instance, who get confused – fight by fight, round by round and minute by minute – with what they want to do in the ring. Skills are wonderful but expert fighters develop the instinctive fluidity and connectedness between the mind and body. At their best, there is no hestitation in the ring. Broner's not there yet, but he's young and he has a lot of time to make strides in this area.   

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