The most anticipated boxing match of 2013 takes place in Las Vegas on Saturday between pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather (44-0, 26 KOs) and undefeated Mexican sensation Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KOs). Although two 154-lb. title belts will be on the line, Saturday's stakes will be far greater than shiny trinkets. Alvarez wants Mayweather's status in the sport – the one who drives the bus that is North American boxing.
With a record live gate (over $20M) already recorded, Mayweather-Alvarez has captured the imagination of the sports and entertainment world. But will the match live up to the considerable hype? Will the 23-year-old Alvarez become the next transcendent Mexican boxing star, or will he be another in the long line of good fighters who come up short against the sport's top dog? Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. Mayweather will give up the early rounds; Canelo must win them.
Mayweather often takes a number of rounds to size up his opponents. He wants to see their arsenals, measure their speed, gauge their reactions, observe how they react to feints, feel their strength and gently test their defensive technique before he lets his hands go. Alvarez must take advantage of this period to score points. He needs to start with energy and capitalize during lulls in the action.
However, it's not enough for Alvarez just to wing punches during the first three rounds; he has to attack purposefully. It's imperative that he features his entire arsenal early and not fall into predictable patterns. Alvarez is one of the most creative combination punchers in the sport and he must utilize this attribute to keep Mayweather guessing. He'll get a free chance to land anything once or twice early before Mayweather adapts and starts to employ his countering strategies.
So if Alvarez wants to take a risk early and launch a lead uppercut combination (Alvarez may throw the best lead right uppercut in the sport) or a straight right to the body/left hook to the body/right uppercut to the head, it's an avenue worth pursuing. These punches and combinations are eye-catching to the judges and the crowd. Canelo also needs to figure out which of his many punches and combinations may be successful in the second half of the fight. If Floyd winds up winning two of the first three rounds, Canelo's chances to win the fight will be minimal at best.
2. Floyd's foot speed and movement.
One way to make Alvarez look pedestrian is not to stand in front of him. Alvarez, although not exactly lumbering, is very deliberate with his movements. He shines when the action is in mid-range and there's a nice, comfortable pocket. Mayweather is one of slickest fighters in the sport and as he demonstrated against Robert Guerrero earlier in the year, he still has fresh legs. Mayweather will employ a variety of tactics to confound, frustrate and flummox Alvarez in the ring. He'll potshot with lead right hands and move to the side. Often he'll step out the pocket and wait to reset the action. He'll use the ring to find particular spaces where he wants to attack. When the action is in close and his work is done, he'll spin out with impressive fluidity.
At 36, Mayweather won't want to run a track meet (to be fair, he was never really a runner, but too many in boxing conflate boxing with running); however, he does have an acute understanding of his advantages. He'll make Alvarez constantly reset his feet. He'll move Alvarez side-to-side and turn him with left hooks in the middle of the ring.
For Alvarez to have success, he must understand distance and land enough power shots to keep Floyd more stationary. This means he will need to go to the body early. He can't let up along the ropes and he also has to be willing to eat a shot or two in order to score with his own punches. Mayweather will be cagey; it's up to Alvarez to nullify Mayweather's speed advantages by using his physicality, tying-up strategically on the inside and having the courage to throw his most damaging shots.
3. Alvarez must cut off the ring.
Alvarez isn't blessed with excellent foot speed but he knows how to launch an attack against faster opponents. It's imperative that Alvarez positions himself in the ring with expert precision. On the inside, Alvarez must find the sweet spot between stifling his power shots by being too close and leaving too much space for Floyd to duck out to either side.
In addition, he needs to anticipate where Floyd will go next. This can be accomplished by foot positioning as well as punch placement. It may mean that Alvarez uses feints to draw out Mayweather's movement. If Mayweather wants to go right, then Alvarez might need to feint the right hand and come back with a left hook to a spot (especially along the ropes). It might mean flashing – and not necessarily landing – the double jab to keep Mayweather at bay and follow up with a looping right hand to dissuade him from going left. Alvarez must act cerebrally and decisively to minimize Mayweather's athleticism and ability to evade pressure.
4. Alvarez has to steal rounds.
Let's face it. The mature version of Mayweather has never won fights by throwing 70 punches a round. More likely, he will be in the 30-45 range for a given frame. Thus, there will be natural dead spots during his fights. Mayweather often wins rounds by landing a couple of key shots on offense and then he uses his defense, movement and ring generalship to stymie his opponents from emphatically engaging. In short, his fights are most often dominant technical victories that don't offer much in the way of sustained action.
Alvarez must understand that he won't be able to land cleanly throughout much of the fight. He also can't let this reality hinder him from making a spirited effort to win each round. He needs to realize that he has specific advantages in this fight and that only by exploiting them will he allow himself the best chance for victory.
The crowd will certainly be in his favor (he'll have the pro-Mexican and anti-Mayweather contingents on his side) and his fans will be ready to support his every foray. He must capitalize on this dynamic by ensuring that he gives the crowd two or three impressive flurries each round. In particular, Alvarez must make sure that he has at least one late flurry each round to galvanize the crowd as the bell rings. With real fan support throughout the fight, it's certainly possible that the judges, who often like to score rounds for the aggressor, irrespective of whether punches land, will be more disposed to give Alvarez many of the closely contested frames.
Neither Alvarez nor Mayweather fights three minutes a round and if Alvarez can launch a few impressive flurries a round and control the end of each frame, or at least provide the appearance that he is, he will give himself a much better shot at winning a decision.
Mayweather is one of the best conditioned athletes in the sport. And Alvarez is...Alvarez is something less than that. His activity level and movement against Austin Trout were concerning at various points in the fight. In that bout, he started gasping and huffing early in the fight, resembling a 154-lb. version of Alexander Povetkin. Conversely, Mayweather gets stronger as his fights progress. He knows that the last six rounds, when opponents start to fatigue, are his.
Whether Alvarez has the conditioning to remain physically and mentally sharp against a boxer of Mayweather's caliber may be the most intriguing factor in assessing the fight. Will Alvarez start to reach with his punches? Will he start to follow Mayweather around the ring without throwing? Will he lose his accuracy, leading to easy counters? Will he still have the energy to trap and corner Mayweather along the ropes? Will his defensive technique remain sound, or will he start to drop his hands? Will he still have steam on his shots? Will he have the desire to go for the knockout if he's down late in the fight?
One additional aspect to consider for this bout is the 152-lb. catchweight. Since 2011, Canelo has been a full-fledged junior middleweight. If he had his druthers, this fight would have been at 154 lbs. It's certainly possible that cutting an extra couple of pounds could provide problems for Alvarez. It's also conceivable that his nutritionist and strength and training coach will have him coming into the fight in the best shape of his career. I won't be so bold as to predict how the catchweight will affect Alvarez during the fight, but it certainly could be a factor if his energy level starts to flag or there are other signs of subpar conditioning.
Here's how Alvarez can win the fight: He must win four of the first six rounds. He'll need to come out fresh, throwing his power shots and taking advantage of Floyd's deliberate start. As the fight progresses, Alvarez must try to steal three of the last six rounds, either by flurrying late or landing one or two bombs per round (I think flurrying late is the better strategy of the two). He'll need to galvanize the crowd and hope that his aggression can find two sympathetic judges. (On this front, he just might be successful. Judge C.J. Ross somehow scored Pacquiao-Bradley for Bradley and Craig Metcalfe believed that Andre Ward only beat Carl Froch by two points.)
But will this happen? It's possible, but I don't think it's likely. I believe that Alvarez will start off well but he’ll struggle in the second half of the fight. Mayweather's unpredictability, accuracy, creativity and conditioning will allow him to take control of the match in the later rounds. Mayweather will gradually unleash more of his arsenal and Canelo will not respond well to Mayweather's improvisational offense or psychological pressure. I don't believe that Canelo will embarrass himself in the ring – in fact, I see him winning a number of the early rounds – but the limits of his conditioning and the gap of championship experience will be too much for him to overcome.
Floyd Mayweather defeats Saul Alvarez by unanimous decision, along the lines of 116-112, or 8 rounds to 4.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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