Monday, September 16, 2013

Opinions and Observations: Mayweather-Alvarez and The One

In the ninth round of the Floyd Mayweather-Saul "Canelo" Alvarez fight, I was startled by the different types of punches with which Mayweather initiated offense. I counted a jab, a straight right hand to the body, a left hook, a straight right to the head and a right uppercut. The majority of these punches landed and several were followed by quick combinations that completed flummoxed Canelo. He didn't know where the shots were coming from and he no longer could mount a responsible defense.
Earlier in the fight – in the seventh – there was a wonderful sequence where Alvarez, with his back to the ropes, was waiting to counter Mayweather. But Floyd kept his distance expertly. He hit Alvarez with a right hand to the head, a right hand to the body, a short left hook and then he got out of range. His punches were sharp and he was completely composed.
Between the sixth and seventh rounds, Showtime broadcaster Steve Farhood was talking about his scorecard, which had Mayweather far ahead. He said that he didn't know why Alvarez was attempting to try and outbox the best boxer in the sport from the center of the ring.
Throughout the fight, Alvarez was beaten strategically and tactically by Mayweather. Electing to trade in the pocket for most of the fight, Alvarez tasted a lot of leather and hit a lot of shoulders and elbows. At various points, he tried to win a jabbing contest at mid-range against a guy with superior hand speed and accuracy. Once Mayweather started moving more in the second half of the fight, Alvarez didn't have the skill required in cutting off the ring. When Mayweather did go to the ropes, it's because he decided that's where the action should take place; Floyd was the one dictating all of the terms. At times, Alvarez was nothing more than a bemused spectator in his own fight.
Yes, Alvarez showed adequate hand speed and connected with a few solid left hooks, jabs and a straight right hand or two, but there was nothing consistent or sustained. He lacked the technical ability, ring intelligence or athleticism to take charge of the fight. Whatever tactics he tried, Mayweather was already a step ahead of him.
I'm very curious to know what trainer Eddy Reynoso's game plan for Canelo was. Maybe the plan was for Alvarez not to overcommit early and quickly adjust after the first few rounds. Perhaps Alvarez was going to grind Mayweather down over 12 rounds? I don't know; I'm guessing here.  Ultimately, I didn't see any type of coherent strategy from Alvarez's corner. The Mayweather team, from fighter to corner, was just better in every dimension.
Alvarez will have to learn how to consistently initiate offense when facing counterpunchers. Against Austin Trout and now Mayweather, Alvarez, one of the best combination punchers in the sport, mostly threw only one punch at a time. He needs to realize that not every fighter will come right at him. Alvarez must be more consistent with his jab. His footwork and punch output also need to improve. If I were on his team, I would work on agility drills. His lateral movement needs to be sharper and he should be throwing 60 punches a round.
I scored the bout 118-110 for Mayweather, giving Alvarez the 4th and 8th rounds. However, in both cases, I thought those were frames in which Floyd decided to lay back and take some time off; Alvarez was only the winner by default. I thought that all of the judges' cards were too kind to Alvarez. The 117-111 and 116-112 tallies were barely tolerable. By now, C.J. Ross' 114-114 tally already lives in infamy as one of the worst scorecards in recent boxing history.  
Alvarez's performance wasn't a wipeout loss though. There were many things to build off of. His defense was very solid at times, especially early. He has excellent countering instincts even though a number of his best shots didn't land. He also carried himself well in the ring. Certainly Mayweather was the far better fighter, but Alvarez didn't let the big moment overwhelm him in the way that it had for other opponents of Floyd.
However, I wish that Alvarez would've taken more chances earlier in the fight. He rarely threw his uppercut (which supports his inability to control distance) and he very seldom pressed the action. Alvarez tried to be compact with his shots, but sometimes the key to having success against Floyd is to mix up the type of punches thrown. I would've liked to have seen a looping right hand once in a while or a lead uppercut. Perhaps Alvarez was too uncomfortable to take those types of risks, but being cautious and patiently waiting to catch Mayweather is not a winning strategy.
What else needs to be said about Floyd's performance? To the surprise of many, he ignored his considerable advantage in foot speed early and decided to take box Canelo in the middle of the ring. His jab was incisive and he mixed in his arsenal, especially his left hook and uppercuts, far faster than he has done in recent fights.
By the second half of the match, Mayweather's movement, feints and punch variety were too much for Alvarez. Mayweather completely dominated a gifted, undefeated champion who entered the ring two weight classes above him. I'm not sure where Mayweather goes next when he returns, but it's going to be a tough to find an opponent who has a legitimate chance to win; Mayweather's that good.
One broadcast note: I thought that Showtime's coverage was excellent on Saturday with both Al Bernstein and Paulie Malignaggi having strong performances on the call. In a perfect world, I wish that the Showtime producers would have shown more of the corner work between rounds. By my count, we got maybe a round-and-a-half of Floyd Mayweather Sr. throughout the fight. Now I know that he can be tough to understand, but finding out what goes on in the corner of the sport's best fighter is intriguing to me. In addition, there wasn't enough emphasis on Canelo's corner. Yes, Reynoso was calm, but as viewers we didn't hear nearly enough.
Showtime did get a great shot of the elder Mayweather prior to the 12th round. He was pointing to someone in the crowd and laughing, saying essentially, I told you this would be easy. And he was right.  

After six rounds of the Danny Garcia-Lucas Matthysse junior welterweight showdown, I had Matthysse ahead 48-46, or four to two. I thought that Matthysse had a very strong opening two frames, scoring with pulverizing lead left hooks. Those shots could've been regarded as jaw-dropping, but to the surprise of many observers (include me in this category) Garcia just stood there and took the punches like a pro. When Garcia was hurt – and he was – he expertly tied up and minimized damage. 
Garcia worked his way into the fight and had a very strong fourth round with some excellent counter lefts. He had a wonderful counter left uppercut-left hook combination that showed his expert precision and creativity.
But by the sixth round, it looked like Garcia was slowing down. Matthysse was landing his power punches, but more importantly, he was starting to win rounds technically – flashing his jab to set up shots, moving to spots in the ring to capitalize on his power and negating Garcia's offense.
In between the sixth and seventh round, Garcia's father/trainer, Angel, implored his son to be more aggressive. He slapped the fighter on the ear, exhorting him to take control of the fight.
Ultimately, Garcia won the fight with two punches. In the seventh, he connected with a lead left hook on Matthysse's eye that caused rapid swelling, essentially shutting the eye for much of the last half of the fight. As Malignaggi pointed out in the broadcast, Matthysse's corner didn't use an enswell on the eye, which led to Matthysse becoming a sitting duck for Garcia's hook in the eighth and ninth rounds.
However, Matthysse started to shorten up his punches later in the fight. Instead on swinging for knockouts, he started connecting with compact right hands that scored in the 10th and damaged Garcia in the 11th. But during an exchange in the 11th, Matthysse found himself out of position in between the ropes. Garcia expertly maneuvered himself around Matthysse and landed a left hook that dropped Matthysse to the canvas – the first time he had been knocked down in his professional career. The blow didn't necessarily hurt Matthysse but he fell from the punch and referee Tony Weeks correctly ruled the sequence a knockdown. Ultimately, Garcia went from losing a 10-9 round to winning a 10-8 round. With two judges scoring the fight for Garcia 114-112 (I also had it for Garcia 114-112), without that punch, Garcia loses the fight 114-113 by a split decision.
This was the second fight of Garcia's career where he won as a significant underdog (the Amir Khan bout was the first). It's safe to say that the boxing world – including Golden Boy, his promotional outfit – has underrated his abilities in the ring. Saturday was a perfect display of Garcia's world-class intangibles. As Malignaggi observed during the fight, Garcia had a lot of success catching and shooting – he blocked Matthysse's punches and then fired back with an effective counter. And as Malignaggi stated with amazement, few fighters would've even attempted that strategy against Matthysse because it meant staying in the pocket against such a heavy hitter. Yet Garcia's poise under fire, ring intelligence, self-confidence and patience have provided him with victories over a number of "superior" talents.  
Sure there were other savvy things that Garcia did. Going low repeatedly against an aggressive hard charger is one way to slow a guy down. Fellow Philadelphian Bernard Hopkins certainly would've approved of Garcia's repeated shots south of the border. (However, the old master wouldn't have condoned the low blow in the 12th; Hopkins hardly ever had points taken away, despite myriad fouls.) As mentioned earlier, Garcia tied up so wonderfully when he was hurt that he didn't give Matthysse – or the broadcast crew – an opportunity to see how disadvantaged he really was for brief moments.
Under Angel's tutelage, Garcia has become one of the more intelligent fighters in the sport. He never beats himself in the ring. Although not a defensive master, he makes quick adjustments. He has a wide arsenal of punches and a variety of ways to unleash them. He's become a surgical counterpuncher. Give him enough time and he'll find a way to capitalize on an opponent's mistake.
Matthysse wasn't bad on Saturday. He won five rounds on my card, but he could've pulled the fight out with a better corner. Al Bernstein was correct in stating that Matthysse was too left hook-happy during the first half of the fight. After Matthysse had success in the first two rounds with lead lefts, Garcia quickly adjusted and neutralized that weapon. Matthysse also didn't consistently use his jab to set up shots and it took him a while to figure out the need to shorten up his punches. His corner, including trainer and cutman, didn't help him contain damage to his eye or give him actionable instructions in how better to win rounds. Part of being a champion fighter is having a world-class level corner. Matthysse might consider making some changes in this area.
Matthysse has now lost three fights by slim margins. All were fights he could've potentially won (the "loss" to Alexander wasn't really legitimate in my eyes). Those three outings are the difference between Matthysse being one of the truly elite talents in the sport instead of a hard hitter who can be outmaneuvered. Not every opponent will wilt from Matthysse's power, and when he's had to think through fights against Judah and now Garcia, his adjustments haven't come fast enough. He'll still beat a lot of guys and he certainly has championship-caliber skills, but to be considered the best, a fighter has to win in different ways. To this point, Matthysse has not proven that he can reliably beat good fighters who can take his power.
As expected, the Ishe Smith-Carlos Molina junior middleweight title bout was awful. Both fighters relied on grappling, holding, elbowing and assorted other tactics that deprived the boxing public of an entertaining fight. Molina started aggressively and when he landed, which wasn't often, he scored with short right hands, left hooks and an occasional uppercut. Smith just wouldn't let his hands go early and although he stymied much of Molina's offensive work, he didn't initiate enough to win rounds.
By the eighth, Smith was successful in creating distance and he scored with right hands and left hooks. Molina was less anxious to engage and the fight seemed to be on a trajectory of a "tale of two halves." I gave Molina the first seven rounds, but Smith picked up rounds 8-11 on my card. It certainly was conceivable with the amount of inaction earlier in the match that the fight was still on the table for Smith.
But Molina, a fighter who had been on the short end of a number of decisions in his career, came out firing in the 12th. Driving Smith to the ropes with short right hands, he dominated the champion with clean punching. The announcers wondered aloud why Molina couldn't have fought with the same type of skill and urgency throughout the fight – in fact, we all wondered that. 
Ultimately Molina won a split decision, with the scores 116-112 (as on my card), 117-111 and 112-116. Somehow Adelaide Byrd's winning card for Smith wasn't the worst score of the night (thank you again, C.J. Ross), but she clearly missed the fight. Maybe Smith picked up six rounds with a generous tally but eight was too much.
Like Smith, Molina is an easy fighter to root for on a personal level but a difficult one to watch in the ring. He has good footwork and an understanding of how he needs to win, but his formula of grappling, neutralizing and occasional offense isn't thrilling to watch. Perhaps he next gets a shot against Saul Alvarez. With his style and lack of fan support, he'll need to win 9 or 10 rounds to have any chance of picking up a decision.

The evening's first fight on the Pay Per View card was an unexpected treat, with Ashley Theophane and Pablo Cesar Cano waging a spirited battle. Theophane was awarded the spot on the broadcast because he fights under the Mayweather promotional banner and was used as one of Floyd's sparring partners leading up to the Alvarez fight. A veteran boxer from England with an up-and-down career, Theophane was given a winnable opportunity against a fighter who had just lost to an ancient Shane Mosley. 
Early in the match, Theophane attempted to outmaneuver Cano with his boxing skills and defense but his strategy wasn't successful as Cano did an excellent job of cutting off the ring and landing solid left hooks and straight right hands. By the fifth round, Theophane decided to hold his ground and let his accuracy work for him. Gradually, he turned the fight around. His straight right hand landed hard on Cano frequently and he started to work in combinations with his jab and left hand.
On my card, the fight was even after eight. Cano, another fighter who had recently lost a debatable decision on the cards (against Malignaggi), pressed Theophane over the last two rounds of the bout, hurting him badly in the 10th. The final scores were 97-93, 98-92 (way too wide) and 94-96, with Cano picking up the victory (I scored it 96-94 Cano).
Cano is the perfect "B" fighter in boxing. Take an aging Erik Morales or an underprepared Malignaggi and Cano can cause all sorts of problems. He lacks speed, a large arsenal and a true knockout punch, but he gives an honest effort every time out. Although not really an athlete, Cano has fairly good footwork and a high ring I.Q. He executes his game plan (left hooks and straight right hands in close) pretty well. He'll beat a good name or two in this sport before he is finished.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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