Sunday, March 9, 2014

Opinions and Observations: Alvarez-Angulo

In many of the traditional ways that we evaluate a person's character and success, Alfredo Angulo can be considered a clear winner. His father died when he was very young. He grew up very poor and had to fend for himself. After a relatively late start to boxing, he became a Mexican Olympian. Through his perseverance and personal magnetism, he developed a strong following in the sport. He has gone on to make pretty good money and has provided for his family. So let me not crap on Angulo as a person. The man has known more hardship than I, or most likely you, have ever faced. 

Angulo has accomplished more in his career than I have. He has taken more risks. He has put himself in harm's way. And while he was a disappointment in the ring on Saturday, I have also had many Saturdays where I have been a disappointment to myself, or others. I think it's important to keep this perspective. So with that, let me set aside Angulo's out-of-the ring triumphs and get into his fight against Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. 

However warmly one may feel about Alfredo Angulo on a personal level, his harrowing life story, his unjustified detention in an immigration facility, his touching attachment to his daughter, his ferocious demeanor in the ring, certain facts about his ring accomplishments are unavoidable. In the four biggest fights of his career, he has been outboxed by a puncher (Kermit Cintron), outpunched by a boxer (Erislandy Lara), outslugged by a slugger (James Kirkland) and outclassed by an all-around superior talent (Alvarez). In short, Angulo has lost when facing the most lucrative opportunities of his career. Yes he was an underdog against Alvarez, but he was favored against Cintron and Kirkland. At a certain point, the facts are what they are.

Although I had felt coming into the fight that Angulo had turned a corner with trainer Virgil Hunter and had a very good chance of beating Alvarez – I picked Angulo to win – I also must now admit that the fighter has a fairly definitive record of losing on the biggest stages. On Saturday, one fighter was ready for the bright lights of a pay per view event, and it wasn't Alfredo Angulo. 

From the opening bell, Alvarez crushed Angulo with blistering shots. He unloaded his full arsenal in the fight: lead left hooks, uppercuts from a distance, four-punch combinations and wonderfully accurate jabs. Just as importantly, he had the perfect game plan for defanging the fighter known as "El Perro," or "The Dog." Alvarez staked out the center of the ring and held his ground. He was first almost all night. He started with power shots instead of jabs, which made Angulo think twice about rushing in. By the end of the first round, Alvarez was the one coming forward, and, remarkably, he was making Angulo fight off of his back foot. That sequence speaks very well to Alvarez's power and accuracy. 

Although this game plan might seem obvious in hindsight, remember that Alvarez is one of the more gifted counterpunchers in the sport. He initiates his offense off of his opponents’ mistakes. In addition, in his last two fights against Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout, he looked very uncomfortable leading. But Alvarez was very sharp being first on Saturday.

I had been very critical of Alvarez's trainer, Eddy Reynoso, in his performance during the Mayweather bout, but he did a wonderful job preparing his fighter for Angulo. Alvarez was fresh and energetic throughout most of the match. Although he did tire at points in the fight, he was still throwing hard combinations and beating Angulo in punches thrown in almost every round. 

And Alvarez's punches were wonderful. He probably landed a dozen shots throughout the match that made Angulo's head snap back. It was amazing that Angulo could take all of those massive blows and somehow stay on his feet. Alvarez fought very confidently. He took some good shots later in the fight, especially Angulo's hooks to the body, but he seemed to shrug them off without a problem. Alvarez's concluding lead left uppercut in the 10th round was just another one of his picture-perfect power shots. It was an excellent offensive performance from him. 

In the days and weeks ahead, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that something was amiss with Angulo going into the fight. He clearly didn't look right from the opening bell. He pushed so many of his punches, especially early in the fight, and rarely committed to them fully. His legs looked awful and he didn't attack Alvarez with the type of zeal that had been his calling card throughout his career. Maybe Angulo had an injury, over-trained, was dehydrated, had problems making weight, left it in the gym, etc. 

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. A fighter (and his team) has to put himself in the best chance to succeed. Angulo seemed awed by the big moment. And even if he wasn't 100% in the fight, he lacked the desire to make the match a dogfight; he didn't give it his best. As early as the end of the first round, Hunter had to play psychologist, imploring Angulo to let his hard shots go. It was very strange to see the trainer having to build up Angulo, a gladiator-type of fighter, out of necessity, but that's what Hunter had in front of him on Saturday. Angulo was shockingly passive and uninterested throughout large stretches of the fight. 

The match did provide one sublime round. The eighth was what fight fans had expected going into the bout. Both combatants traded thunderous punches in close quarters. At various points in the round, Alvarez and Angulo signaled to the other to come forward and throw more power shots. The crowd responded with euphoria. It was rousing stuff in an otherwise one-sided fight. 

I'm sure that there will be some detractors who will dismiss or downplay Alvarez's win, claiming that he was fighting a dead man and things of that nature. Although Saturday wasn't the best version of Angulo, let's celebrate Alvarez for what he did do in the ring. He never took his foot off the pedal. He didn't fight down to the level of his competition and he forced referee Tony Weeks to stop the fight (more on that later). These qualities speak very highly of Alvarez, who could have spent much of the fight coasting. Alvarez was there to win and look good – and he succeeded. A loss or a bad performance would have been devastating to his career; he fought like he understood how important the stakes were on Saturday. 

Let's also give some credit to Canelo's team. Regardless of the outcome of the fight, Angulo was a very dangerous opponent who had twice knocked down one of the best fighters in the division (Erislandy Lara). Team Alvarez rolled the dice and won, and won big. Alvarez exhibited no hangover from the Mayweather fight and rejuvenated his career momentum. He now remains viable as a pay per view attraction, where the big money is in the sport.

A final note about the stoppage: Tony Weeks ended the fight after a single uppercut in the beginning of the 10th round. The shot wasn't particularly harder or more damaging than many other Alvarez shots that occurred throughout the fight; Angulo wasn't in imminent danger. The ending seemed arbitrary at first glance. 

However, Weeks got to the point where he had seen enough. Angulo had gotten rocked hard throughout the fight. He had taken scores of crushing shots. If this were another ref I would be more inclined to offer criticism of the stoppage but Weeks has made his reputation in the sport by letting bruising battles continue further than many of his colleagues would. Weeks was the third man in the ring for Castillo-Corrales I and Alvarado-Provodnikov. He has let boxers take a ton of punishment in competitive fights. In short, Weeks deserves the benefit of the doubt for his decision. I don't think this stoppage will go down as the best call of his career, but he was a protecting a fighter who had taken a serious beating, and one who was not particularly competitive. So put down your pitchforks. Alvarez won this fight all by himself. 

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