Let's start at the end, shall we? After Saul "Canelo" Alvarez's domination of Jermell Charlo, Canelo was jubilant during the post-fight interview. "I love boxing so f$&#ing much," the undisputed super middleweight champion shouted, smiling ear to ear. Leading up to Saturday's fight, Canelo had acknowledged slippage in his most recent outings, and he declared that he had rededicated himself to the sport. For this fight he left his comfortable San Diego home base for the mountains near Lake Tahoe and scheduled a 14-week training camp, not the sign of a boxer who is cutting corners.
The results were striking. It was immediately apparent how much better he looked on his feet. Canelo had a bounce to his step. His footwork wasn't ponderous. And he put together a strong 12 rounds. There was no fade; he didn't look labored. He was focused on the task at hand. He looked like a craftsman who had fallen back in love with his work.
|Canelo lands a left hook to the body|
Photo courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime
After losing 10 or 11 of the rounds on Saturday, Charlo didn't seem particularly bothered by his defeat. In his post-fight interview, he talked about how he had been proud of himself, that he dared to be great, that he could move back down to 154 lbs.
Yet his effort didn't live up to the "Lions Only" moniker that he and his brother had given themselves. Charlo never looked comfortable or confident. He was far more concerned with being evasive in the ring than trying to mount a consistent offense. He got in a sharp left hook every so often, but the commitment to win just wasn't there.
It was a strange performance from Charlo, who had always fought hard during his tough matchups. Even when things hadn't gone his way in several of his bouts, he had a way of willing himself back into fights. He saved a draw with his late-round rally in the first Brian Castano fight. He had trouble with John Jackson's movement before stopping him. Tony Harrison was having a great second fight until Charlo turned it around with a late-round knockout.
But against Canelo, Charlo was compliant in his defeat. He capitulated. In watching the fight, I never got the sense that he believed he could win, or even if he couldn't, that he would do his absolute best to try for it. I'm sure being knocked down in the seventh spooked him, but well before that point the fight had failed to be competitive.
|Charlo taking a knee in the seventh|
Photo courtesy of Esther Lin
Although there was a significant power gap between the two, which certainly affected Charlo, the most striking difference to me was their respective defenses. While Charlo's defense has always been penetrable, he had almost always been able to get through with his best punches. And yet according to CompuBox, he landed less than 18% of his shots. Canelo essentially doubled Charlo's connect percentage. Although Charlo lacked Canelo's power, Canelo's victory was far more comprehensive than that factor. Charlo didn't even have the tools to land on Canelo on a consistent basis. And considering that Charlo entered the fight as an undisputed champion and one of the elites in the sport, that's quite an alarming piece of evidence.
Canelo will always be known for his left hook, but I think that his right hook was the best punch of Saturday's fight. Like a surgeon, he was able to place the shot perfectly around Charlo's high guard and land it with thudding power. Charlo never made the defensive adjustment for the punch. The knockdown in the seventh was a direct result of Canelo's success with the right hook. With Charlo against the ropes, Canelo was lining up the right hand, but instead of hooking with it, he shot an overhead right between Charlo's gloves. The shot itself didn't knock Charlo down, but he took a knee to regroup; the punch was that devastating. Ultimately, Charlo's inability to defend the right hand was his single biggest defensive issue (and there were others). Instead of taking away Canelo's straight right or his right hook, Charlo was unable to do either.
Throughout the rest of the fight Canelo mixed in an array of single shots: jabs, hooks, uppercuts. In the past he had several fights where he became too left hook-happy or was overly reliant on his overhand right. On Saturday, he was able to throw and land his entire arsenal. Although he rarely threw in combination, he offered an unpredictability with his punch selection that kept Charlo unsettled.
The respective performances from Canelo and Charlo illustrate the importance of intangibles. Canelo fought like he had more to prove on the night. Essentially, it was a guy who wanted to be there against a guy who quickly didn't. Charlo is certainly a much better fighter than he showed on Saturday, but he wasn't interested in finding out what would happen if he really went for it. He's a guy who still has options at 154 and 160 lbs., and he fought like it. While Canelo demonstrated that he was the more skilled fighter in the ring, even that advantage can often be overcome or even challenged by an opponent's desire or will, but Charlo manifested none of that on Saturday.
Charlo will certainly face another notable opponent in a lower weight class, but he will return to the ring with his reputation diminished. In the biggest moment of his career, Charlo made a deal with himself to survive. That is the opposite of what prizefighting is about. And while I'm sure that the additional zeroes in his bank account will take the sting off his loss, the fans and the boxing industry will remember his poor showing. He had a historic opportunity to cement his legacy, to become an era-defining fighter, and he didn't go for it, deciding instead to be satisfied with his participation trophy.