Nowhere to Hide: Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Amir “King” Khan

By Jeff Weston on May 6, 2016
Nowhere to Hide: Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Amir “King” Khan
Canelo-Khan promises excitement or at least a mismatch of monumental proportions.

Some say Canelo Alvarez is only a dynamic fighter when allowed to be, when the garden gate is left open…

Who has the best deal here — the stalker or the technician? Neither boxer will be entirely comfortable.

Amir Khan, despite the puffery, cannot run like WBA super welterweight champion, Erislandy Lara. He cannot sweep the ring like a pencil in a compass. Nor is he as sturdy.

Canelo, the tough Mexican with the uncompromising uppercuts and straight rights, risks being remembered as a “limited slugger” with few places to go if the paint from this bout dries unevenly. 

Why has this left-field fight even come about? Business. “Let’s be honest, it’s a business fight, not a real fight,” asserts Barry Hearn, which tempers any serious kind of analysis. Analyse we must though as Canelo-Khan (yes — in that order) promises excitement or at least a mismatch of monumental proportions.

“Khan is brave or plain crazy,” Boxing Monthly’s Terry Dooley vents on behalf of quizzical fans. Possibly both, I would venture or in possession of a dangerous ego unable to discern the difference between good and great.

Khan has fought some impressive fights — against Andriy Kotelnik, Marcos Maidana and Devon Alexander. He has displayed to the boxing community and wider world his hand speed, hunger, slickness and application. When you watch him engage, it is — in part — a flashback to the Colosseum. But does he possess the requisite giant heart and technique that separate fine fighters from eminent ones? And can he legitimately avoid the Mexican boulder that will undoubtedly roll towards him from the first round on Saturday, 7th May inside Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena?

“Yes,” WBO middleweight champion, Billy Joe Saunders thinks. “Canelo [is] pretty flat-footed, and if Khan uses his feet to get in and out, lands just two or three shots rather than blitzes, he could win. What he can’t do is get greedy if he starts having success.”

This raises the question: Will Virgil Hunter have trimmed sufficient live wire from Khan’s DNA before the Nevada spectacular? Because Canelo is not a boxer, so the saying goes — he is a down and dirty “spiteful puncher,” a street fighter from Jalisco. If Khan, even for a second, thinks he can trade with him then it will be night-night.

What of the bigger picture though? What exactly is relevant to this clash? Industry. Form. Weight. Speed. Power. And durability. Little else.

Fighters become ‘unknowns’ through inactivity and Khan’s CV — four fights in three years — is as lean as it gets. Hunting for the glamour tie, the big celebrity showdown, has not helped the Bolton man. Legacies are not borne from palatial encounters, from Mayweather and Pacquiao crumbs, but from doing the business with those immediately around you.

Avoiding Kell Brook — the slayer of Shawn Porter — is quite unforgivable, particularly when such a potential prize would have hauled Khan back shoulder to shoulder with champions, Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia. After that he needn’t have unified the titles. Fair-minded fans would have graciously accepted his step up to super-welterweight, but this Disneyland jump two weights — into the back yard of Eubank Jr., Saunders, Jacobs, Alvarez and…wait for it…Golovkin — is insane.

For a man that weighed 142 lbs. against Julio Diaz just three years ago and was tagged with a left hook in the fourth round, the catchweight of 155 with Canelo seems like an awfully big leap. No matter what the sound bites from each camp over ring weight though, there is incongruity here.

“I know the fight is at a catchweight. I have never fought at 155 before but I walk around at probably 160-plus so it will be me fighting at my natural weight. Come fight night I will probably be about 165 as well. I can see Alvarez maybe being a little heavier than that, maybe going into the ring at 170, but we know what we need to do,” Khan reassured Sky Sports.

Is this bluff? Do Carrs pasties or between-fight luxuries count as ‘natural’ weight? Shall we let Khan jump another two weights after the Canelo fight and go catchweight with Sergey Kovalev at 169?! Oliver Hardy’s natural load was 300 lbs. but that did not make him a heavyweight. It concerns me when fighters get a little lax, a little free and easy with their expression. It worries me more so when they come from my home town.

Here are the perilous facts: Canelo has fought 50% more fights over that three-year period and all around the 155 mark. His opponents have been Austin Trout, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Alfredo Angulo, Erislandy Lara, James Kirkland and Miguel Cotto. No mugs there. While criticized, especially over his performances against Mayweather and Lara, Canelo still belonged.

If you do as I did and watch the other Cotto-Canelo fight from May 2010, you refreshingly see Jose Miguel holding the center of the ring, walking Canelo down. The Mexican for the first three rounds still appears to be sat at the breakfast table such is the threat from the 32-year-old Puerto Rican.

But then Canelo is 19 years of age, still learning, taking clubbing left hooks from the old pro. At times he is slow, clumsy even. Chuck in the odd middle round siesta and there are plenty of holes in the Saul Alvarez armor to pick up on.

Have the Khan camp been watching this, deceiving themselves over the vulnerability of the pound-for-pound player with an amateur record of 44-2? I would suggest so. Even back then though — a full six years ago — there were glimpses, coup d’œil, moments to behold: fierce trademark right uppercuts; a right glove at 90 degrees flat in the opponent’s face; accuracy when he could be bothered; general sledgehammer shots.

Some of this was stored up for James Kirkland — unleashed on a real adult stage during that barbaric ‘quarter’ fight one year ago. Khan won’t do what Kirkland did. He won’t be ragged — certainly not for the first three rounds. He won’t walk onto power shots and delude himself that he can somehow dominate. He won’t have gangly, loose arms flailing around. But what if Canelo smells blood? What if Khan makes an honest mistake?

Watch Kirkland on the HBO replay as he briefly looks up at Canelo from the seat of his pants after taking a straight right with 1min 17secs of the first round remaining. It is as if he has seen God — witnessed for the first time actual wrath. In the Mandingo Warrior’s gaze is absolute respect. Fighters like Saul Alvarez generally don’t pass by Austin, Texas.

Canelo is not without his demons. The fog of the Mayweather encounter still rankles. He knows as a fighter that he is not fleet of foot. He can be pedestrian. Style often troubles him. And his 70½” reach is far from ideal (Mayweather 72”, Lara 74”, Khan 71”). But does he get busted?

The Mayweather fight was an aberration, an anomaly. His last fight against Miguel Cotto — a man with an improbable center of gravity — was criticized in some quarters, but it is useful remembering that Junito has only been properly knocked down by Manny Pacquiao throughout his 45 fights and 15-year career.

Khan, I would dearly like to say, has some of the qualities of a Cotto, a Mayweather or a Lara. Plenty in the game push his wares:

Steve Collins — “He’s no fool, a superb athlete, very slick and skilful, far better than he’s given credit for. Obviously he’ll need to show respect, stay on his bike and box at his absolute best, but I see Khan stealing it in a similar manner to how Sugar Ray Leonard outfoxed Marvin Hagler.”

Anthony Crolla — “The speed Amir carries is freakish. There’s no one out there quicker and we’ve seen before that Canelo struggles with movers.”

Derry Mathews — “Speed is everything in this game, and no one is faster than Khan. I see him nicking the early rounds, surviving the middle rounds, then running away with it down the straight.”

Terry Flanagan — “He just needs to use his speed and boxing, stay clever and not get involved. Canelo is class, but if Khan stays sharp, and uses his timing, he won’t get hit. And if he don’t get hit, he don’t get beat…”

Chris Sanigar — “Amir has the experience and mobility to go back foot, constantly change direction and fiddle Alvarez out of it. Canelo has a lovely straight lead uppercut, but he’s pretty pedestrian. The wisdom of Virgil Hunter will be instrumental if Amir is to be successful.”

…but then I read the epitaphs and stridently think NO WAY CAN KHAN BRIDGE SUCH A GAP:

Colin Hart — “Khan might prove [to be] too fast for a few rounds, but not for 12. Once Canelo cuts the space, he’ll prove far too big and powerful.”

David Price — “The plan has to be to get through 12 rounds without getting caught flush. It’s a big ask.”

Enzo Maccarinelli — “There’ll be close to a 21 lbs. difference in weight inside the ring on fight night, because of the day-before weigh in. Eventually Alvarez will catch up with him and stop him.”

Dominic Ingle — “Khan has the footwork and ability to avoid danger and possibly get through to the finish if he really concentrates, but he lacks the power to trouble Canelo. Therefore, it’s not possible for him to actually win. If Amir risks loading up, he’ll fade early and get stopped.”

Junior Witter — “Khan’s fast, but he can’t keep the speed up for 12 rounds, and as soon as he gets caught Canelo will put the finish on him.”

Jamie Cox — “I’ve sparred both of them within the last two years, and I don’t see any possibility of Amir winning. Amir’s very, very quick and I really admire his balls [for taking this fight], but Canelo hits too hard and is too powerful. Alvarez is a very clever and astute counter puncher. He’ll only need one clean shot. And he’s got 12 rounds to land it.”

It is the last quote which is the most damning. Too hard. Too powerful. One clean shot. And worryingly, Khan is ring rusty — one year out of the game. Even his former amateur coach, Mick Jelley recognizes this: “If you’re a professional boxer, you should be fighting three or four times a year. If you’re only fighting once every 18 months, your timing will be out, it’s only natural.

“You can do as much sparring as you want, but in the ring, competitive, it’s completely different.”

This, to many, will be Khan’s first superfight. Can he herald a new dawn? Can he finally fulfill the potential long talked about? Is he quick enough to have Alvarez merely tickle him when briefly backed up against the ropes (as Lara did so effectively)?

Some say Alvarez is only a dynamic fighter when allowed to be, when the garden gate is left open. The chief problem for Khan though is that Mexicans often do not know broken pride. Khan will unquestionably prove awkward at times, but Alvarez will slowly march on with little fear given his granite chin. He may even play a little rope-a-dope from time to time with that beautiful counterpunch at the ready.

The one chance Khan has — and it is slim — is if weight-cutting has decisively caught up with Alvarez. The naturally big man will be 26 in July and close to 180 lbs. on Saturday evening as there is no rehydration clause.  The thickness of him when he removes his gown before the bell will be alarming but deep down he may be severely weakened.

It is fair to state that Alvarez probably has more chips on the table in this fight. It is — all said and done — an inordinate gamble. I just think durability when I see Khan, however — a lack of it. As much as I want him to succeed, there are the inevitable shortcomings. A good fighter, not a great fighter — and that will prove the difference.

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  1. koolz 04:01pm, 05/06/2016

    I think Khan will get caught it will be hard to keep away.  He would have to throw a combo move to the side and keep turning, and weaving, and sticking for a full 12 rounds.
    Can he do it?  Khan thinks he can.

  2. The Tache 10:22am, 05/06/2016

    I agree with Pete, Khan’s ego won’t let him stay away for 12 rounds. He’s going down hard I think.

  3. Ade Kolade 10:14am, 05/06/2016

    Interesting read and very well written. Agree with the critique of the commercialization of boxing, whereby bogus super-fights are created to boost revenue at the cost of debasing the integrity of the sport.

  4. Mike Cuckabee 09:05am, 05/06/2016

    Mismatch. Another “superfight” hoax. Why doesn’t Canelo stop fighting these little guys and fight Golovkin. Me thinks that Canelo is skeered of the power punching GGG.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:46am, 05/06/2016

    “You’re lights are on, but you’re not home.” (Robert Palmer RIP) Only in boxing…. this guy was actually running from little Julio Diaz at times…he’s got a nice payday coming along with that ass beating…..just make sure he pays his taxes before he goes back to Londonistan because we need the money to help pay the freight for the 100,000,000 that aren’t pulling their weight here in Obamaland.

  6. Robert Palmer 06:19am, 05/06/2016

    Someone’s looking for a lead
    In his duty to a King or creed
    Protecting what he feels is right
    Fights against wrong with his life

  7. Pete The Sneak 04:31am, 05/06/2016

    The Old boxing line “You can run, but you can’t hide” is in full effect here. Khan willl indeed be able to steal some rounds and make Canelo look a little slow and lumbering at times. But make no mistake, regadrless of Khan’s new found ‘Boxing abilities’ with Virgil Hunter, he will eventually mix it up with Canelo at some point in the fight, it’s just his nature, and that’s where it will end for Khan. I say Canelo by brutal KO in the 10th round…By the By, great article Mr. Weston…Peace.