When boxing was boxing, as the saying goes, big events were built around long-anticipated fights that the public hungered for and thought would be great. Canelo Alvarez vs. Amir Khan (which will be televised by BoxNation on 7 May) is a big event. But it’s cut from different cloth.
Alvarez-Khan will be the first fight card in the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It’s also the first big boxing event in recent memory that virtually no one saw coming or lobbied for in advance.
Alvarez (the current pride of Mexico) is the “lineal world middleweight champion” by virtue of a unanimous-decision triumph over Miguel Cotto last November. He also wears the World Boxing Council’s middleweight championship belt. But Alvarez-Khan will be contested at a contract weight of 155 pounds, not 160. And Canelo freely acknowledges, “I’m not a middleweight; I’m a super welterweight. However, I wanted to fight this fight for some sort of title.”
Eric Gomez of Golden Boy (which is promoting Alvarez-Khan) concurs, saying, “Canelo is a super-welterweight. The only reason he became the middleweight champion is because he wanted to fight Miguel Cotto and he won the title.”
Meanwhile, Khan began his professional career as a super-lightweight and has never fought above the 147-pound welterweight limit.
So let’s forget the belts and concentrate on the fight.
Alvarez, age 25, started boxing professionally at age fifteen and has compiled a 46-1-1 (32 KOs) record. At present, he’s the most marketable pay-per-view fighter in the United States, having engendered 900,000 pay-per-view buys when he beat Cotto last November.
There are two blemishes on Alvarez’s record: a draw in his fifth professional bout (when he was one monthy shy of his sixteenth birthday) and a loss by decision to Floyd Mayweather in 2013. Thereafter, Canelo showed that he could deal with a slick boxer by outpointing Erislandy Lara. And he outpunched slugger James Kirkland en route to a third-round knockout last year.
Outside the ring, Alvarez projects a solid image. “I don't like to talk trash just to sell fights,” he says. “I train hard and do my talking in the ring. I want people to respect me and to follow my fights, not because of what I say but what I do. My job - and I'm very fortunate - is to box. I train hard and I give the best of me. I'm not trying to tap into my market. It's just something very fortunate that I've been able to have in my career.”
Like Alvarez, Khan was a child prodigy, winning a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics at age 17. Now 29, he has a 31-3 (19 KOs) record with two “KOs by.”
The “KOs by” are a problem. Breidis Prescott (KO 1) and Danny Garcia (KO 4) reduced Khan to rubble with one punch. Amir also lost a close split decision to Lamont Peterson in the latter’s hometown of Washington DC. On the positive side of the ledger, he has scored decisive victories over Paulie Malignaggi, Marcos Maidana, Zab Judah, and Devon Alexander.
One might add that, outside the ring, Khan can come across as something of a flake; tweeting that he had signed to fight Floyd Mayweather and was ready to fight Manny Pacquiao when neither man had any intention of fighting him. One half-expected Amir to announce that he was on the verge of signing to fight Sugar Ray Leonard.
That brings us to 7 May.
There was a feeling among elite matchmakers that Khan (because of his height, speed, and reach) would have matched up reasonably well against Mayweather. These same matchmakers feel that, because of Amir’s chin, he matches up poorly against Alvarez.
“I know I'm not going to be stronger than Canelo,” Amir acknowledged during a 12 April media conference call. “My skills are what's going to win me this fight.”
Khan saw how decisively Alvarez was outboxed by Mayweather and said to himself, “I can do that.” But Amir doesn’t have Floyd’s defence. Or chin.
Alvarez was an early 3-to-1 betting favorite in Las Vegas. The odds have lengthened slightly since then. The assumption is that, at some point, Canelo will catch up to Amir and knock him out. Or phrased differently, it will be no Khan-test.”
“I know that one little mistake in a fight like this could get me in trouble,” Khan concedes. “So I'm making sure that I'm not making any mistakes.”
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Earnie Shavers in his prime was one of the hardest punchers in ring history. Sixty-eight of his 74 wins came by knockout. Ken Norton and Jimmy Young were among his KO victims.
Even fighters who beat Shavers marveled at his power. Muhammad Ali decisioned Shavers in 1977 and said afterward, “Earnie hit me so hard, it shook my kinfolk back in Africa.” Larry Holmes, who climbed off the canvas to stop the Ohio heavyweight in 1979, acknowledged that no one, including Mike Tyson, hit him harder than Shavers.
Outside the ring, Shavers was a good-natured man. And he had an eye for pretty women, which was not conducive to a stable marriage. Earnie summed up that facet of his life when he recounted some of the relationships he’d enjoyed over the years and observed. “When you marry your mistress, you create a vacancy.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (A Hurting Sport) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.