LOS ANGELES — Saul Alvarez’s knockout of Alfonso Gomez came suddenly near the end of the sixth round of their junior middleweight title bout at Staples Center on Saturday.
Many ringside observers thought referee Wayne Hedgepeth’s technical stoppage at 2:36 of the round was premature. A legion of boxing insiders and hardcore fans watching the fight on the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz pay-per-view broadcast cried foul on Twitter and other social media websites.
One can’t help but wonder if Alvarez (38-0-1, 28 knockouts) could have ended matters earlier and in more decisive fashion had he fought in character throughout the entertaining bout.
After controlling most of the first round with quick and accurate combinations, Alvarez dropped Gomez with a well-timed counter hook. The knockdown established what most fans knew coming into the fight, that Alvarez is the faster, stronger and harder punching fighter.
So why did the 21-year-old Mexican star spend so much of rounds two, three, and four counter punching from a defensive posture? The answer is simple. The young student of the game was practicing different boxing techniques against his game opponent.
However, the gym is where a fighter should practice various maneuvers, not during the actual fight, and certainly not against a tough fighter as experienced as Gomez, who has fought the likes of Miguel Cotto, Jose Luis Castillo and Arturo Gatti.
At times Alvarez was successful with his lean-and-counter tactics. However, at other times, particularly when he tried to employ a Mayweather-style shoulder roll, he allowed the ever advancing Gomez to score with right hands.
Alvarez had mixed success when he willingly backed to the ropes and waited for Gomez to get off. In the fourth round, Alvarez, who wisely kept his body at an angle, blocked Gomez’s one-two combinations and returned fire with knee-buckling uppercuts.
However, Gomez applied harder pressure in round five and caught Alvarez as the popular redhead tried to work off the ropes.
“I wasn’t unfocused (during the early rounds), I was confident because of the fans,” Alvarez said after the fight. “I did my job in the beginning. I hit him hard in the first round but I knew it was only a matter of time before I ended the fight.”
That time came near the end of the sixth round after Alvarez regained control of the bout with stick-and-move tactics. Alvarez pounced on Gomez after a perfect uppercut rocked the 30-year-old Los Angeles resident back on his heels. A series of right crosses backed Gomez to the ropes where Alvarez teed off with uppercuts and hooks until Hedgepeth halted the bout.
Gomez, who was able to block some of Alvarez’s punches, was never off his feet. The veteran was complimentary of Alvarez after the fight but he wasn’t happy about the stoppage.
“He’s a great puncher but I felt like the referee was looking for a reason to stop the fight,” said Gomez (23-5-2, 12 KOs). “I wanted to go the distance. I wanted to continue.
“When the referee asked if I was OK, I said I was fine. (Alvarez) hit me hard but I was OK.”
Hedgepeth says Gomez was not OK.
“His eyes were glassy and he was disoriented when I stopped it,” Hedgepeth said.
Alvarez, who is expected to return to the ring in December, didn’t have any comment when asked his opinion of the referee’s stoppage.
“It’s not my job to judge the referee,” he said. “I’m just glad that people enjoyed the fight.”
They did. However, they would have enjoyed it even more had Alvarez been the aggressor and scored a clean knockout, which was well within his ability.
Alvarez, who retained his WBC 154-pound title, is still very young and obviously learning on the job.
Hopefully, he learns that he’s not a slick boxer.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to become more versatile and defensively adept. It’s OK for Alvarez to be smart, but he should be a smart fighter.
Doug Fischer can be emailed at email@example.com
Photo by Craig Bennett