SAN ANTONIO – When Saul Alvarez called out Floyd Mayweather after scoring a fifth-round stoppage of Kermit Cintron in November of 2011, the young junior middleweight beltholder’s challenge to the pound-for-pound king was met with a collective laugh from the boxing world.
Alvarez still may not be ready for Mayweather, but nobody will laugh at or view that potential super fight as a total mismatch after he outpointed previously unbeaten Austin Trout in a competitive 12-round bout in front of 39,247 fans – most of who were in the Alamodome to cheer on the red-headed Mexican star affectionately known as “Canelo”
Alvarez does record TV ratings in Mexico and is one of the sport’s top ticket sellers in the U.S., as proven by the giant crowd that came to watch him fight Trout. However, he doesn’t get much respect from hardcore fans, who view him as an overhyped cash cow that has been protected by Golden Boy Promotions, which represents him in the U.S.
Maybe his performance against Trout has changed some minds. Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 knockouts) boxed the best fight of his eight-year pro career, making the more mature boxer miss punches while landing the harder shots, most of which were jabs, uppercuts and arrow-straight rights – one of which produced a seventh-round knockdown – en route to securing a unanimous decision by scores of 115-112, 116-111 and an awful 118-109.
More than a few hardcore fans and boxing industry types thought the fight could have gone either way. Some thought Trout deserved the nod by soundly outworking Alvarez. But even thouse who pooh-poohed the decision have to admit that Alvarez exhibited boxing skills and ring generalship most fans and media didn’t think he possessed.
Trout (26-1, 14 KOs) admitted that Alvarez’s tactics threw him off.
“He shocked us tonight,” said Trout, a 27-year-old southpaw from Las Cruces, N.M. “We prepared for a totally different fighter.”
Trout expected a defensively challenged puncher who relies on physical strength and power. Instead, he had to deal with a careful but determined boxer who utilized constant upper-body movement, well-timed counter punches and an educated jab to control most of the rounds.
“Austin was a very difficult fighter, but I was smart,” Alvarez said during his post-fight interview on Showtime, which aired the fight live in the U.S.
“Little by little I figured out how to fight him. I used my speed and my jab. My jab was perfect. It was the key.”
Alvarez’s defense was another key. Trout constantly worked his jab and threw more punches, but most of his jabs missed Alvarez’s moving head. When Trout let combinations go, many of his shots landed to gloves and arms. And when it appeared that he might overwhelm the twisting, turning and blocking young fighter along the ropes, Alvarez would lash out with head-snapping shots of his own.
Alvarez’s composure, harder punches and accuracy throughout the fight obviously caught the eyes of the judges. And even the fans who have ripped Alvarez in the past for fighting mediocre competition, admit that he has improved.
Alvarez, who is only 22, says he will continue to improve.
“I learned a lot in this fight,” he said. “It was a great experience for me.”
Alvarez’s experiences from fighting crafty but smaller boxers and technicians, such as current IBF lightweight beltholder Miguel Vazquez and U.S. amateur standout Larry Mosley, and the quality rounds he gleaned from older former champs, such as Carlos Baldomir and Shane Mosley, developed him to the point where he could compete with one of the top fighters in the 154-pound division, one who wasn’t undersized or over the hill.
Trout brought more than physical attributes to the fight, however, he also carried amazing heart and will into the ring with him. Most fighters would have given up after suffering a seventh round knockdown in a tough fight in front of a hostile crowd. Trout, who has made a career of beating fighters on their home turf, got up and battled back like a true champ, changing what Larry Merchant, who did the international call, described as “speed chess” into the kind of fight Texas fans relish.
Trout backed Alvarez to the ropes in rounds eight, nine and 10. The El Paso native let his hands go and didn’t stop punching even when Alvarez caught him with knee-buckling uppercuts. The two junior middleweights stood their ground and exchanged heavy shots in the second half of the 11th round.
However, Alvarez seemed to take his foot off the gas pedal in the final round, knowing he had the fight won. That action won’t endear him to his critics, but Trout acknowledged after the fight that the new RING magazine champ deserved the decision.
“I take my loss like a man,” he said. “The better man won. I’ll be better next time.”
And the fighter who’s nickname is “No Doubt” no doubt earned more fans with his terrific effort against Alvarez.
“Canelo” already has fans, which brings us back to Mayweather. There may not be a bigger fight in boxing than Mayweather-Alvarez.
Still, there probably won’t be any rush on either side to get it done, even though Alvarez insisted his fight with Trout be moved from the May 4 pay-per-view undercard of Mayweather-Robert Guerrero when Mayweather would not contractually commit to fighting him in September.
Mayweather’s got a tough fight ahead of him with Guerrero and a record-breaking six-fight deal with Showtime. There’s no reason to make the biggest potential event the second fight on Mayweather’s deal.
Alvarez has time on his side. He’s also got Texas.
“We will be back in San Antonio,” said Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions. “They sure know how to throw a party here. We’re going to make holding a big fight at the Alamodome during the spring festival an annual event.”
If Alvarez continues to improve while taking on tough challenges like Trout, he just might win over his critics by the time a Mayweather showdown is made.
Email Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dougiefischer
Photos by Naoki Fukuda