The American Dream in For a Mexican Nightmare?

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Anyone who follows boxing would be well aware that boxing as a sport and boxing as a business are two vastly different things, and what makes business sense for promoters, rarely coincides with what is actually best for the sport. Fortunately, we will be treated with a rare exception to the norm this Saturday night, when Mexico’s favorite redhead, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez takes on Cuban standout, Erislandy “The American Dream“ Lara, in a highly anticipated Jr. middleweight showdown at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas.

Although both men will be in the same place come Saturday night, their paths to get there could not have been more dissimilar. Golden boy has basically jammed it down our throats that Canelo will be boxing’s next star, and they’ve done everything they could to protect that image. Until last year, Canelo had faced very limited opposition, yet his celebrity status still grew. He has also been the beneficiary of questionable scoring on more than one occasion. In contrast, nothing has come easy for Lara, and his up hill battle certainly didn’t stop once he successfully fled Cuba. While Canelo has had all the help in the world, it is fair to say that Lara has had the complete opposite.

Lara’s boxing skills were honed under Cuba’s national amateur program, and he had some 200+ amateur bouts before successfully defecting in 2008. After arriving on American soil, Lara backed his amateur pedigree and was quick to raise his level of opposition, but not everything has gone smoothly for him. After just 15 professional bouts he fought to a draw against Carlos Molina, in a fight that turned out to be a lot more difficult for Lara than many expected it to be. Then in his next bout, after what looked like a near shutout victory against Paul Williams, he was the victim of a decision so bad that all three judges were suspended after the fight. Lara went on to have more bad luck when his bout with Vanes Martirosyan was scored as a draw. The fight was stopped after Martirosyan sustained a bad cut from an accidental head clash, and while Lara did have some trouble in this fight, he was gaining traction and most observers thought he did enough to get the nod. Despite his bad luck, Lara has still come to be recignised by most as the number one contender at 154 lb. Sadly, with the lack of mainstream interest for Cuban boxers, Lara has always very much been a high risk, low reward type of opponent.

Canelo has faced a lot of criticism in the past for facing weak opposition, but to be fair, he has still achieved a lot for a 23 year old. Given the fact that he turned pro at the age of 15 with little amateur experience, a large portion of his pro career was really a substitute for the amateur career that he never had. So, the padded record should be somewhat excused. And while Canelo did get far too much credit for beating up past-prime and undersized opponents, I am one to give credit when it is due. So, I must say Canelo did really step it up in 2013 when he faced Austin Trout and Floyd Mayweather in back-to-back fights, and lets not forget that before it took place, his bout with Alfredo Angulo was considered as a pretty solid match up too.

With Canelo, I think that there is a huge misconception as to what his style is exactly; he is a boxer-puncher who likes to take time off then explode into action. He tries to claim the center of the ring, and most of the time he’s happy to stay there while he attacks his opponent from mid range. He will often start to back his opponent up and be in a position where it appears as though he could cut the ring off, but at this point he will usually take a few steps back and wait to counter. Canelo also doesn’t mind countering off of the ropes either, which I think is something he should definitely do against Lara.

So many people were shocked that Canelo chose to fight the way that he did against Mayweather and to a lesser extent Trout, but the reality is that he really didn’t fight any differently to the way he always has. He was just in against better opponents, who had good footwork and knew how to use the ring. When he was in against these older and smaller guys, they were overwhelmed by his physicality, and they didn’t have the footwork to escape his offence. Because these guys were so outgunned, Canelo could look impressive and land good combinations while they were coming forward. When he was in with Trout and Mayweather, he wasn’t able to throw combinations because they would either get out of range or counter him. Canelo has never been a pressure fighter and he isn’t really one to cut off the ring, so I don’t know why people expect him to all of a sudden do that.

While Canelo is a very talented young boxer, I do think that there are a few holes in his game. The biggest problem I have with him is that he is extremely lazy in the ring. He clearly has stamina issues, so he takes large portions of rounds off to conserve his energy. This can actually be a bit of a trap for Canelo’s opponents, because they often get caught off guard when he is coasting then suddenly explodes back into action. Regardless of that, I refuse to score a round to someone who lands two or three good shots, when they have been outworked and out-boxed for the majority of the round.

Besides the issues with his work rate, I think that Canelo is developing into quite a well-rounded boxer. He has good power from wide variety of punches, and his defense is coming along nicely. He can be hit, but he does use good upper body movement to slip punches and he does keep his hands up. I think his defense is actually quite good for someone who doesn’t really use his legs defensively, and as he showed us against José Miguel Cotto, he can recover well after being hurt badly.

Lara is a slick southpaw with solid fundamentals. He does his best work from the outside, where he likes to work behind a nice jab and throw his piston like left hand, before using his fast feet to get out of trouble and reposition himself for his next assault. Unlike a lot of Cuban boxers with extensive amateur backgrounds, Lara has transitioned very well into the professional ranks. While he has only fought 12-rounds twice, he has displayed superb conditioning on both occasions, and his 11th round knockdown of Trout exhibited the power that he carries into the championship rounds.

Although Lara does have good defense, it certainly isn’t impenetrable. That was made abundantly clear when Angulo knocked him down twice in their bout last year. One thing I have noticed with Lara is that he gets really low sometimes, which can land him in a bit of an awkward position and allow his opponent to close the distance. Normally when this happens he just clinches to the lower torso of his opponent and waits for the referee to break it up, but against Angulo, the first knockdown came when he tried to come back up, and he got caught by a hard left hook. The second knockdown came when they were trading from the inside, and again it was from a left hook. Both of the knockdowns came from left hooks when his back was to the ropes. Most of the time the fight takes place where Lara wants it to, on the outside. However, I had noticed Lara’s vulnerability on the inside and his leaky defense at midrange, against Molina and Martirosyan, and I even saw glimpses of it against Williams.

My keys to victory for Canelo involve patience, setting traps and work to the body. There’s a strong chance that if Canelo doesn’t lead, not a lot will happen. The thing is, Canelo leading will play straight into Lara’s hand. Obviously Lara won’t lead all night, but if Canelo can lure Lara in some of the time, he may be able to throw Lara off his game and land some nice counter punches of his own. I think one thing way for Canelo to close the distance will be to intentionally back onto the ropes, then go to work when Lara comes in to attack. It might not be as effective as backing Lara onto the ropes, but he didn’t cut the ring off on Trout, so I can’t see it happening with Lara.

I can see this being a very frustrating fight for Canelo, but he needs to stay focused so that when Lara makes mistakes, he can capitalize. If Lara is down low and tries to clinch, throw an uppercut. If he tries to come back up, throw a left hook. If there is an opportunity to do some work from the inside, Canelo needs to jump on it. The body is always an easier target than the head, so I think Canelo should target Lara’s meager torso early, which should slow his legs down in the later rounds. Conventional wisdom says that a southpaw is open to the lead right, but throughout Lara’s career has been more vulnerable to the left hook. I think Canelo is just going to have to mix it up and see what works. One last thing, he needs to be more active, I know it probably won’t happen, but I need to mention it anyway.

My keys to victory for Lara are much more simple, and in my opinion this is Lara’s fight to lose. I really can’t see Canelo having success for the majority of this fight, but I could see him capitalizing on a Lara mistake to get the win. So, all Lara really needs to do is stick to the basics and not make mistakes. He should stay on the outside, pump the jab and work land the left hand, then move and do it again. If Canelo doesn’t engage, just wait until he does. If Canelo backs onto the ropes, then wait for him to get off of them. All Lara needs to do is avoid getting low and keep the fight where he is comfortable, and this should be a relatively easy night.

This is a truly is an intriguing bout and many insiders are calling it a 50-50 fight. What makes this match up so interesting, is that Canelo and Lara, have both faced Trout and Angulo, in their last three bouts, and they each dominated and struggled with the opposite guy. I’m not sure what was wrong with Angulo when he faced Canelo, but that was not the “El Perro” that we have seen before, and he sure as hell didn’t turn up to fight. I think that the Canelo-Trout fight is the more relevant of the two, because even though Lara isn’t a carbon copy of Trout, they do have a lot of similarities. I had Trout beating Canelo, and I think it is clear that anything Trout can do, Lara can do better; Lara is less likely to exchange, he has better footwork, and he is the harder and more accurate puncher.

As much as Canelo does like to counter, I have no doubt that for most of this fight he will have to lead. I think that Lara will fight very intelligently, and Canelo will get frustrated. There is a good chance of some crazy scoring on this one, nevertheless I see Lara dominating this fight early and possibly dropping Canelo in the later rounds en route to a decision win.