Tomorrow night, May 7, Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KO) puts his ‘middleweight’ title on the line against UK challenger Amir Khan (31-3, 19KO. It is being billed a superfight, sold on HBO Pay Per View and promising, in the promotion at least, to be a matchup of a bigger fighter with world-class power against a smaller but more agile fighter of world-class speed. But are the promoters of the fight, as they tend to do, shaking our hands and smiling at us while they steal our wallets, or is this a real, legit fight? Let’s dive in.
Canelo is the sport’s fastest rising young star, a popular 25-year old from Mexico who looks like the human version of a pitbull. He’s strong, smart and has been groomed from stardom from a very young age. Despite these high expectations, results have been mixed at the very highest level – despite a few highlight real knockouts (see: Kirkland, James) his fights haven’t always been barnburners, and he’s won some close decisions where he didn’t separate himself from a mobile opponent (see: Lara, Erislandy).
He’s a naturally bigger man that has thus far fought below his standard weight class, giving him a size advantage in the ring nearly every time he’s stepped through the ropes. That will be no different on Saturday night, where he’ll be the heavy favorite against another smaller opponent. He’s historically not ducked from challenges, but has received some fan backlash for some funny business with weights – such as defending the middleweight belt (160 pound limit) at 155 pounds.
Canelo is a very well rounded fighter – he isn’t fast, but he’s smart; he doesn’t throw a ton of punches, but he’s accurate; he doesn’t have heart-stopping power, but he will make you respect him. Fighters that come to him and want to go to war – like Kirkland – will taste his power, but Canelo won’t chase if the fight turns into more of a traditional boxing match.
- Height: 5’9
- Weight (Contracted/Fight Night Guess): 155/170
- Best Wins:
- Miguel Cotto (UD12) – In Canelo’s most recent fight in November, he took the lineal title from the veteran Puerto Rican in a unanimous decision that served as a very impressive performance and passed test by the young star. Canelo’s power and size made the difference in this fight, as Cotto’s punches never seemed to have much of an effect on Alvarez, while Canelo’s power shots seemed to move Cotto easily.
- James Kirkland (KO3) – Kirkland is an all-action come forward type fighter with little regard for defense, and he played into Canelo’s hands perfectly. Canelo brought the noise on this night, nearly taking Kirkland’s head off in a very impressive knockout – albeit against a fighter built for this.
- Austin Trout (UD12) – Trout is a tricky, crafty southpaw that’s nearly impossible to look good against, and a 22-year old Canelo took a massive step up and risk in fighting him. As is his wont, Trout made the fight ugly and close, and though a wonky open scoring system marred the rhythm of the fight in Canelo’s favor, an emphatic knockdown from Alvarez made the decision feel deserved.
- Floyd Mayweather (UD12) – Canelo showed up to this much-hyped matchup and looked completely out of ideas within the first minute. Though he came into this fight so young that the loss didn’t hurt his reputation too much, Alvarez wasn’t close to Mayweather’s level at any point, and the frustration was compounded by Canelo and his team’s absurd decision to try to outbox his generation’s best boxer instead of trying to muddy up the fight.
- What’s at stake for Canelo: Honestly, everything. Canelo is billing himself as the lineal and true middleweight champion, though there is a boogeyman in Gennady Golovkin lurking in his future. He’s going to be the much bigger man in the ring on Saturday night, and he’s going to be a huge favorite. If he wants to be taken seriously, he needs to beat Khan, and beat him going away. Canelo needs to win, and he needs to look good, in order to keep that ‘next superstar’ gravy train rolling.
Amir Khan is an exciting, fast and talented 29-year old Pakistani/British fighter from Bolton, UK who is known for his incredible handspeed, fun fights and the absolute definition of a glass jaw.
In addition to being the smaller man on Saturday night, Khan is going to step into the ring with the worst kind of Achilles heel for a professional prizefighter – he is not great at taking punches.
Khan has been on the canvas on eight separate occasions throughout his career – and twice being absolutely, brutally knocked senseless. Early in his career and when fighting under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, Khan was an all-offense dynamo, his hands a blur as he put together impressive combinations that knocked his opponents silly. His activity level served as his defense, stopping opponents from effectively throwing back – but oh, boy, if they landed, Khan was in big trouble.
Khan’s career took a sharp turn with his third loss – his first, after all, came very early in his career and his second was a questionable hometown decision – but his third was when all of Amir Khan’s talents and faults came to the limelight. After having frustrated Garcia and clearly outpointing him in the first three rounds, Garcia landed a hook in between Khan’s chin and neck, Khan immediately went Bambi-legs and swinging wildly, and that was all she wrote.
Amir changed course then, switching trainers to the more cerebral Virgil Hunter as he tried to switch to a more defensive style to make up for his lack of chin. While good in theory, results have been mixed. Though Khan is undefeated in his five fights since the Garcia loss, the new style has looked shaky on him, and his fights have lost a level of fireworks and spontaneous fun that they once had. He goes into tomorrow night’s fight as a massive underdog. Many in the know would say his only chance to win against such a bigger man is to use his skill and speed to pile up points and rounds while fighting the defensive fight of his life, staying away from Canelo’s power. If he can accomplish this on the biggest stage in his career remains to be seen.
- Best Wins:
- Devon Alexander (UD12) – Alexander is a former mainstay at the welterweight division, a solid top-tier fighter, and Khan wiped the floor with him in December 2014, winning every round and completely outclassing him. It’s the best Khan has looked under his new trainer and since the loss to Garcia. I actually wrote about this fight here. After this fight, however, Alexander has only fought once, a loss to the unremarkable Aaron Martinez, somewhat marring Khan’s performance here.
- Marcos Maidana (UD12) – A compelling matchup between two hungry fighters, this fight was named the 2012 Fight of the Year. This was a signature Amir Khan win, though he showed cracks in his armor in this back-and-forth slugfest. Khan dropped Maidana twice in the first round with some wicked bodyshots, but Maidana recovered to make it a grinder, and was even batting Khan around like a bobblehead late in the fight. Khan managed to make it through some dicey moments to hang on for a win, establishing himself as an up and coming contender and an exciting fighter.
- Zab Judah (KO5) – Though the KO here was weird – Khan hit Judah with a bodyshot that Judah tried to sell as below the belt to get a DQ – this was the high point of Khan’s career. He was on a hot streak, coming off the big Maidana win, and at no point did Judah seem in his class in this fight. Khan was looking like the potential next big thing following this win.
- Weight (Contracted/Fight Night Guess): 155/152
- Height: 5’8
- Danny Garcia (TKO4) – Already discussed above, Khan was beating Garcia when he got caught flush and never managed to recover, going down swinging wildly and sending both men’s careers in different directions.
- Lamont Peterson (SD12) – In the fight immediately prior to the Garcia bout, Khan traveled to Peterson’s backyard of Washington D.C. for a competitive and entertaining twelve rounds that I (and a large percentage of other observers) thought Khan deserved to win. Peterson ended up taking the hometown split decision, though Khan endeared himself to no one afterwards by the amount of bitching he did afterwards on social media and in interviews.
- Breidis Prescott (KO1) – Khan got brutally knocked out in the first 30 seconds of this 2008 bout against Breidis Prescott, a fighter who never really amounted to much after this. This was chalked up at the time and in the immediate years after as a lucky punch from Prescott – the perfect shot landed at the perfect time – which certainly happens, but sure looks a little less random looking back. Khan never rematched Prescott to avoid this loss.
- What’s at stake for Khan: Khan is a massive underdog, is going to be much smaller in the ring, and is going to likely not have any crowd behind him. He’s been trying to get a big fight for years now, and he finally got one – though he had to go up in weight to do it. In many ways, if he keeps it competitive and sees the final bell, Amir Khan will come out a winner. If he wins, it changes the narrative of his entire career. Other than the physical drawback of getting the shit beat out of you, Khan doesn’t really have much to lose tomorrow night.
So…Is Canelo-Khan a real fight?
The verdict…no, not really. This is a mismatch, albeit a high-profile one. That said, given what’s at stake – the rising star of Canelo Alvarez, the fact that Amir Khan’s lights can be turned out at any moment – it might be worth watching. And, after all, this is boxing – anything can happen.