It’s been twenty-nine years since the unfancied Sugar Ray Leonard jumped two weight divisions to shock the world by defeating “Marvelous,” Marvin Hagler to claim the WBC world middleweight title in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.
Fast forward to the present day and we have a similar situation playing out this weekend as Britain’s Amir Khan (31-3, 19 KOs) jumps two weight divisions to challenge Saul ‘Canelo,’ Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) for the WBC world middleweight title in (where else?) The T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas.
Speaking to The Mirror newspaper this week Khan said, “This is a huge fight, as Canelo [Alvarez] is a star in Mexico and America. I know I’m here as the underdog, but I’m ready to win and take this WBC belt back to my home in England.”
This fight represents a monumental task for Khan, who will need to rely on all his speed and guile to overcome his formidable opponent. Alvarez is physically the bigger man, holds nearly as many knockouts on his record as Khan has had fights and one loss on his record at the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013.
With this in mind, Khan should be given credit for taking on Alvarez and for the way in which he has rebuilt his career since his back-to-back losses to Lamont Peterson in 2011 and Danny Garcia in 2012. Khan enlisted the help of Andre Ward’s trainer; Virgil Hunter who has done an impressive job of getting him back to winning ways. He has won his last five on the bounce, albeit that he was taken the distance in four of those fights, he has demonstrated improved boxing acumen.
Often regarded as pound for pound one of the fastest punching fighters on the planet Khan will need to utilise his natural speed and movement in this fight. This one is a classic match-up between a boxer and a puncher. Alvarez is a wrecking ball of a fighter who likes to come forward, and grind his opponents down. However many people underestimate his own speed, movement and technical ability.
The best hope that Khan has is to box on the outside and avoid getting dragged into a slug fest. This had been a weakness in Khan’s armoury in the past but since his link up with Hunter he seems to be more conscious of not absorbing punishment in the ring.
In May 2014, Khan fought a brilliant technical fight against American Luis Collazo at welterweight. That fight could provide the tactical blueprint for this one. Khan utilised his jab, superior reach and movement to drop his opponent three times on route to a unanimous point’s victory. If nothing else the win against Collazo highlights that Khan has the ability to outbox his opponents.
The question is can he replicate a similar performance at middleweight?
Whether Khan has retained his hand speed as a middleweight or whether he can box to a plan for twelve rounds are questions that can only be answered on the night. He has the ability and the potential but a lot rests on how the champion performs.
Alvarez is regarded as pound-for-pound one of the best fighters on the planet. The Mexican may only be 25 years old but he has been a professional for ten years and has faced nine current or former world champions in that time.
The aforementioned loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. was his only reverse. Mayweather negated Alvarez’s aggressive tactics by out boxing him. For someone regarded as a supremely defensive fighter Mayweather boxed on the front foot, jabbing to Alvarez’s head and body and keeping him under pressure whilst maintaining his own watertight defence.
Once again, that fight provides a blueprint for how to beat Alvarez, but is Khan as slick as Mayweather?
The answer is no. Khan’s last fight was against Chris Algieri at welterweight. Algieri was the aggressor against Khan, who employed counter-punching tactics to neutralise his opponent and pick up a unanimous point’s decision. Algieri’s aggression and determination made the fight a lot closer in the eyes of those at ringside than the final scorecards suggested. He had success repeatedly in landing his punches to Khan’s body and head and although the British fighter’s punch resistance has improved it will be interesting to see what happens if a middleweight like Alvarez has similar success landing his power punches.
In his last fight against Miguel Cotto, Alvarez ran out a clear winner as his aggression and ring general-ship impressed the judges despite the Puerto Rican’s speed, movement and jab. One feels it will take a superhuman effort to outbox the Mexican in Vegas. The climb up in weight may adversely affect Khan. After a weigh in Alvarez re-hydrates well and can weigh as much as ten pounds heavier by fight night. Khan will automatically be at a physical disadvantage coming into the fight.
The odds are stacked against Khan, but perhaps not as greatly as they were when the inactive Sugar Ray Leonard fought the seemingly invincible Marvin Hagler. Khan’s speed remains unmatched in the fight game and as the old adage reminds us in boxing, “speed kills.”
If Khan can utilise the best weapon at his disposal; his speed and manages to execute his game plan to perfection then there is a possibility for an upset. It may seem remote, and arguably it would be unwise to favour him over Alvarez but there is still enough in this fight to make it intriguing and worth tuning in for.
Coverage of Alvarez v Khan is live on BoxNation Channel 437 & 491 (HD) from 1.30AM on the 08/05/16.