This article was originally published on Bad Left Hook sister site Bloody Elbow, but we thought it would also be of interest to the BLH community. We hope you enjoy!
It's time. We are not long away from the biggest boxing fight in years, and the big question on everyone's mind is a simple one - can Canelo actually win? For this special 2 part Judo Chop, this is Connor and Fraser from Bloody Elbow trying to answer that very question. Here, we tackle one half of the equation - Saul Canelo Alvarez. Check back later for part 2 as we break down Floyd Money Mayweather. Enjoy!
JUDO CHOP BREAKDOWN: THE HYBRID STYLE OF CANELO ALVAREZ
Connor Ruebusch: If one thing is safe to say about Saul Alvarez, it is that he possesses some truly ferocious combination punching. Canelo's potential to beat Floyd (and that potential is real, no matter the odds) depends on his ability to consistently throw strong, unpredictable combinations.
Combinations of punches from the same hand, throwing to the body and the head in succession, attacking with unexpected punches from unexpected angles; these are the tools that Alvarez will need against a master like Floyd Mayweather, who has incredible fight IQ backed up by his training style, which consists of endless repetitions. In a word, Floyd Mayweather is a boxing supercomputer. And if Floyd is a computer, perfectly programmed to stop everything the best boxers in the world have thrown at him for ten years, then Canelo must look to input a formula the computer doesn't understand.
Here we have one of those combinations. Canelo is a fan of the long left hook (his trainer calls it the "fast hook" since it requires no loading of the left hip to be thrown). It's a punch much like the jab in that, while it is capable of hurting an opponent, its true purpose is to control them and set up other strikes. Typically the long left will be used to "corral" the opponent into the right hand: it pushes them into the path of the strike (one of my favorite recent examples actually occurred in the UFC: GIF). Shane Mosley might be washed up, but he's aware of these tricks, and in the GIF above he attempts to slip left, outside the path of a follow-up right hand.
But Canelo instead uses the left hook to set up another left-handed punch. As Mosley moves his head left and leans forward, he opens himself to an uppercut, and that's exactly what Alvarez throws. The punch snaps his head back and puts him on wobbly legs. This is exactly the kind of combination work that can throw a methodical fighter like Floyd Mayweather off.
Another punch of Alvarez' that really impresses is his orthodox straight left. This is a punch that Jersey Joe Walcott was known for, and it tends to be very sneaky. First the GIF, and then we'll break down the punch.
Normally, a straight left-handed punch thrown from orthodox is deemed a jab. It is usually thrown with a small transfer of weight forward, the left hand extending right from the fighter's stance. The jab can hit with significant oomph, but it's clearly not a consistent knockout blow, even for a fighter with Canelo's power and speed.
The difference between a straight left and a jab is that the straight is not thrown from the starting position. A fighter's stance usually begins with the right shoulder well behind the left, meaning that the right hand is loaded. When Canelo throws the straight left, he reverses these circumstances, pulling the left shoulder back and putting weight onto the left hip. Coiled this way, Canelo is able to throw the closest thing possible to a left cross from his orthodox stance. The power in such a blow is clearly evident in the GIF above.
This punch really becomes potent when it's thrown in combination. Most fighters will throw the left hook after the cross. It's a very reliable combination, but against a savvy opponent, that left hook can fall short all too often. Check out the GIF below.
Alvarez first tries the right hand, but a stiff-arm from Mosley cuts it short. At this point, Canelo's weight is forward on his left hip, shoulders rotated, and elevation lowered. It seems like the right position from which to throw a hook, and in fact it is, so Mosley backs off well out of left hook range. But Canelo elects to throw the straight left instead, and the impact of the strike is clear, magnified by the fact that Mosley certainly did not expect to be hit with a left hand at that range and from that position.
Considering the occasional trouble that Miguel Cotto was able to give Mayweather with his powerful jab, such punches as the straight left might be Canelo's meal ticket.
More Mayweather vs. Canelo Coverage
Fraser: This is one of the real strengths for Canelo Alvarez, which is a good thing because it's probably the most important weapon he has at his disposal if he hopes to beat Mayweather. We'll talk more about Mayweather's insane defense next time; for now suffice it to say, it's very hard to hit Mayweather's chin. Very hard. It's a little bit less hard to hit his the body, as Miguel Cotto showed, and Canelo is quite good at hitting the body.
His main attack to the body is the left hook, which he used to devastating effect against Josesito Lopez. While some throw the body punch as a long-range plan of wearing down the body, Canelo throws it like a KO shot, going with maximum power whenever he can. Look at the way he just destroys Shane Mosley here with the body shot, throwing it from the shoulder, rotating at the hips, and pivoting on his left foot in order to get the full momentum of his large frame into the shot. That one is painful just to look at.
One of the keys to his success here is the variety of punches Canelo uses. As Connor already pointed out, he's great at using combinations, allowing him to sneak the left hook to the body in. He also loves the lead left hook to the head, stepping in as he throws the hook upstairs. A good punch on its own, that lead hook to the head is even more effective as a shot to set up the body. When opponents expect a hook upstairs and defend high, Canelo has his needed opening to rip the shot low.
Connor: I really like the double uppercut combination Canelo uses here. Mosley was clearly expecting the usual left hook after that right uppercut, and instead Alvarez looped right under his elbow with a perfect uppercut to the liver. Nasty.
As Fraser mentioned, body work is essential against counter fighters. Floyd's chin is nigh untouchable in normal circumstances, but his tendency to lean back and roll under punches means that his body can be left open if Canelo doesn't fall for the bait and simply swing at his seemingly open head the entire fight. The fact of the matter is that body shots can be a real confidence booster against an elusive opponent. The body is much bigger than the head, and much harder to move out of the way. Canelo would do well to content himself with hitting Floyd anywhere in the early rounds, and I mean anywhere. The shoulder, the chest, the hip, the ribs--if Canelo is able to land powerful blows on Floyd in general, he'll stand a far better chance of getting the knockout he needs in the later rounds.
Connor: Everybody knows that Floyd Mayweather is the best counter fighter in the sport. His ability to adapt and hurt opponents in the midst of their efforts to hurt him is incredible, and any aspiring counter fighter would do well to study him.
There's a phrase that gets tossed around in combat sports: they say, "brawl the boxer." For years, people have been thinking that the key to beating Floyd is to suck him into a brawl. The problem? Floyd is too damn good for that. Nobody is forcing that man to fight in a way he doesn't want to fight. Consequently, every boxer who has tried to force a brawl on Mayweather has ended up with egg on their face (or their face on the canvas). Arturo Gatti, Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton... the list goes on. Victor Ortiz failed so dramatically in brawling Floyd that he resorted to cheating, and then took the easy way out when Floyd responded with a sneaky left hook.
No, brawling a boxer of Floyd's skill is a mistake. The key to beating a counter fighter is and always has beenpressure. Canelo will only succeed in catching Floyd with his tricky combinations and brutal body punches if he can consistently and, most importantly, intelligently pressure him.
From the beginning of the Trout fight, Alvarez showed some very impressive pressuring skills. Here, we see him stalking Austin Trout with measured calm. His upper body movement is the best part of this sequence. As he keeps Trout from escaping with his feet, Canelo constantly shifts weight from one hip to the other, keeping his head safe from Trout's busy jab, and repeatedly opening and closing up angles of attack and defense. Trout is basically helpless to chase Canelo off, and in his helplessness, he begins giving Alvarez the keys to beating him.
Fraser: The talk may be all about Floyd's defense, and understandably so, but Canelo is no slouch in this area. Generally speaking, Canelo is a more offensive minded fighter who is inclined to push forward on his opponents. But he has improved his defense over the years considerably, showing off particularly good movement in the second half of the Austin Trout fight.
Here's a beautiful sequence from later in the Trout fight, as Canelo shows off a, dare I say it, Mayweather-esque style of defense, ducking under Trout's shots, moving just outside of his range, and rolling his head to minimize the damage the one time Trout does touch him.
One other aspect I love about this sequence is the ending. Notice how once Trout does touch Canelo here, Canelo is quick to get his right hand up and step outside of his range, resetting himself to avoid any more shots. That's a smart move that shows the evolution from the "You hit me, I hit you harder" style of fighting. When he does step out of range, he also steps off to his side, not moving directly backwards (You can also see a great example of that vs. Shane Mosley HERE). That ability to circle away instead of back up is a small detail, but one that can make all the difference.
Connor: Alvarez' awareness here is impressive. He knows with every movement that he is open to one kind of strike or another. As he leans forward, he is well aware that the uppercut is a real threat, and so he easily avoids it when Trout throws it (this kind of baiting is something that Floyd does very well). When Trout tries to confuse Canelo by pawing at him with his left hand, managing to touch him on the chin, Canelo knows that a left hand is coming next.
The real highlight of this sequence is the so-called "Mexican head roll" that Canelo uses to dodge Trout's right hand. The late Manny Steward used this term to describe the maneuver during Alvarez vs. Mosley. Instead of merely rolling the shoulder to deflect the punch, as Floyd famously does, Canelo turns his head and lets the punch sail by. Were the punch to land, its impact would also be significantly reduced by the roll.
Fraser: Still, there are some aspects of Canelo's defense that are not perfect. Here's an interesting sequence against the ropes (again, vs. Trout). Canelo does a pretty good job using his shoulder and left hand to deflect punches, while using vertical movement to duck them. But he does get caught a few times. Also, notice how, early in the sequence, Canelo completely buys into an uppercut feint from Trout. Trout fails to capitalize, but that's not the best.
Connor: Canelo's problem in this GIF is that he is only using defense. His defense is very impressive--even those shots that do get through don't land cleanly, and that's something Mayweather is also known for. But where Floyd would be firing back counter right hands, Canelo doesn't even think to use his powerful uppercut until the very end of the sequence.
The same is true here. Not one of Mosley's punches lands cleanly. Canelo seamlessly shifts from blocking with a tight guard to creating space with his elbow to moving his head and feet. It's solid stuff. But no matter how smoothly Canelo transitions from one method of defense to another, it is the transition from defense to offense that wins fights. You simply cannot win a fight by avoiding punches; you must use the opportunities created by defense to hurt the opponent.
There is hope, though. Canelo did show some nice counters against Trout, more so than he ever has before.Take these uppercuts, for example.
Both were punches facilitated by solid defense. Punching off of blocks and slips is far more important than simply using blocks and slips to keep from being hit. We will soon see if Canelo has progressed far enough as an aggressive counter fighter to punish Floyd.
That's all for now - check back later for part 2 and a focus on the man himself, Floyd Mayweather. Then join us at Bad Left Hook and Bloody Elbow Saturday night for Mayweather vs. Canelo live fight night coverage.
For more analysis of Canelo vs. Mayweather and Matthysse vs. Garcia, be sure to check out Connor Ruebusch'snew podcast Heavy Hands. This week's episode features an interview with Luis Monda, a student of boxing great Mike McCallum, manager of Johnny Tocco's Ringside Gym in Las Vegas, and boxing trainer.
More from Bad Left Hook:
- Mayweather vs Canelo preview: A superfight built on dreams, as a superfight should be
- Mayweather vs Canelo: Undercard quotes and photos for Garcia-Matthysse, Smith-Molina, Theophane-Cano
- Lucas Matthysse: 'Garcia disrespects everyone, so he's getting disrespected'
- Angel Garcia: Danny will still be doubted after he beats Lucas Matthysse
- Floyd Mayweather Sr: 'Floyd was champion when Canelo was in kindergarten'