Every time Alfredo Angulo gets an opportunity against a well-known fighter, he seems to get that much closer to breaking through as a top contender. But, it must be said, he has also lost all three of those fights. On Saturday night, he takes another crack against Canelo Alvarez on Showtime pay-per-view.
This is the biggest and most important fight of Angulo's career to date. The 31-year-old Mexican brawler is in a pay-per-view main event for the first time in his nine-year professional career, and Alvarez remains one of the sport's very biggest stars, even after his loss to Floyd Mayweather last September. If anything, Alvarez is better-known than ever now, and considering the only fighter thus far to defeat him is the best boxer of his generation and still the best boxer on the planet, Angulo has an opportunity to put himself in line for more serious money fights. Given that we've seen Mayweather recently face the likes of Robert Guerrero and Marcos Maidana, why not Angulo, if Angulo beats Alvarez?
For about six years now, Angulo (22-3, 18 KO) has been a featured player on HBO and Showtime, but always just below the level of the very top guys. When you look over his list of premium network wins, it's frankly not all that impressive. Richard Gutierrez, Andrey Tsurkan, Cosme Rivera, Gabriel Rosado (ESPN2 fight), Harry Joe Yorgey, Joel Julio, Joachim Alcine, Raul Casarez, and Jorge Silva isn't a bad run of victories, but there's not a standout name in there. Rosado is arguably the best fighter of the bunch, but he hadn't yet hit his stride, coming in 12-3 for that bout. It's a list of mid-level opponents, and Angulo bombed most of them out of there before the distance.
In 2009, between wins over Rivera and Rosado, Angulo met Kermit Cintron, who was still living off of potential he never quite fulfilled. Given that Cintron had been busted apart in two fights against Antonio Margarito at 147 pounds, it was fair to expect that Angulo, often compared to Margarito at the time, to break Cintron down at 154. It didn't happen, though. Angulo was battling the effects of the flu at the time, and he never got untracked in the fight, losing by unanimous decision, and rightly so. Cintron boxed well -- one of his better nights, in fact -- and "El Perro" just couldn't turn the heat up enough to get to a vulnerable opponent.
Two years later and following a series of decent but unexceptional wins, Golden Boy pitted Angulo and James Kirkland in a must-see fight. On paper, it was a war. In execution, it was nearly armageddon. Kirkland went down hard early, but survived Angulo's pressure to find his opponent punched out and ready to fall by the end of the frame. Indeed, Angulo hit the canvas in round one as well. From that point, it became a drawn-out beating, as a relentless Kirkland just kept firing and Angulo just kept eating shots, with less and less coming back as the fight wore on. When it was stopped in round six, Angulo had taken more punishment than a lot of fighters will see over three or four fights that all go 12.
Following an unfortunate one-year absence from boxing while being held in an ICE detention center in California to sort visa issues, Angulo returned with a pair of wins over Casarez (TKO-1) and Silva (UD-10), the latter a toe-to-toe brawl that surpassed all expectations and stole the show on the Khan-Molina card. In June 2013, he found himself up against tricky Cuban southpaw Erislandy Lara.
Given Angulo's limitations and the stylistic matchup, Lara seemed a fairly safe bet. A slick boxer who keeps distance well, Lara figured to be Angulo's nightmare. Instead, Angulo fought better than he ever had in his career with new trainer Virgil Hunter, putting Lara down in the fourth and ninth rounds before Lara smashed him in round 10, ending the fight when Angulo turned his back and his eye became a swollen deformity.
It was a great punch and another damn good fight. Lara was up 85-84 on two scorecards at the time of the stoppage, with Angulo leading 86-83 on the third. Had that fight gone the distance, with Angulo seeming to have much of the momentum, there's a good chance Angulo would have pulled it out. Lara, however, landed the difference-making blow, and that's that.
Against Cintron, Angulo didn't come particularly close. Against Kirkland, he had an opportunity and lost it. Against Lara, he was right there, and then fell short, very suddenly.
Canelo Alvarez (42-1-1, 30 KO) could be ripe for the picking, or he could be using Angulo to prove that he's still the future of boxing, at least in terms of making bank. Alvarez ran through the sort of opposition Angulo has over his career, and also scored wins over faded versions of Cintron and Shane Mosley, before he notched a legitimate big win over Austin Trout in April 2013, setting up the Mayweather fight.
That said, Alvarez has faced some pressure-type fighters, and he's faced a couple punchers, but it's probably fair to say that Canelo has never faced a pressure fighter as good as Angulo, or anyone who really punches like Angulo does. Mosley at one time was a very good puncher, but he was never a big shot guy at 154 to begin with, let alone as shot as he was when Alvarez beat him in 2012.
Angulo is not an elite boxer. He won't be outdueling Canelo in a chess game the way Mayweather did, with Alvarez foolishly opting to box with a guy who cannot be outboxed. Maybe we'll see some attempts to box early on, but when the going gets tough, Angulo gets going, and he goes to what he knows best: pressure, pressure, and more pressure. He'll likely be looking to test the 23-year-old star's resolve, not just coming off of his first career loss, but just in general. Can Alvarez deal with the 100 mph, straight ahead style of Angulo? Tactically, sure, he can handle it. But for how long? Can he be broken down to the body by Angulo? Will he wilt in the heat of a battle that allows him no room or time to breathe?
That's the danger on Saturday night for Canelo Alvarez. It's not that Alfredo Angulo is an elite fighter. It's that Alfredo Angulo has to be knocked half-blind to stop bulldozing at his opponents. It's more than worth finding out if Canelo Alvarez can stay calm and logical against that sort of attack, and nobody available does it better than Alfredo Angulo. Even if Alvarez wins as is favored, Angulo can be counted on for a legitimate gut-check.