Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is a star. He’s been a star for years, even before he had faced any legitimate opponents. That’s been his search in the last year, legitimacy. Erislandy Lara is recognized as a legitimate top level boxer, but that hasn’t gained him star status. That’s been his search in the last year, stardom. On Saturday July 12 they collide, both looking to gain what the other one has.
For Canelo the search began on May 2013 when he faced AustinTrout. Trout was considered a top level boxer, certainly the best Canelo had faced in his career. The fight ended in a close decision for Canelo. He dropped Trout during the fight, but seemed reluctant to let himself go off on a fighter who, for all his boxing skill, was overmatched physically. This wasn’t something new. Canelo is not really an aggressive fighter, but the level of opposition he had faced before allowed him to box and still get dominant wins and knockouts. Even against fighters who attacked him with vigor, like Jose Miguel Cotto and Alfonso Gomez, he was just too strong and too good. But against Trout, he seemed to take a more defensive minded approach, going long periods without throwing punches and did just enough to win when he could have pressured Trout and won more dominantly.
In September 2013 Canelo faced Floyd Mayweather. Again his strategy was based more on boxing skill than aggression and strength, even though he was bigger and stronger, but this time he fell short, way short. He inexplicably tried to box with Mayweather when his advantages in the fight were clearly of a physical nature.
In February he came back to face Alfredo "E l Perro" Angulo. Angulo was the strongest puncher Canelo had faced in his career, and I expected Canelo to try to outbox Angulo, the way he usually does. But for the first time I saw a different Canelo. He came out blasting from the very beginning and continued to throw and land punch after punch until the fight was stopped in the 10th round. It was a landslide dominant win. And even though Angulo was visibly not in prime physical condition, it made me think that Canelo has finally realized that to get big decisive wins against top level opponents he needs to change his boxer mindset and become more of a stalker.
In Lara he once again faces a highly skilled technical boxer, probably better than Canelo in that respect, but once again, like with Trout and Mayweather, he is bigger and stronger . Those are his clear advantages. I believe that to win this fight he needs to continue what he started against Angulo, come out blasting and maintain the pressure throughout the fight. He needs to take a page from Angulo’s playbook and fight a similar kind of fight that "El Perro" fought against Lara. In that fight, even though Lara was the better boxer, Angulo’s constant pressure made Lara uncomfortable. He was consistently against the ropes or in the corner, getting hit with body shots and was dropped two times by left hooks as he was coming off the ropes to Angulo’s left. I believe that if Canelo employs the same kind of pressure-minded strategy he could be even more effective than Angulo because, even though he may not punch as hard, he’s faster and more accurate.
Of course, this kind of strategy carries a big risk. By coming at Lara full on he would be open to the Cuban’s powerful straight left, which pounded Angulo throughout the fight and ultimately produced the spectacular inflammation that forced the fight to be stopped. But Canelo is also significantly better defensively than Angulo, and I think he would be able to land his shots without getting hit as often as Angulo did.
Lara for his part needs to decide if he is willing to take some risks to give the fans a more exciting fight. Against Trout earlier this year he dominated the fight and even dropped Trout once, but he wasn’t as exciting as it seemed he could have been. A win against Canelo using a technical style probably won’t sway his critics. He needs to win, but if he wants to really appeal to the masses he needs to fight a little, and not just box. He could be forced into it if Canelo pressures him like Angulo did, but if not he needs to decide if just winning is enough.
This is the conundrum for both fighters. If Canelo reverts to fighting a more technical fight he runs the risk of getting outboxed by Lara, but if he attacks he could wear down Lara, although his chin will be tested by Lara’s strong left hand. If Lara boxes he could edge out a win but he won’t gain the fan appreciation he desires, but if he attacks he could run into Canelo’s power and get hurt.
I believe that Canelo will not make the same mistake he made against Mayweather. I believe that he has realized that using his boxing skills combined with intelligent pressure is the best way to beat top level fighters, even though that means taking a few risks. If he does that, he’ll wear down Lara and stop him in the second half of the fight.