Canelo Alvarez faces Amir Khan in one of the strangest and most unexpected "big fights" in recent memory, one that nobody saw coming and, frankly, has failed to create a whole lot of buzz, in part due to the fact that so many people see it as a mismatch.
Is it a mismatch? Are the promoters selling something nonsensical and even shameful? Let's break down the matchup.
Canelo Alvarez vs Amir Khan
Record: 46-1-1 (32 KO) ... Streak: W4 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'9" / 70½" ...Age: 25
Thoughts: As boxing searches for an immediate answer to its "next pay-per-view attraction" question, Canelo Alvarez has the inside track. He's young, he's Mexican, he's popular, he's a good fighter, and he's been groomed for this spot for the last six years, ever since his first HBO pay-per-view appearance, beating Jose Cotto on the Mayweather-Mosley undercard at age 19.
Four of Canelo's last five fights have been on pay-per-view with him in a headline role. He lost to Floyd Mayweather on a Showtime pay-per-view in September 2013, then headlined two mid-level SHO PPVs in 2014 against Alfredo Angulo and Erislandy Lara. The Angulo fight did very well against expectations; the Lara fight was a mild letdown. After that, he returned to HBO with a fight against James Kirkland in May 2015, and then faced Miguel Cotto in a big HBO pay-per-view headliner last November, scoring the biggest win of his career to date.
Saturday will be a test of Canelo's ability to draw without a truly strong B-side. Amir Khan believes he's a superstar, but there's never really been any evidence of that. He's not been a big gate draw in the United States, nor have his television ratings been abnormally high on either HBO or Showtime over the years. And he's not quite the UK mega-star he tells ignorant Americans that he is, or at least that's the word I've gotten from everyone in the United Kingdom that I know, and they have no reason to lie to me about it. (I wish he were a bigger star, frankly. He's entertaining and gutsy, two things that go a long way with me as a boxing fan.)
Oscar De La Hoya is giving people the impression that this will be a huge hit on pay-per-view, and maybe it will be. Canelo is "taking back" the Cinco de Mayo date for Mexican fighters, or at least that's a working idea, after the first Saturday in May has been owned for years by Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Going back to 2007, here are the big Cinco de Mayo main events:
- 2007: Oscar De La Hoya vs Floyd Mayweather (HBO PPV)
- 2008: Oscar De La Hoya vs Steve Forbes (HBO)
- 2009: Manny Pacquiao vs Ricky Hatton (HBO PPV)
- 2010: Floyd Mayweather vs Shane Mosley (HBO PPV)
- 2011: Manny Pacquiao vs Shane Mosley (SHO PPV)
- 2012: Floyd Mayweather vs Miguel Cotto (HBO PPV)
- 2013: Floyd Mayweather vs Robert Guerrero (SHO PPV)
- 2014: Floyd Mayweather vs Marcos Maidana (SHO PPV)
- 2015: Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao (HBO/SHO PPV)
Only once in the last eight years has the A- or B-side of the Cinco de Mayo main event been a Mexican or Mexican-American fighter, and that was Robert Guerrero in 2013. Alvarez, though, has been in the co-feature slot on two of these shows, in 2010 and 2012, when he faced and easily defeated Shane Mosley, who made his third straight Cinco de Mayo Saturday appearance against the two top stars of the era and the guy being groomed as their successor, which is kind of an oddity, as an aside.
It's also worth noting that only three of these fights -- De La Hoya-Mayweather, Mayweather-Cotto, and Mayweather-Maidana -- were particularly competitive. (I know some people will swear that Mayweather-Pacquiao was close, but, well, I'm not one of them.)
Is this the start of a new tradition, with Canelo Alvarez taking over this weekend for the coming years? Yeah, probably. I mean, even if he were to lose, he'd probably get at least one more chance to headline on this weekend in 2017.
Will this fight sell the 1.5 million or so that Oscar De La Hoya has said it will? Probably not, but maybe if Mexican and Mexican-American fans are that jazzed on having their guy in the headline slot that it becomes an addition to a big weekend celebration for them, maybe it will. It's not impossible.
As for the fight itself, well, Canelo is the heavy favorite for a reason. He's the naturally bigger man, naturally stronger, a harder puncher, younger, fresher, and a skilled boxer-puncher who doesn't make a lot of mistakes, which Amir Khan, with all his natural speed and ability, historically does. Whether or not this fight is the big pay-per-view hit that the promoters are hoping it will be may depend on whether or not they've convinced the public that Amir Khan is a more serious threat than most pundits believe he is. He's not the best fighter that Canelo has faced, or the second-best fighter, or the third-best fighter, and when you throw in the fact that Khan is fighting at a new weight that may not suit him much at all, it is absolutely a potential mismatch and farce.
Record: 31-3 (19 KO) ... Streak: W5 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 8-2 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'8½" / 71" ...Age: 29
Thoughts: This fight is being sold on the idea that Amir Khan is a better boxer than Canelo Alvarez, but is he? He's got faster hands, yes. He probably has the better footwork. But Khan claims he has the better ring IQ. That probably isn't true, and he might not actually be a better boxer, either.
Alvarez's most notable fight was, of course, his 2013 loss to Floyd Mayweather. That fight was a bit of a wake-up call for Canelo and his team. For some reason, rather than using superior size to try and cut off the ring and punish Mayweather against the ropes, the plan was to box with Floyd Mayweather at center ring. Box. With Floyd Mayweather. At center ring. You know, the way that Mayweather could and would most easily win the fight.
Even if Canelo had tried to do what was expected, and what he probably should have done, he might well have lost anyway. Mayweather is/was a truly great fighter, with skills unmatched in his generation. Floyd had faster hands, better footwork, and a significantly higher ring IQ. He'd also tested himself as a junior welterweight before against Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto, unlike Khan, who has never fought over 147 and now moves up to a 155-pound catchweight.
Khan is no Floyd Mayweather. That's a fact. And Mayweather isn't the only other "superior boxer" that Canelo has faced, either. He fought Austin Trout in 2013, when Trout was fresh off a win over Cotto. Canelo won that fight. He fought Erislandy Lara in 2014, when most guys in Alvarez's position would have wanted nothing to do with a crafty Cuban southpaw who had dominated Alfredo Angulo and Austin Trout in his two previous bouts. Canelo won, albeit with some debate. Even Miguel Cotto, whom Canelo beat last November, is arguably a better boxer than Amir Khan.
The case for Khan's boxing superiority is not entirely a fabrication. There have been fights where Khan has shown some great skills and actually focused on those over an entire fight. The three that spring to mind are his wins over Andriy Kotelnik in 2009, Paulie Malignaggi in 2010, and Devon Alexander in 2014. But too frequently, Amir Khan has been easily goaded to get himself into situations that benefit his opponents, either in victory or defeat.
We won't even go back to early in his career, before he hooked up with Freddie Roach and improved, and matured toward being the fighter he is today, now under the guidance of Virgil Hunter. He's gotten himself into brawls with Marcos Maidana, Zab Judah, Lamont Peterson, Danny Garcia, and Chris Algieri. That last fight against Algieri was a lot harder than many anticipated, and doesn't exactly speak well of Khan's chances against a bigger, stronger opponent. After all, it's not like Algieri is some speed merchant or master technician. He's a capable fighter, but one coming off of a loss to Manny Pacquiao where he was blown out of the ring, and since then we've seen Algieri thrashed by Errol Spence Jr, too. Khan struggled at times with that very same opponent.
Khan does have talent and ability, and that's never been questioned. And it's not even much about his chin, which is questionable, but about his inability to avoid making fundamental mistakes that get him into bad spots. Against Danny Garcia, he got overconfident and knocked out. He got overconfident against Peterson, too, resulting in a controversial loss. And really, he was the same in his fights against Maidana, Paul McCloskey, and Zab Judah, all wins. He scraped past Maidana in a tremendously gritty effort, beat McCloskey in an ugly technical decision, and overwhelmed a faded Judah, but the approach was the same in those fights.
Those all came consecutively in 2010-12, and Khan has since changed trainers and moved up in weight, to frankly mixed results. After an easy tune-up win over Carlos Molina in 2012, Amir stepped over 140 first against Julio Diaz in 2013, and though no one talks about it now, it was not a good showing for Khan against a veteran fighter who had seen better days. Khan barely won that fight, and was dropped in round four.
Since then, he's beaten Luis Collazo and Devon Alexander quite handily, and then struggled somewhat with Algieri. It has not been a great run over 140 for Amir Khan. He's 4-0, but two of those fights were anything but easy for him, and they weren't exactly against the cream of the crop. And now he's moving up to 155 pounds for a fight with Canelo Alvarez? It's not hard to figure out why this matchup has been doubted since it was announced. Khan is being sold as something more than he actually is. If Oscar De La Hoya wants to compare him to Sugar Ray Leonard moving up to fight Marvelous Marvin Hagler, that's Oscar's business as a promoter, but Khan is no Leonard, even if Canelo is also no Hagler. The tagline of Amir Khan being some sort of master boxer is, in a word, bogus, and is not backed up by his career, at least not with any consistency.
Matchup Grade: D+. The "+" comes from the fact that this is just weird enough to be oddly intriguing. And maybe it will be a better fight than this. But on paper -- and we're talking about this fight on paper right now -- this is a fairly ridiculous idea. Khan, who has not exactly shined as a welterweight, moving up in weight to fight a guy who has created his own weight class in his last four bouts, north of 154 but well shy of 160. Every time Amir Khan has moved up in weight, he's claimed to be stronger and faster and smarter and better. But he's always run into the same old problems sooner than later: he doesn't take a punch so well, and he makes bad mistakes that get him into trouble. Buy this fight if you have $70 to spare, or if you're a big fan, or if you are curious to see what goes down, but know that there's a legitimate shot this is a physical mismatch that should not be happening. Credit to Amir Khan for having the much-touted "balls" to take this fight, but should it even have been offered to him?