HUBBARD’S CUPBOARD – 23.7.16
By Alan Hubbard
He may have rust-red hair and a ring reputation as fiery hot as the reddest Mexican jalapeno chili but Santos Saúl Álvarez Barragán, aka Canelo, meaning Cinnamon, is among the coolest hombres in boxing.
He arrived in a sweltering London last Wednesday, the day after his 26th birthday, for the second off his pro-mo face-offs with Liam ‘Beefy’ Smith, whom he fights deep in the heart of Texas on September 17.
Unlike some of his illustrious former compatriots, Canelo Alvarez no Mexican jumping bean. Rated by many as the world’s leading fighting man, he cut a deeply impressive figure; smartly booted and suited, with pink tie and shirt, he looked a very essence of a young business executive, and although not responding in English, a language he clearly understands but says he is not yet confident of speaking, he came across as the epitome of quiet dignity and good manners. Unlike some champions we could name.
Neither dos he indulge in trash-talking, whatever the language.
Smith, he acknowledged, “is a very good champion” and that he would be “training with a focus and dedication” before they meet at the fabled AT and T Stadium in Arlington which can seat over 100,000 spectators and has a 70m square rotating screen above the ring. Manny Pacquiao fought at the venue twice during his career.
“They tell me he fights like a Mexican,” said Canelo of Smith. ”If that’s so it should make for a great fight.”
“When I see him face to face it makes me want the fight tomorrow,” said Smith after they measured up, the Liverpudlian tad taller than the man who challenges for Beefy’s WBO junior middleweight title.
They certainly look a pair well matched in a bout that will be decided not by physical stature but pure ringcraft, punching power, the most intelligent game plan and above all, as the Latinos love to put it, cojones.
Despite his relatively tender years Alvarez has already fought Floyd Mayweather, the only defeat in a 49-fight career which started when he was 15 years old, and after which he has become one of Mexico’s most celebrated sporting stars.
Despite marking up his half-century of contests against Smith, Alvarez remains unscarred, if not quite baby-faced then still with the freckled fresh-faced features of a teenager.
Álvarez, the youngest of six fighting brothers, started boxing at 13 after watching sibling Rigoberto’s debut as a professional. In 2004 he won the silver medal at the Junior Mexican National championships and became the 2005 Junior Mexican National Boxing Champion. Canelo had an amateur record of 44-2.[He turned professional shortly afterwards
And the rest as they say, is fistic history.
I am among those who give Beefy a fighting chance in this most intriguing of fights but I believe it would be a greater one if it was taking place in a English arena rather than on Mexico’s Independence Day in one where the Dallas Cowboys strut their stuff in front of a predominantly Tex-Mex audience.
But Mexican fighters do not always need what can be tantamount to home-town decisions against British fighters.
It was before Canelo was born but at Cardiff’s Ninian Park in June 1967 I saw Vicente Saldivar awarded an outrageous points decision over Welsman Howard Winstone by an English referee, Wally Thom in the second of their great world featherweight title trilogies.
It was generally recognised at the time as one of the worst verdicts ever given on British soil.
But that is academic as we all know that if it is close Smith may struggle to get the nod. But he’ll give it a damn good go.
He will be Canelo’s fourth British opponent, following Ryan Rhodes, Matthew Hatton and Amir Khan.
All fought valiantly – Hatton even going the distance – but felt pain, although Khan never saw what hit him as Canelo allowed him to buzz around for five rounds before swatting him like an impertinent fly.
But Smith is cuter than Khan and infinitely more cautious. He won’t be hanging his chin in the air.
Blessed with lightning quick hands Alvarez’s fair complexion and demeanour do not appear to make him a typical swarthy Mexican warrior.
However, the hard-hitting former WBA and WBC super welterweight champion, WBC, Ring Magazine and linear middleweight title holder, makes it clear he is following in the footsteps of Mexican greats like Julius Cesar Chavez, Ruben Olivares, Ricardo Lopez, Salvador Sanchez, Miguel Canto, Marco Antonio Barerra, Carlos Zarate, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and of course Canelo’s own Golden Boy promoter Oscar de la Hoya. To name but a few.
By coincidence Canelo came to London on the same day, that, in July 1982, Salvador Sanchez was last seen in a boxing ring, stopping Azumah Nelson in the 15th round in the ninth defence of his WBC featherweight title. Twenty two days later 23-year-old Sanchez was killed in a motor bike accident.
When he was asked where he felt he stood in that pantheon of Mexican legends, Canelo shrugged modestly:”It not for me to say. I leave that to the fans, and the boxing writers.”
He may need to meet and beat Gennady Golovkin for him to be deemed Mexico’s greatest-ever. Meantime a Scouser with clout and ‘cojones’ stands in his way.
At least one way or another Beefy will be licking a true legend if he manages to avoid getting into a Mexican stew in Texas.
Smith v Alvarez is exclusively live on BoxNation on September 17th. Go to boxnation.com to buy.
Catch up with Alan Hubbard’s Punchlines tomorrow