Saul “Canelo” Alvarez will have his hands full this Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas when he takes on slick southpaw Erislandy Lara in a junior middleweight bout scheduled for 12 rounds.
Alvarez, age 23, will be facing a lanky, and deadly-accurate, former Cuban national star who is hungry for the warm glow of the spotlight. Despite Lara’s skills and success, though, he has yet to reach even a fraction of what the young Alvarez, of Mexico, has attained.
In order to defeat Lara, Alvarez will need to forgo his affinity for boxing from the outside and focus on pressuring Lara to the ropes. There, Alvarez will need to release sharp and fast combination punches to Lara’s head and body.
According to The Sweet Science’s Frank Lotierzo, this might be more easily said than done. Lotierzo notes that Lara might give Alvarez problems the same way Floyd Mayweather did last year at the same venue:
Perhaps Alvarez is really troubled by a good fundamental boxer. No, Lara isn't on Mayweather's level, but he's a little taller and longer and he is a southpaw. No, he doesn't have nearly the professional experience of Mayweather, but he uses his legs more and his deep amateur experience counts for quite a bit this time. And if he can punch and move without getting physically overwhelmed, he very well may give Alvarez some real trouble.
Lara is a fundamentally sound boxer who uses good movement and lands his punches with laser-like precision. His greatest attributes are his use of the ring as well as releasing punches with the correct timing from the optimal distance. While he isn’t noted as a power puncher, he does carry enough pop in his fists to do severe damage to Alvarez over the course of a fight.
Moreover, Lara’s accuracy makes his punches that much more effective. Case in point, Lara stopped Alfredo Angulo last year in Round 10 precisely because his left hand was able to do so much pinpointed damage to Angulo’s eye.
If Alvarez is to defeat Lara, he’ll need to use head movement on his way in close so as to avoid getting cut or knocked out. The prevailing opinion among fight watchers is that Lara will box from a distance and use his legs. While Alvarez is a competent boxer himself, he’ll need to shuck that motif for something more brutal and honest against Lara.
But getting in close without taking too much damage will require the kind of head movement and punch slipping Alvarez showed against Austin Trout back in 2012. The difference, of course, is that against Lara the Mexican won’t be able to stay on the outside as he did against Trout and still win the fight. After all, if Lara’s whitewash of Trout in 2013 proved anything, it was that the Cuban was the far superior craftsman.
Alvarez knows that, so there’s no reason to believe he’ll be up on his toes during the fight for anything other than brief rest periods.
Lortierzo believes Lara probably has plans to disrupt Alvarez as he approaches:
Granted, Lara isn't a life-taker when it comes to punching power, but nowhere in the book does it say one has to be in order to blunt and disrupt Alvarez from really trying to bring it. If Lara can land cleanly on Alvarez before he can get off with his patent two and three punch combinations to the head and body, he may be able to prevent the stronger Alvarez from walking him down and eventually working him over.
Walking Lara down will be important for Alvarez on fight night, but he won’t be able to afford getting caught with the same kinds of punches Lara caught Angulo with as he does it.
Instead, Alvarez will need to move in close and get his punches off first and with great fury, much like he did when he faced the very same fighter Lara defeated, Angulo, back in March. Alvarez also defeated Angulo by Round 10 technical knockout.
The problem for Alvarez as he comes forward will be two-fold. First, Angulo and Lara are miles apart in terms of style. Angulo is a slow-handed, forward-marching brawler. Where against Angulo, Alvarez was able to land combinations in rapid-fire succession without taking too much heat back in return, Lara will be able to land jabs as Alvarez comes toward him as well as counters once he gets to his destination.
Second, the two versions of Angulo might not be the same. It’s conceivable to think that Angulo looked sharper and better against Lara last year because he was a better fighter back then. Perhaps the knockout loss to Lara was just too much for the brave-hearted warrior to overcome. Or perhaps the brawling Mexican emptied himself against Lara and was so very sluggish against Alvarez because he had nothing left.
On an international conference call earlier this week, Lara said as much himself, though he also admitted the two fights won’t affect what will happen on Saturday.
“I was there in person and I didn’t see the same Angulo, the same fighter that I saw in my fight. I thought that it was a decent fight, nothing special, and I don't think that that benefits either guy either way. They have nothing to do with each other, basically all styles are different. And I’m focused on Canelo, and I don't think it makes a difference on who that he fought in the past. What makes a difference is how our styles mesh, and I plan on dominating Canelo Alvarez.”
Lara also said he expects Alvarez to come forward and be aggressive.
“It’s a good style matchup because I know Canelo [is] going to try to press forward and press for action, and that’s a style I like. I like guys that come and fight, and I pick them apart, like I’ve done to several guys coming up…I like guys who come to fight and I like to put them in the dirt, and that’s what I plan on doing.”
So it seems everyone will be on the same page once the bell rings. Lara expects Alvarez to come forward and fight as do those who believe Alvarez requires such a strategy in order to come out on top. After getting shellacked by Mayweather last year, a fight that saw Alvarez inexplicably trying to box the surer-handed Mayweather from a distance, there’s no doubt he won’t try the same thing against Lara.
The blueprint for Alvarez to defeat Lara is simple. He must be a pressure fighter who lands more punches than his opponent. He must not suffer too much damage on his way to doing so, and he absolutely has to finish the job should he get Lara in trouble.
Alvarez needs to get rough against Lara. If the sweet scientist Lara tries to halt the action by tying up, Alvarez will need to get mean in the clinches. If Lara tries fancy footwork, Alvarez will need to cut off the ring. If Lara’s legs look fresh in Round 1, Alvarez will need to hook hard to the ribs to make sure they aren’t so by Round 5.
To defeat Lara, Alvarez will need to be the best version of himself we’ve ever seen. And as good as the 23-year-old has been so far, it’s hard to imagine that he’s made that much progress in less than a year.
Because if that’s the case, Alvarez might really be something special.
Kelsey McCarson writes about boxing sometimes for some places. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.