Boxing has a perception problem.
A big perception issue in the minds of the public, a notion that was only furthered on Saturday night when Golden Boy Promotion wunderkind Saul "Canelo" "Alvarez scored a split-decision victory over Erislandy Lara.
Entering embarrassed and humbled from a flailing at the hands of one Floyd Mayweather Jr. back in September (he's won since, but the sting remains), Canelo flashed a new strategy and awareness against the southpaw that suggested he had learned from his recent transgression.
The problem is, many regarded Saturday night's fight as too difficult to call, as Lara effectively controlled the pace of the match throughout—backpedaling or not. Even the numbers—recorded by Compubox, via Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix—prove, rather emphatically, that it was as close as could be:
|Overall||97-415 (23%)||107-386 (28%)|
ESPN's Dan Rafael and Mannix explained right after the penultimate round just how tough of a job the judges had on their hands:
Yet, judges Levi Martinez (117-111) and Dave Moretti (115-113) favored the 23-year old rising star, while just Jerry Roth (115-113) stood in the corner of the rather faceless opposition.
The rather basic, human element of the sport shone through on Saturday night, for better or worse.
Alvarez acted as the aggressor for the entirety of the bout, even though the most basic of enthusiasts could see plain as day that he was unable to cut off the ring and keep pace with his more agile opponent.
But he was assertive, and sometimes that is all that matters when numbers and a stoppage fail to determine a winner.
The perception around Lara and his strategy were misconstrued from the start, and it's his own fault and that of his corner for not realizing it sooner. Rafael best illustrated the very human, judge-like nature against his case for the win:
Pair backpedaling in every round with simply not being active enough in most, and any claim to victory echoed hopelessly as the audience poured out of the arena.
“I think 100 percent I won the fight,” Lara said, per Mannix. “I was totally in control and it didn’t seem like he was doing anything. I made him look bad in front of all of his people.”
The fact of the matter is that pulling a Mayweather-esque strategy out of the hat doesn't work unless a fighter can actually be as active as Money himself. Considering he's the best on the planet, not many can pull it off in front of professional judges—especially in the face of a talented opponent like Canelo.
For Lara, the loss is somewhat of a killer. He entered the bout as a bit of a no-name face who does not drive any semblance of strong pay-per-view buys. He exits with nothing but a global reaffirmation of his style throughout his more than 20 career fights—nobody wants to step in the ring with him because he consistently employs a run-away style.
That can be no further emphasized by the fact that Canelo didn't even care to ask for Lara's title to be on the line, despite incessant chirping for the past year from Lara's corner.
Canelo took the fight, much to the displeasure of those around him (“This was not my first option, that’s for sure,” said Oscar De La Hoya, via Mannix), and in the process rightfully climbed back on his throne as one of the sport's best.
A deadly power shot to the body early in the fight set the future winner on his path that seemingly only utter domination could have reversed. It's clear that Canelo will never out-technical a technical boxer, but his tenacity and deadly shots, when they connect, are some of the best on the planet.
A rematch Lara surely wants won't happen. Not only is Lara extremely talented, his style doesn't sell and makes for a boring affair.
Canelo's reputation is becoming that of a risk-taker to the utmost degree, which should do nothing but further endear him to fans. The fact that James Kirkland and Gennady Golovkin are already on the table as possibilities for his next encounter should attest to that.
“When he learns how to fight,” Canelo said, per Mannix, “I’ll give him a rematch.”
In a human sport judged by humans, Canelo is a king, for better or worse. In a sport where the entertainment factor of a boxer's style is king, Canelo sits on the throne, like it or not.
Boxing at its core has not changed, and the Canelo-Lara outcome won't suddenly force it. It is but another in a long line of eyebrow-raising finishes that makes the sport what it is. Enjoy it for that, as simple as it sounds.