Canelo Alvarez vs. Amir Khan: Top Storylines as Superfight Looms

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2016

Canelo Alvarez vs. Amir Khan: Top Storylines as Superfight Looms

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    Canelo Alvarez defends his lineal and WBC Middleweight Championship against former junior welterweight champion Amir Khan Saturday night in Las Vegas on HBO pay-per-view, and here we'll take a look at some of the hottest storylines surrounding the big fight.

    It matches a pair of fighters from fighting-crazed nations and shook the boxing world to the ground when it was announced out of the blue by Golden Boy Promotions in March.

    The fight will be contested at a catchweight of 155 pounds, five short of the full divisional limit.

    Canelo is one of boxing's biggest stars and hottest draws. With the need for a name opponent for a PPV date, he reached down and grabbed Khan, a fast, talented fighter who has been chasing big fights but never fought above welterweight during his career.

    It was an odd selection, given the disparities between the fighters, but it made financial sense.

    It doesn't hurt that the Brit has a reputation for exciting fights and quite a large fanbase of his own.

    Will this be the mismatch many fear? Or will we see a rather significant upset?

    These are the hottest storylines ahead of Canelo-Khan!

Why Is Canelo Taking This Fight?

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    Canelo captured the middleweight championship of the world (the WBC's big green belt and lineal title, at least) with a unanimous-decision win over Miguel Cotto last November on HBO PPV. The win established the Mexican star as one of boxing's premier attractions and most marketable stars.

    The decision to fight Khan, a former 140-pound titlist who has fought above that weight only a handful of times, came in as one of the most shocking in recent memory. It came out of nowhere, literally without advance warning or even any chatter about it being a possibility, much less a reality.

    It's an odd fight, to say the least.

    Canelo is not doing a whole lot to satiate his detractors who claim he doesn't have much interest in being the legitimate middleweight champion so much as holding the title hostage against smaller guys. We'll get into that a bit more later.

    Khan's name wasn't picked at random. He's a big name in his own right and carries significant financial weight and a passionate British fanbase to the table. That translates into dollars signs (or so everyone involved hopes), which makes Canelo vs. Khan a significant event, even if many fans don't buy it as a competitive matchup.

    Love it or hate it, that's what it's about.

Can Khan Take Canelo's Best Punch?

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    Khan is going to possess a serious speed edge on fight night, assuming, of course, that packing on a few extra pounds doesn't impede his ability to get to the target first. If it does, then he's in for an even harder night than most already expect.

    His biggest weakness, however, is likely going to be the deciding factor in the fight and the main reason why it's just so hard to take seriously.

    There's an old adage in boxing, and it goes something like this: You can't teach chin.

    Khan's set of whiskers has been his undoing in two of his three defeats. He was knocked out by Breidis Prescott (in one round in 2008) and then stopped again (in another upset) by Danny Garcia with a pair of junior welterweight titles on the line in 2012.

    Both were brutal stoppages, and neither guy hits as hard or often as Canelo.

    It's generally not a good idea for a fighter with known chin problems to jump two weight classes and face a known puncher who will be the bigger and stronger man. It's a risky move, to say the least, but one that carries significant potential rewards to balance those risks. 

    Should Khan manage to score the upset, it would be huge for his career.

    It would validate all he's been saying about his place in the sport and his demands for big fights to prove himself.

    If he loses, particularly by knockout, it was predictable, and he looks like a man who jumped just a bit too far in his dare to be great.

Has Canelo Learned from the Mayweather Fight?

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    Canelo's lone loss came against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in one of boxing's richest prizefights back in 2013.

    He was way too green for that fight in retrospect. Many who picked him to score the upset because of his youth and size left shaking their heads at just how one-sided the action proved to be in the ring. 

    With the exception of C.J. Ross (oh she of the questionable decision), everyone who watched the fight saw Mayweather use his speed and ring savvy to box Canelo's ears off en route to what should have been an easy-to-score unanimous decision. 

    Mayweather schooled him, plain and simple.

    Almost three years will have passed when Canelo once again steps in there with a fighter who promises to be faster and more elusive.

    Has Canelo learned his lessons about tracking down faster fighters, and can Khan (who is not on Mayweather's level, no matter what he may think) fight close enough to the same style and not get caught enough to make it matter?

    Three of Canelo's four post-Mayweather opponents (Alfredo Angulo, James Kirkland and Cotto) haven't been what we'd call elusive targets. They were right in front of him and easy to hit. 

    Erislandy Lara gave him fits with his box-and-move (more move than box) style, but Canelo nipped him for a close decision. There was much debate here, but when one guy throws and the other doesn't, you can draw any number of conclusions.

    So Khan will definitely provide a different look, one more similar to Mayweather.

    Khan is definitely quick, and his best shot will be to try to turn this into a fight where he turns a frustrated Canelo into a matador chasing a target that he can't ever track down. That's what Floyd did, and it worked.

How Much Will Size Matter?

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    Canelo developed something of a bad rep earlier in his career for fighting blown-up fighters from weight divisions below his. That went away somewhat once he moved to junior middleweight and took on Austin Trout, Angulo and Kirkland—wins over legitimate 154-pound opponents.

    Even at a catchweight of 155 pounds (some have taken to calling this "Caneloweight" since he's fought his last four fights in this carved-out weight class), Canelo will likely have a huge advantage in size and strength over Khan.

    And it's not just about the physical difference in size.

    Canelo has been fighting above 150 pounds for the last six years. His body has had adequate time to grow into his new division and learn its strengths and limitations. You learn a lot about your speed and ability to throw and take a punch during that time.

    Khan has never once weighed more than 147 pounds in his 34 professional fights. 

    Since turning to Virgil Hunter to resurrect his career (and improve his defensive flaws), Khan has become a smarter fighter. He punches more from the outside and ties up when the action gets into the type of close quarters that have put him to sleep in the past.

    But you have to be physically strong enough to tie up an opponent and keep him there. 

    Canelo is unlikely to be deterred by the Brit's punching power, so the costs of him coming forward will be minimal. If Khan can't keep him off or tie him up, then he could be in a world of hurt. 

    The smart money says that Canelo simply outmuscles him on the inside when the fight gets there, and it will.

Will the Winner Fight GGG?

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    GGG is the elephant in the middleweight room.

    He's the division's best fighter (regardless of who wins Saturday night) and should be next in line to step through the ropes against either Canelo or Khan.

    Per Sky Sports, the WBC, which recognizes Golovkin as its interim champ and mandatory challenger, has announced that should Canelo win, which seems likely, he would have 15 days to negotiate a fight with GGG or lose the title. 

    That seems a reasonable decision, given the Kazakh has been the mandatory challenger since 2014.

    Whether Canelo, and his promoter Oscar De La Hoya, will elect to rush forward with a superfight that fans want to see but which carries huge risks or drop the belt (and leave the fighter open to criticism from all quarters) is the $64,000 question. 

    Khan seems even less likely to face Golovkin, should he score the upset.

    The Brit isn't a middleweight, and it's unlikely that the risks would justify the rewards of his facing Golovkin. It'd be a real shocker if Premier Boxing Champions' Al Haymon, who still manages Khan despite his upcoming appearance on HBO, threw his guy under that bus after a career-making victory.

    Politics, man, they're ruining this sport.