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July 11, 2014

By Tommy Canez

For Saturday's big fight, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez's chose to take on the most dangerous and riskiest possible opponent, Erislandy Lara. That choice reminds me of a story that I read a long time ago in Napoleon Hill's book "Think and Grow Rich." To paraphrase, the story was about a warrior who led his soldiers on ships into the enemy's territory. After they arrived into enemy territory and unloaded the soldiers, the warrior gave orders to burn all of the ships behind them, thus giving the soldiers no choice but to win because there would be no possible way of retreat. Ultimately, his soldiers ended up winning, at least as the story goes. 

I believe the story exemplifies the mentality of Alvarez in choosing this fight. He is giving himself no choice but to win. Just like the soldiers in the aforementioned story, he is burning all of the ships behind him because if Canelo loses this fight, where does he go from here?

Canelo and his team know that if they were to lose against Lara, a skillful boxer-mover, it would be a calamitous blow to Canelo's career. After losses to Lara and Floyd Mayweather (last year), he would be exposed and would need to be kept away from skilled boxers. In a sport where the smallest advantage can mean the difference between winning and losing, this state of mind can be advantageous to any fighter. I believe Canelo has it.

A lot of pundits are picking Lara because they are convinced that he will be able to utilize the same fight plan that Floyd Mayweather utilized so successfully to defeat Canelo, which is to box and move. Although Lara is a southpaw and Mayweather fights from the conventional stance, I agree that Lara and Mayweather have some similarities. However, I think the difference is that Lara does certain things that Mayweather does not do which Canelo will be able to take full advantage of. Let me explain the similarities and differences.

At times, Lara seems to create too much distance when he decides to move around the ring. That is how it looks to the untrained naked eye. However, if you know what you are watching when you watch Lara fight, you know that the reason why he uses up so much space is because he likes to set traps by making his opponents follow him around in an attempt to walk them into something big. If you watch closely, as soon as Lara stops and gets in position to punch after creating distance, his opponents think that he's trapped and Lara immediately shuffles/slides his feet while his opponent moves in, and that's when Lara can walk his opponent into a straight left, check right hook, or left uppercut and racks up points in the process.

Similarly, when Mayweather is moving, there is always a reason behind it whether it's to walk his opponent into a lead right hand, check left hook, or whether it's to throw his opponents off by not making the same move twice and making them unable to catch his rhythm. Futhermore, Lara does a very good job at throwing the right hook and immediately ducking and slipping off to his right to avoid the left hook. Mayweather does the same thing except from the opposite stance. Thus, look for Lara to attempt to nullify Canelo's left hook by hooking with the right and ducking and slipping off to his right. Next, Lara's double and triple straight lefts also remind me of the punches that Mayweather dropped Phillip N'Dou with by landing three consecutive straight rights. Lastly, look for Lara to land the stick jab to the pit of Canelo's stomach, which Mayweather also used very effectively against Canelo and will break Canelo's rhythm and slow him down and can also set up the straight left up top.

As for the differences between Mayweather and Lara, I see a few differences that lead me to believe that Lara will not dominate Canelo the same way Mayweather did. Specifically, Lara likes to get into a turtle shell/ear muff defense. This can be costly against Canelo because it is very difficult to counter when you are in the ear muff/turtle shell defense against a fighter with hands as fast and as powerful as Canelo's.

If you doubt this, just have a fighter with hand speed and power unload on you while you cover up and see how difficult it is to counter punch. A lot of pundits point to the fact that Lara has the ability to land short counter shots from the turtle/ear muff defense but they are forgetting that is generally against slower fighters such as Alfredo Angulo, who only puts together single shots. It's easier to counterpunch a slower fighter when you can anticipate where their next punch is coming from. By comparison, when Canelo throws his blistering combinations, they are so fast that it's difficult to see where the next punch is coming from and makes it difficult to counter him. By contrast, Floyd does not use, and did not use the turtle shell/earmuff defense against Canelo. Rather, he used the shoulder roll defense against Canelo in two ways: to catch and counter and to catch punches on the forearm, shoulder, and gloves. Therefore, look for Canelo to unload fast combinations when Lara puts on the earmuffs and also score with his sneaky left hook to the body. More on Canelo's sneaky left hook to the body below.

I think Lara does a lot of things exceptionally well that will give Canelo trouble. Lara is a very crafty fighter and he likes to set traps for his opponents as I mentioned. Another trap in particular that he likes to set up is when he invites his opponent to walk right into him or makes them reach and lean in and he takes a half step back unloads his left uppercut. If Canelo leans in and reaches in the way he did against the southpaw Austin Trout, this trap could strike gold and he could possibly hurt Canelo. So look for this trap throughout the fight.

Notwithstanding all of Lara's strengths, I believe Canelo opened up as a favorite for a reason. Primarily, Canelo uses a lot of good offensive punch variations ranging from the right uppercut-right hand-left hook, left hook-right hand, left hook-right uppercut, right uppercut-right cross- left jab, just to name a few.. Secondly, Canelo uses his jab exceptionally well in a number of ways. He's shown that he can feint the jab to make his opponent react, then throws the straight right hand like the one he dropped Austin Trout with.

Moreover, Canelo has a very heavy jab. I won't say it's George Foreman-esque, where he can knock you down or out with it, but it is very heavy nonetheless and he may be able to control the tempo if he doubles, triples, and shotguns it into Lara's face. He also likes to catch a right hand on his left glove and counter with left hook-right hand. However, as I mentioned, when Lara lands his right hook, he ducks and slips out of the way instinctively so this may nullify Canelo's counter left hook. Subsequently, one of Canelo's best punches is the left hook. Lara seems to be susceptible to left hooks when his opponent attacks the right side of his body as witnessed in his fight against Alfredo Angulo, which I think is something Canelo will be looking to exploit. Lara has a tendency to lower his right hand when he circles to his right without ducking or slipping, which can leave him open for Canelo's left hook. So look for Canelo to land the left hook when Lara leaves his chin unguarded while circling to Canelo's left.

Equally important, I've observed that Canelo can be very crafty at times, which he doesn't get enough credit for. Against Trout, Canelo was able to counter Trout's straight left with a counter left hook which seemed to catch Trout by surprise. Canelo also has a very sneaky way of setting up the left hook to the body with a half/soft right uppercut right up the middle, which allows him to torque his body and gives him full momentum to unload the left hook to the liver. This little trick of landing the right uppercut right up the middle makes his opponent's guard close up in order to try stop Canelo's uppercut up the middle, which creates an opening for the left hook to the body. Lara is a southpaw and his liver will be there for Canelo to unleash that thunderous left hook to the body and head, especially when Lara gets into the turtle shell/earmuff defense.

Given these points, there is one vitally important thing that Canelo must do. Canelo must be able to keep his lead foot (left foot) outside of Lara's lead foot (right foot) throughout the fight. Otherwise, Lara will nullify a lot of what Canelo does well. It is very difficult to counter punch a southpaw when you allow them to consistently keep their lead foot outside your lead foot if you fight from a conventional stance. Most notably, watch how Guillermo Rigondeaux nullified Nonito Donaire's counter punching opportunities by keeping his lead foot consistently outside Donaire's lead foot.

Ultimately, I believe that both fighters will have their moments where they will do exceptionally well against one another.

However, I believe that when Lara stops to cover up and get into the turtle/ear muff defense, Canelo's ferocious combination punching and jabs will be the difference makers, especially in a close fight. Those flashy and hard combinations can look very impressive to the judges and they get huge crowd reactions, which can always influence and persuade the judges. If Lara did not use the turtle shell/ear muff defense, I'd be betting Lara big. But I am going with Canelo by a close and possibly controversial decision in a very intense and competitive fight. Canelo just has too much to lose in this fight.

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