Boxing is a weird sport when stacked up against all others. Hardcore boxing fans often seem to be interested in things well beyond the actual match. Frequently, it seems as though the nuts and bolts mechanics of the sport are secondary to image and whatever self-identity is wrapped around the fighters fans embrace.
The hardcore, blue collar fight fan embraces the image of the stoic, brooding warrior, willing to shed his own blood for a chance at spilling his opponents’. There is much love in the loyal boxing community for the man’s man who talks tough, looks tough, and delivers the type of blood and guts action through which these fans vicariously live their own fantasies of macho empowerment.
But there are no sissies or cowards in boxing, especially at the elite level. More often than not, a fighter’s drive for toe to toe war comes from his inability to do anything else. And much of the macho bluster that exudes from a fighter is frequently little more than well-peddled publicity.
The truth is that all-out phone booth ring wars are the easy road to glory in boxing. The hard road is in the hours and hours spent toiling away in the gym learning basic boxing technique that will keep you out of harm’s way and turn carpet bombing offense into quick, efficient, precision warfare.
In other sports, technical proficiency is universally honored and respected. Boxing fans, who often mix up sports with romantic notions and silly stereotypes, are way too eager to honor style over substance.
There are many examples of this, but the most recent played out Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas when Saul “Canelo” Alvarez met Alfredo “El Perro” Angulo in a twelve round non-title bout.
It was easy to see how Angulo could be favored by many hardcore boxing fans despite what the official betting lines said. The man looks like a dark alley-dwelling, switchblade-carrying killer. He carries an aura of “bad ass” with him, even when he smiles and affectionately hugs his daughter for Showtime’s All Access cameras. Hell, even when crying, one gets the feeling that he is not someone to be crossed.
Coming to the ring on Saturday, accompanied by a fighting dog and entourage that could’ve come straight from a Mexicali cantina, “El Perro” looked like a vicious dog being led into a pit in some ranchero’s back yard for a fight to the death.
However, dogs are dogs and men are men.
Angulo was not being led into a mad, vicious animal battle to the death; He was stepping into a boxing ring. And, as a boxer, he was sorely out of his league for the task in front of him.
From the very first exchange in the very first round, it became apparent that Saul Alvarez, the protected one, the media creation, the multi-time discredited favorite target of media and so-called “real” fans, was going to be way too much for Angulo.
The 23-year-old “Canelo” pummeled Angulo at will, landing flush shot after flush shot against a fighter who was ill-prepared and ill-equipped to handle what was coming his way.
Under the weight of the attack, Angulo’s famed offensive prowess was rendered useless. The barrage of heavy punches kept Angulo from ever getting any real leverage of his own. Even when he came forward and signaled for Alvarez to keep punching, it was merely a face-saving gesture. The fearless Angulo had already been beaten into tacit cooperation, his brave exterior covering for a fighter at least subconsciously afraid to invest too much into his punches for fear of what would likely be coming his way.
Angulo, who has been training with Virgil Hunter and working with nefarious chemical king, Victor Conte, had no Plan B for what was happening and, to be honest, not much of a Plan A, either. Naked to the world in terms of what he had to offer against a main stage fighter, all Angulo had going for him was a very good chin and a burning desire to not be humiliated.
The poor showing makes one wonder whether the Angulo-Hunter pairing is a good one and if Angulo, given his particular style and mindset, wouldn’t be better off working with someone else. But a beating like he suffered on Saturday may render the topic of Angulo’s future a moot point (And the same may have been said about his very life and well-being had referee Tony Weeks not stepped in to stop the fight in the tenth round).
His work with an oddball cast of fellow athletes and the quaint addition of an 81-year-old former Soviet sprint coach makes for good TV filler, but how much has it added to Angulo as a fighter? From his performance on Saturday, it appears safe to assume that it hasn’t helped much at all. While video of Angulo jumping hurdles during training makes for a good visual, there were no hurdles to jump in the ring at the MGM Grand. And as for Victor Conte’s supplements– unless Conte can invent a pep pill that teaches basic footwork and head movement, nothing he offers can make Angulo a better fighter.
Canelo Alvarez, on the other hand, pursues a more traditional boxing training program and relies on the same practiced-to-perfection skills that have taken him from unknown farm kid to pay-per-view headliner. Unlike Angulo’s current training set-up, it’s not worthy of a reality TV show and fans won’t be touched by a warm and fuzzy back story. It’s just sweat and hard work.
Yes, Alvarez has been given shortcuts to stardom and to the types of opportunities guys like Angulo will never see. Canelo is also filthy with money–a guaranteed $1.25 million (minus 100K for coming in one pound over the 154 lb. limit) for this fight with a back end deal that could bring him as much as $10 million when PPV numbers are finally tallied. At 23 and with plenty of career ahead of him, Alvarez may never be regarded as the best Mexican fighter of all-time, but he sure stands a chance of becoming the richest.
Golden Boy hand-picked the red-headed kid from Jalisco to be their next star because he had a unique look and a good dose of charisma. They also chose him because they thought he had the talent and skill needed to rise to the occasion and become a main stage star. And, like it or not, Alvarez has risen to the occasion.
There are flaws and weaknesses in his game– many exposed in his fights with Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout– but these lapses in technique and execution are to be expected of a young fighter, even one with millions in the bank and a promotional stable of his own.
There was a great disparity between the talent levels of both fighters last Saturday, but that wasn’t the reason Alvarez was able to manhandle Angulo.
The real difference between the two fighters came in the area of skill.
Alvarez took the time to learn the little things that make brave, tough men into real world class fighters and Angulo didn’t.
Alvarez may have taken the easy road to stardom, but Angulo took the easy road when it came to his fighting. Angulo never bothered to learn the nuances and craft that separate gatekeepers from the elite while Alvarez has been gradually adding high-end skill to his game.
Looking at things this way urges one to redefine what is truly macho in this sport.
So…Quien es mas macho— the brooding beast who fights sloppily and with virtually no game plan or the fighter who carefully and meticulously learns the sport’s true craft over the course of a lifetime spent toiling away in anonymous gyms?
Last Saturday we learned the answer to that question.
You can email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org and watch as beard-stroking bloggers everywhere continue to blacklist him and all those who associate with him. You can also buy his book, Notes from the Boxing Underground! Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.