A Question No One Asked

Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan meet tonight at the Strip’s brand new T-Mobile Arena for a contest that on the surface looks like a can’t miss Vegas extravaganza. This is because the Mexican and the Brit are arguably two of the highest-qualified candidates to carry the superstar mantles that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will leave behind once their impending retirements become official. Canelo and Amir command the allegiance of a sizeable contingent of fans willing to fork over cash to see them fight; moreover, they’re both talented and in their primes. This is why they’re as well-positioned as anyone else to become boxing’s cash cow in the years to come; victory tonight will only help to solidify the winner’s status in this regard.

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But as you ponder whether or not to make a contribution to the Canelo and Amir retirement fund, here’s something to keep in mind: most boxing matches worth watching promise the answer to a compelling question that you, as a fight fan, have been asking, a query which, by itself, creates drama and excitement. Is the hot new prospect all hype, or is he for real? Will the knockout machine keep his opponent from hearing the final bell yet again? Who is the true boss in this division? Will these two guys’ styles produce the fireworks everyone expects?

For all the promotional dollars spent on Canelo vs Khan, the most interesting question the fight can potentially answer is: Who is the next superstar in boxing? Tellingly, Canelo’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, neglected to bill the match as anything other than Canelo vs Khan. He may have considered labelling it “Cash Cow” only to dismiss it as too straightforward. While giving Canelo a chance to assert his status as the biggest money-maker in the sport may be enough to make some fans’ wallets fly open, given the pedigree and talent involved, Canelo vs Khan feels to this ‘boxinghead’ like an inevitable disappointment.

This is because boxing as a sport benefits less from the occasional $50 million dollar fight than from clashes that consistently pit the best against the best, fights that feature contestants as evenly matched as possible, fights that will help answer questions regarding the participants’ mettle and their true standing in the sport. Seen from this angle, this weekend’s main event is the answer to a question no one asked. Seeing Canelo—who routinely climbs into the ring as a borderline light heavyweight–punch the lights out of a natural welterweight will tell us nothing of significance about either fighter.

A good fight, an interesting fight, but not a superfight.
A light heavyweight vs a bloated welterweight?

Those who think of boxing as a sport, as opposed to mere entertainment, understand that clearly identifying the industry’s cash cow will only increase the likelihood of that boxer avoiding truly risky and consequential matches in the near future. Canelo vs Khan itself came to be largely because of Team Canelo’s awareness of their drawing power: they know any match they sign up for will be a commercial blockbuster. Should Canelo prevail tonight, as he is expected to, his earning power will be further enhanced, which will in turn make truly risky confrontations that much less appealing.

Some point to Canelo’s recent string of opponents–Trout, Mayweather, Lara, Cotto–as they try to rationalize his selection of Khan as an opponent. Having faced one stiff challenge after another, the newly crowned middleweight champ deserves a soft touch, they say. There might be some merit to this line of thinking, but the more popular view among those who follow the sport closely is that Canelo vs Khan is an ersatz middleweight title fight, a flashy event that’s only standing in for the middleweight title fight everyone wants to see: Canelo Alvarez vs Gennady Golovkin.

“Marinating” is the term used by promoters when they seek to make a fight more appealing by postponing it, putting on less appealing fights in the meantime, while fans refer to it as “the old switcheroo” or “the usual bullshit.” Sadly, marinating Canelo vs Golovkin promises to be an even more dreadful process than what we endured on the way to #MayPac. This is due to the sad field of middleweights available for the Mexican and the Kazakh to fight while they continue to avoid each other. Golovkin himself just dispatched a 70-to-1 underdog two weeks ago. Who could he possibly fight next, intent as he is to wait for the Mexican to finally sign a contract? And for how much longer will Canelo keep using the “I’m not a real middleweight” line to avoid the high-risk proposition that is Triple-G?

Lee, Quillin, Cotto, Canelo: which has the guts to face this man?
The fighter casting a dark shadow over ‘Khanelo.’

These questions will not be answered by Canelo vs Khan, a bout that, if anything raises more questions of its own. Chief among them: why exactly is Team Canelo so averse to facing Golovkin? They already postponed the bout once by taking on Khan, and in the buildup to this weekend’s fight, Oscar has made it clear they would like to postpone it further, until at least 2017. Yes, Canelo would be an underdog versus Golovkin if they were to fight today, but definitely a live one. After all, the Mexican youngster is physically bigger than GGG, and has the punching power to match his super middleweight frame. And his ringsmarts, developed on a steep learning curve against top competition over the past two years or so, are not to be scoffed at either.

Canelo’s team may think they’re looking out for their fighter’s best interests by bringing up a catchweight every time Golovkin’s name is mentioned, but in reality they may be doing a disservice to their protégé. By insisting Golovkin agree to their demands may inadvertently plant a seed of doubt in Canelo’s mind regarding his chances with the Kazakh. Canelo may start to believe that the odds have to be tilted in his favor in order to have a shot at winning. What good is that going to do him if and when he finally gets in the ring with Golovkin?

Canelo is a fighter whose style is often misinterpreted, thanks in part to his country of origin, and thanks in part to the size advantage he enjoys over his opponents. Both these factors indicate to casual observers he might be an action fighter, one who applies pressure to cripple opponents. The truth is Canelo is a static counterpuncher, one who might struggle against fast, mobile opponents who refuse to stand and trade. His ability to cut off the ring is, at best, a work in progress, and ever since he stepped up his level of opposition he has had to carefully manage his punch output per round lest he gasses out mid-fight. Rudimentary brawlers who stand in front of him make him look like a murderer; decent boxers can make him appear lethargic and devoid of killer instinct.

The fight that needs to happen now.
The fight that needs to happen now.

All this might argue for an interesting stylistic clash between Canelo’s counterpunching and Khan’s speedy hands and feet. But the Brit has shown several times in his career a crippling propensity to walk into sense-depriving shots. Sometimes he overcomes the dizzies to eke out a win; sometimes he succumbs to the finishing shot. The short of it is Breidis Prescott, Marcos Maidana and Danny Garcia all proved Khan’s chin is there for the taking. It’s hard to envision Khan–who’s never before fought above welterweight–staying away from Canelo’s accurate power shots for a full 12 rounds. This is what justifies the long odds against him, as well as many fans’ disenchantment with #CaneloKhan.

Those looking for genuine excitement might hope Canelo will be intent on making a statement tonight, aching to respond to Golovkin’s highlight-reel knockout of two weeks ago by trying to score his own. Paying customers could conceivably get some value for their bucks if Canelo came rushing out of his corner at the opening bell intent on breaking Khan’s ribs. Unfortunately, the odds of something like this happening might be even longer than those for a Khan victory. Unleashing chaos on an adversary, no matter how accommodating said adversary might be perceived to be, opens a window of possiblity for the random to occur. With potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, the Canelo operation is not about to start taking chances like that.

Tonight’s main event has been alternatively pitched by Oscar DeLaHoya as an anti-Trump show and a re-enactment of Marvin Hagler vs Ray Leonard, a comparison which makes no sense. When a promoter needs to reach that far to sell his product it’s usually a sign that fans need to think long and hard before forking out their hard-earned cash to see it. Simply put, there are fights to be made involving Canelo that would be worth paying to see, but Canelo vs Khan is definitely not one of them. Barring a shocking upset, tonight’s match can only lead to more unanswered questions. Fans will have to wait and hope for more daring matchmaking to produce the answers they’ve been waiting to hear, and to get some bang for their buck.

–Rafael Garcia

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