The first big fight of 2013 featured two undefeated, young champions in a super welterweight unification contest in front of almost 40,000 people at the Alamodome of San Antonio, Texas. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez hand-picked Austin “No Doubt” Trout as dancing partner for this event against the wishes of his promotional company, in the hopes of silencing critics who refused to give him credit given the low quality opposition he has faced so far. Ring Magazine also made it known that Canelo vs. Trout (ranked by the magazine as second and third best at 154 pounds respectively, going into the fight), would determine the lineal champion in the division, adding yet more resonance to a matchup for which expectations were already running high.
The first few rounds were tense, suspenseful even, as the two fighters exhibited similar hand-speed, but also caution. The southpaw Trout was the more active of the two, as he would prove to be all night long, throwing sharp jabs and left crosses, as well as hooks and uppercuts, many of them landing cleanly on Canelo, and many hitting air due to Alvarez’s slipping and ducking. Contrary to what was expected, it was Saul who fought only in spots, throwing one or two punches at a time, instead of firing his much vaunted combinations to the body and head. It was clear the Mexican’s punches carried more zest, snapping Austin’s head back with powerful jabs and sporadic straight right hands and uppercuts, but it was Trout who opened fire more often, staying busier, throwing combinations and then moving away to reset. At times during the early rounds, Canelo appeared flat-footed and even confused as he tried to catch up with Trout. As the contest migrated to the middle rounds, everyone looked forward to the Mexican’s strategic reaction to Trout’s stylistic challenge.
However, an absurd WBC rule dictating open scoring could have played a determining factor in the fight, as it let it be known to the fighters that Canelo was pulling ahead on points, therefore granting him an incentive to stay on low gear instead of stepping on the gas. “No Doubt”, on the other hand, was forced to engage even more often than he would have chosen to, making him bring the fight to Canelo, and thus leaving himself open to counterpunches.
In the opening moments of the seventh, Saul scored a knockdown with a quick one-two, the right hand stopping Trout in his tracks and sending him to the canvas. But the New Mexico native quickly regained composure, getting so much work done in the rest of the round that many observers believed a 10-9 score wasn’t implausible. For the rest of the fight, Canelo pursued a cautious path, taking few risks and doing precious little offensively, but showing defensive body movement to evade Trout’s punches. Austin, for his part, remained committed to his pursuit of the Mexican, throwing combinations and landing often, but never hurting Alvarez.
While the judges, Saul’s corner, the thousands in attendance, and even Trout himself all seemed to agree that the Mexican won the fight, Twitter feeds, discussion forums and the blogosphere went into overdrive after the final scorecards were read, one of which had Canelo ahead by an asinine nine points. Austin acknowledged in the post-fight interview that the redhead was faster and stronger, and that “the better man won tonight”. Still, it’s hard to know how much the open scoring system affected not only the fighters’ performances, but also their perception of what really happened in the ring. Many observers watching from home saw the young champion outboxed by the more active fighter with better footwork.
Given the outcome of the fight, Alvarez’s future looks even brighter than usual, as he has now faced and beaten one of the top two talents in the division. High-paying engagements await in front of adoring fans, but critics still have plenty to point at. Last night, the Mexican showed no killer instinct, remaining studious when he should’ve pressed the action, backing away after hurting his opponent, and showboating on defense while he should’ve been punishing his opponent’s body. It is clear Canelo has what it takes to compete at a high level, but what is still unknown is whether he will ever make full use of his fighting qualities when facing top-level talent.