Mayweather vs Alvarez: Where’s the Beef?

There is only one way to make sense of last night’s outcome at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas: Saul Alvarez is a good boxer; Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a great one. Everything Alvarez did, Floyd could do better. Much better.

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It’s the morning after and some are criticizing young Saul for a game plan which appeared to voluntarily negate his natural advantages in size and strength, but it was obvious that attacking with abandon would have simply led to more punishment. The crucial factors here were timing and distance and Mayweather’s huge advantage in quickness. Alvarez may not be categorically tortoise-like, but quick he is not, nor can he fight in the style of a Beau Jack or a Roberto Duran. Young Saul is a patient, plodding, power-puncher and such a style is as tailored for “Pretty Boy” as the custom-made gowns he ordered for his six girlfriends at ringside.

The hype generated for Mayweather vs. Alvarez, which was once again out of all proportion, derived from the perception that the young, undefeated Mexican represented the toughest opposition available to Mayweather. Canelo’s natural advantages in terms of size and weight were cited as a major factor in this, though in truth a bigger boxer simply means a larger, easier-to-hit target for Mayweather’s pin-point jabs and powerful straight rights. Floyd has always been sold a bit short in the power department, but it was evident last night that his stinging shots carried more than enough tonnage to discourage Canelo.

One of the bout’s surprises was Floyd’s willingness, from the opening bell, to exchange with Alvarez. He didn’t use the ring but instead stayed largely in the pocket, a tactic which led to finding more opportunities to beat Alvarez to the punch. Maintaining the distance he wanted while at the same time not asking his almost 37-year-old legs to do more work than necessary, Floyd kept the Mexican on the end of his punches and the young prodigy had little reply. It was really that simple and that easy.

Alvarez had limited success in two areas: feinting Mayweather out of position and scoring with a right hand to the body. He landed a few stiff jabs, but never really established the left lead, and he appeared strangely fearful of throwing his left hook, perhaps thinking the moment he tried “Money” would nail him with another straight right counter. Both boxers did quite a bit of feinting and Floyd’s astonishing reflexes for a man approaching his fifth decade were on display when Canelo would fake a lunging attack and Mayweather would then stop on the proverbial dime and change direction. But Alvarez appears to not understand that the purpose of a feint is to set up an assault from another angle; instead Saul feinted, Floyd moved, and that was the end of it.

MAYWEATHER CANELO FIGHT

Mayweather’s shoulder roll defense offers an opening for a right hand to the flank and Alvarez had evidently planned to exploit this, but, again, he appeared to not understand the entire equation. On a number of occasions the right got in but Saul then failed to immediately follow-up with a left hook. For this observer, Canelo’s reluctance to get his hook off remains the bout’s biggest mystery. Scoring with the hook while closing the distance to reduce Mayweather’s punching room would have seemed like an obvious tactic, but instead Alvarez politely accommodated his pedagogue and let Floyd dictate the terms. A shoulder bump and a whack to Mayweather’s left thigh aside, it appears Saul was raised to respect his elders.

There really isn’t much else to say about the fight itself. We saw no fireworks, little drama, moments of genuine excitement were almost nowhere to be found. It was a twelve round clinic, a teacher-student boxing workshop, and no doubt Floyd has on occasion endured tougher gym sessions from sparring partners who ate their Wheaties that morning and decided to be first and actually pressure the erstwhile “Pretty Boy.” As the contest does not merit much discussion, press reports and blogs are today focusing on the tiring question of, “What’s next?”

As discussed earlier, none of this is good for boxing. This was the type of match-up that a few decades ago would have found itself on free television with little fanfare. To have what was essentially a routine outing pumped up into the richest boxing event of all-time is disheartening for those who actually care about the sport. The key factor to acknowledge is that Alvarez barely qualifies as a world champion. He won his WBC title belt by besting Matthew Hatton of all people, and went on to defeat a series of out-matched opponents. His chief accomplishments as a prizefighter are dominating a thoroughly washed-up Shane Mosley and winning a controversial decision over Austin Trout, and that’s just not enough to account for the fanfare and massive media attention last night’s bout received.

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But in retrospect, Floyd set us up perfectly. For years he has avoided the boxers who appeared to be the most dangerous and there had been every indication he would choose to avoid Alvarez as well. Mayweather abruptly agreeing to face the Mexican prodigy, so soon after his domination of Robert Guerrero, took many off-guard and sparked a new level of excitement and anticipation. But it was all wishful thinking. The sport of boxing and the public alike crave a genuine superfight, a contemporary version of Ali vs Frazier, Hagler vs Hearns or Leonard vs Duran. Mayweather vs Pacquiao remains out of the question, so Floyd vs Canelo was the next best thing and the hype and the buzz and the anticipation certainly filled the bill, even if the contest itself did not.

So what now? Where does Mayweather, and boxing, go from here? It’s a sad state of affairs when the gulf in terms of talent and ability yawns so wide as it now does between Floyd and any likely opponents. And “likely” is the key term. Thanks to the Cold War, a conflict Mayweather only entrenched by his refusal to do business of any kind with Bob Arum and Top Rank, the list of possible matches for Mayweather is woefully short.

Which, it must be noted, undermines his sycophants’ claims of greatness. In terms of talent, Floyd does indeed deserve to be in the same conversation as any of the great boxers of the past, but that conversation stops pretty quickly as soon as one compares level of opposition. Mayweather’s best adversaries remain Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo, Zab Judah and Ricky Hatton. DeLaHoya, Mosley and Cotto merit lesser consideration as all three were well past their primes when Floyd faced them. That’s a pretty paltry list for an “all-time great.”

"Money" Mayweather: more than 40 million for an extended sparring session.
“Money” Mayweather: over 40 million for an extended sparring session.

But upon reflection it would seem Mayweather is a boxing champion perfectly suited to our era. At a time when it’s all about the flash and the bling, when advertising rules and the masses are always hungry no matter how much they eat and how much they buy, Floyd “Money” Mayweather is a boxing salesman like no other. He collected over forty million dollars for an extended sparring session while Justin Beiber, Denzel Washington and Puff Daddy looked on from ringside and millions eagerly shelled out a sizable portion of their paycheck to watch with them.

Was it exciting? Was it dramatic? Did it represent meaningful competition? No, but it doesn’t need to anymore. Like one of those fast-food advertisements showing a juicy, mouth-watering, perfectly proportioned beef burger that looks nothing like the slapped-together sandwich deposited on your plastic tray after you’ve forked over your cash, the Mayweather/Money Team Express is all about the sizzle, not the steak. Considering who is left for him to fight, everyone involved better hope the public will keep paying for that sizzle, and keep convincing themselves it tastes delicious.   — Michael Carbert

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