Friday, December 1, 2023

Canelo Alvarez vs Jermell Charlo: Is the Mexican superstar actually in decline ahead of another massive fight?

For much of his career, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has been not only the biggest star in boxing, but among the sport’s pound-for-pound best pure talents. Over his most recent fights, many fans and media members have noted that it appears Alvarez’s skills have begun to slip as he prepares for another undisputed title defense against Jermell Charlo.

That Alvarez might no longer be operating at his previous levels is not shocking. The Mexican superstar is 63 fights into his professional career and has traveled up and down in weight throughout his career while being one of the sport’s most active champions. There are a lot of miles on Alvarez’s 33-year-old body and these things catch up to every fighter eventually.

It would be easy to identify Alvarez’s May 2022 loss to Dmitry Bivol as the moment any decline began. However, there were some signs around Alvarez’s bouts with Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant that Alvarez was a bit slower and a bit more susceptible to being hit by shots that he’d have avoided in his younger years.

Alvarez was still ultimately able to beat both men, shattering Saunders’ eye socket for the TKO in Round 8 of their bout and dropping Plant twice in Round 11 before the stoppage. Still, both of those fights saw at least one official scorecard with Alvarez holding on to a very small lead at the time of the stoppage (77-75 vs. Saunders, 96-94 vs. Plant).

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Against Saunders and Plant, Alvarez’s power was the deciding factor as just the slightest bit of a loss of speed allowed a pair of defensive-minded fighters to take rounds and enjoy moments of success. Against Bivol, that was not the case.

Going up to light heavyweight for a second time, Alvarez loaded up on power shots, which allowed the bigger Bivol to pick them off, pop jabs and load up on three and four-punch combinations. He also did not allow Alvarez to muscle him around the ring.

The defensive lapses were amplified against Bivol, leading to Bivol landing 152 total punches to just 84 for Alvarez. Only 10 of Alvarez’s landed punches were jabs as he consistently loaded up on big punches that only landed on Bivol’s arms. Alvarez loading up on power shots also caused him to fatigue and made things even easier on Bivol.

Fatigue has become a recurring theme in Alvarez’s recent fights. After the loss to Bivol, Alvarez took a trilogy bout with Gennadiy Golovkin. Their first two fights were tense and closely contested but for whatever decline Alvarez may have been experiencing, Golovkin was far more past the peak of his powers.

Still, even as Alvarez cruised without being forced to press into a higher gear, he faded down the stretch and the fight became much closer than it had any right to be, with the official scorecards reading 115-113, 115-113 and 116-112.

Golovkin landed 10 or more punches in just one of the first seven rounds, but he landed at least 11 punches in each of the final five rounds, taking advantage of Alvarez slowing as the fight wore on.

Also of note: Alvarez left the Golovkin fight saying he needed surgery on his hand, which may have had an impact on his never hurting Golovkin in their final meeting.

This all led to Alvarez’s most recent fight, a unanimous decision over John Ryder in May.

Ryder was a mandatory challenger for one of Alvarez’s world titles and the easiest opponent by far during the stretch that began with the Saunders fight. Fighting in Mexico for the first time since 2011, Alvarez was expected to delight his countrymen with a dominant performance that would end in a knockout.

Alvarez did dominate, to be clear, but he couldn’t finish Ryder, a fighter of a level Alvarez traditionally has blasted out, continuing a trend of Alvarez’s power being less effective in recent outings. Alvarez entered that fight as a -1800 favorite and -330 to win by knockout, but never seemed that close to getting the stoppage and had to work hard for all 12 rounds against an opponent who was totally overmatched on paper.

Taking all that in, what are the key factors that have led to the calls of “Canelo in decline?”

  • Defense: Alvarez is getting hit more cleanly by opponents because his reaction time seems to have slowed just enough for skilled foes to land combinations that he’d have previously picked off with his gloves or avoided with slick head movement.
  • Speed: Alvarez is moving around the ring a bit slower than in his prime, making it harder to cut off the ring and go to work against the ropes.
  • Endurance: In multiple recent fights, Alvarez has not been able to knock his opponents out despite leaning on heavy power punches. This has led to him fading in the later rounds and allowed his opponents to stay competitive on the scorecards.
  • Power: Alvarez wasn’t able to hurt or finish a larger opponent in Bivol, a faded opponent in Golovkin and an overmatched opponent in Ryder. This is not typical in Alvarez’s Hall of Fame career.

Alvarez is still an excellent fighter but boxing is a game of inches and the slightest decline can signal the beginning of the end, even for one of the greatest fights of his era.

If Alvarez is not at his best and Charlo shows up on top of his game, the landscape of boxing could shift in a big way

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