Canelo Alvarez, long put forth as boxing’s next big thing, finally has a victory worthy of his reputation.
The popular red-headed puncher from Guadalajara won a unanimous decision over Miguel Cotto on Saturday night to capture the WBC and lineal middleweight titles at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Quite easily in the opinions of the ringside judges, who turned in scores of 116-112, 118-110 and 119-109. (The Guardian had it 115-113 to Alvarez.)
Those margins were wider than expected – Dave Moretti’s 119-109 card awarding Canelo all but one round raised more than a few eyebrows – but the right fighter won and any calls for a rematch will fall on deaf ears. Now the 25-year-old’s résumé is topped by a bullet point that had previously eluded him: a decisive win over a surefire Hall of Famer.
“We knew going into this fight that it would be a difficult journey, but I feel that I was the faster and stronger fighter tonight,” Alvarez said afterward. “Now it’s my era.”
Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs), whose lone career defeat was a majority-decision loss to Floyd Mayweather in 2013, was thought to be the faster and stronger fighter and he showed it on Saturday night, consistently landing the harder, more meaningful blows against one of this generation’s finest boxer-punchers, mostly getting off first.
“He showed how beautiful the sport can be when you fight in an intelligent way,” said Chepo Reynoso, the elder half of Canelo’s father-son training team. “He went into this fight with a clear head and a full heart and that is what he needed to be successful tonight. I am proud of him, proud of his simplicity to admit that we were once no one and now he is the middleweight champion.”
Cotto (40-5, 33 KOs), who last year became the first Puerto Rican fighter to win titles in four weight classes, enjoyed his best moments boxing behind the jab, making his opponent miss with slick lateral movement and taking advantage of the lengthy stretches when Canelo allowed him to dictate the pace. When the 35-year-old did open up and connect with power shots, they had little apparent effect on the challenger, who kept moving forward for all 12 rounds.
“Our plan was to outbox him, our plan was to outjab him,” Cotto’s trainer Freddie Roach said. “We thought the jab would work well and it did.”
In the eighth Cotto abandoned his measured strategy and made a stand in the center of the ring, trading hellfire with the challenger and whipping the crowd of 11,274 into a frenzy. That proved costly as Canelo got the better of the exchanges, most notably a straight right hand that appeared to wobble the champion.
Over the next few rounds he reverted to the tactics that had been working for him, doubling and tripling up the jab and picking his spots to open up. Then came the 12th, when both fighters looked to close the show with a knockout. Each absorbed heavy punishment, but Canelo landed nearly three times as many punches over the final three minutes, at one point backing Cotto onto the ropes and unloading.
“I was fully prepared for what Cotto was going to do in the ring, whether that was take a defense stance or be the aggressor,” said Alvarez, who connected with 118 of 298 punches (32%), compared to 129 of 629 for Cotto (21%).
Cotto, whose guaranteed minimum purse of $15m tripled Canelo’s $5m earnings before his cut of the Mexican television revenues, declined to address the media after the fight, but Roach expressed his charge’s disappointment.
“We didn’t lose the fight by that much,” the seven-times trainer of the year said. “There’s no fucking way.”
The victory sets the stage for a middleweight title unification fight with Gennady Golovkin, the division’s alpha dog who holds the WBA and IBF belts after last month’s eight-round destruction of David Lemieux at Madison Square Garden, his 21st straight knockout. Oscar De La Hoya, who promotes Canelo, said afterward that Alvarez will fight on 2 May and 17 September of next year, though the WBC will order him to vacate the title belt he won from Cotto unless he immediately fights the Kazakh puncher known as Triple G, who watched from ringside on Saturday night.
Making the fight won’t be without complications. Saturday’s bout was contested at a catchweight of 155lbs, five below the division limit, while Golovkin has never fought below 158½. Yet Canelo’s willingness to take on all comers is the bedrock of his brand, lending a prevailing sense of optimism to what immediately becomes 2016’s biggest event.
“I’m not afraid of any fighter,” Alvarez said through a translator. “GGG is a great fighter, and he is my friend. I have respect for him, but if we do fight it’s going to be at my weight class. I’m the champion, I don’t have to do what he wants.”
He continued: “With all due respect, if he wants to fight right now, I’ll put the gloves on and fight him.”
“I’m ready,” he added in English.
He sure looked it on Saturday night.