Saul “Canelo” Alvarez must use the non-stop aggression and ferocity that Roberto Duran employed in his two most pivotal career wins as the inspiration and the blueprint to defeat Floyd Mayweather.
The two meet for the WBC light middleweight title at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas on September 14 in the richest and most anticipated fight in years. Alvarez already has the tools to cause Mayweather serious problems, but the young Mexican superstar cannot afford to allow his illustrious opponent to get into his groove, nor can he afford to “take rounds off”, a criticism that has been levelled against him after recent performances, particularly his controversial points win over Austin Trout last April.
23 year old Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KOs) is on the precipice of becoming the biggest star in boxing. Like others before him, he would appear to be the anointed one, the young pretender, the prince waiting for the torch to be passed from the ageing king of the ring.
However, there is one way that Alvarez could triumph, and it is based on the same theory as to why many still believe that Manny Pacquiao – despite being levelled in chilling fashion by Juan Manuel Marquez last time out and about to engage in a kill-or-be-killed encounter with brutal punching Brandon Rios – still has the style to defeat Mayweather, and that theory is based on power, speed, work rate, volume of punches and most of all – intensity.
The chances of Canelo KO’ing Mayweather are slim. Mayweather is rarely tagged square, and even when caught flush, he never looks disorientated. And while Alvarez hits hard, he is not an explosive, concussive knockout artist. In his last eight fights he has been taken the distance four times, by Lovemore Ndou, Matthew Hatton in his title winning fight, Shane Mosley and most recently Austin Trout. So if it is highly unlikely that Alvarez can defeat Mayweather inside the distance, and if his skills are not on a par with his opponent, how can he defeat him on points?
Hatton recently described Canelo as being “freakishly strong”, and he certainly bulls his opponents around the ring, setting them up for his impressive combination punching. He also looks to have a cast-iron jaw, and despite his famously pale, almost Irish complexion, he retains the Mexican trait of rarely “marking up.”
So far in his career, the one thing that Alvarez has lacked is intensity. He likes to stalk his prey, confident in the knowledge that his heavy shots always have an accumulative affect. He likes to pace himself, and if he feels that he is in control of a fight, he will often go AWOL and give a round away, safe in the knowledge that he can come back stronger in the next.
However, this tactic will prove disastrous if employed against Mayweather (44-0, 26 KOs), who even at 36 has outstanding footwork and hand speed, allied to the greatest set of defensive skills in modern times. Most fans can envision Alvarez patiently stalking Mayweather, throwing his combinations but hitting mostly thin air, eating counters while the seconds – and the rounds – tick by. In this scenario, before he knows it Canelo is a mile behind and desperate, yet unable to change his game plan.
That´s why for this fight Alvarez must be willing to compete at a level of intensity that we have not previously seen from him before. He should use the enforced 152 lb. catch weight as a positive, and come into the ring supremely fit and ready to fight harder than he ever has. He must pressure Mayweather, rough him up, hit him anywhere and everywhere he can, and at every opportunity. And for the perfect example of how to defeat a fleet footed master boxer, he need look no further than “Manos de Piedra” himself, fellow Latino Roberto Duran.
Few would argue that Roberto Duran is one of the greatest fighters of all time. Most ring experts have him ranked in their Top 10´s, and while a few die-hards still put the great Benny Leonard first, he is almost universally rated as the finest lightweight who ever lived.
Duran won the world lightweight title in 1973 when he stopped Ken Buchanan in the 13th round, the Scot famously writhing on the canvas clutching his groin in agony as he protested that he had been fouled. Despite the controversial ending, the truth was that Duran was a mile ahead on points and was heading for a clear victory.
How had he achieved such a scorecard against a man that was arguably the finest pure boxer in the world at the time, a man that solely by his supreme skills had become a cult figure in the US despite having no genuine hitting power?
Quite simply, Duran was outpointing Buchanan by taking intensity to a whole new level. The black eyed, devilish looking Panamanian fought with an almost satanic ferocity that has seldom been matched. Although just 22, Duran entered the ring against Buchanan with a 28-0 record (24 KOs) with impressive stoppage wins over fellow Panamanian and future featherweight champ Ernesto Marcel, and recent junior featherweight titlist Hiroshi Kobayashi.
Nevertheless Duran was a 2:1 underdog against the sublime Scotsman who at 27 and with a record of 41-1 that included big wins over Ismael Laguna (twice), Ruben Navarro and Al Ford and was at his absolute peak.
The young Duran came with a backstory of hunger and impoverization that included fighting grown men for money when still a child and almost drowning on a regular basis while attempting to swim across a crocodile infested river while weighed down with stolen mangoes, which he would then sell to survive.
However, impoverished backgrounds in boxing are nothing new, and the term hungry fighter has applied to literally thousands of boxers throughout history. But Duran was different, in the same way that Jack Dempsey was different, and Stanley Ketchel was different, and more recently Tony Ayala Jr, Mike Tyson and Edwin Valero were different. Those men had the ability to channel all the rage and injustice they had deep in their hearts, and use it against their opponents. One rarely sees that level of all-encompassing ferocity, intensity and overwhelming self-belief in the ring. When a fighter has it, they truly believe that they are bullet-proof, indestructible, and fight accordingly.
Duran used that intensity to jump all over Buchanan, flooring him after just fifteen seconds and swarming all over him from then on. It speaks volumes for the skill, character and toughness of Buchanan that he lasted as long as he did. Indeed, the Duran defeat was the only time Buchanan was ever stopped in 69 fights.
But Duran was far more skilled than many gave him credit for. Years later Duran pulled off his greatest ever victory, shading a 23 year old Sugar Ray Leonard for the welterweight title in 1980. In his autobiography The Big Fight Leonard said that Duran slipped and rode punches like no-one he ever fought. He said that Duran´s footwork, speed and skill at cutting off the ring were second to none. And as for Duran´s legendary punching-power, Leonard said that every punch he was tagged with jolted him, and that the headshots that landed literally loosened his teeth in his gums, and he would sit in his corner between rounds jamming them back in place.
Duran´s hell-for-leather approach didn’t always work against master boxers. The supremely skilful Puerto Rican Esteban De Jesus gave Duran all he could handle in three epic fights at lightweight in the 1970s, beating him once and flooring him on two occasions. And for whatever reason, Duran looked to be going through the motions when he was embarrassed by Leonard in their rematch five months after their first fight, culminating with the notorious “no mas” incident. 14 months later in 1982 Duran looked befuddled when he faced another master boxer in Wilfred Benitez and suffered a points loss.
But when he had to do it, when he was about to make history, when his destiny depended on it, Duran could fight for every second of every round. And if Saul Alvarez genuinely wants to follow in the footsteps of legends like Duran, if he genuinely wants to seize his opportunity and make history by becoming the first man to defeat Floyd Mayweather, that is the only way he can do it.
Dan Hunter is the editor of The Boxing Post and the author of the weight training and fitness ebook Urban Muscle