Saturday night at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, before a raucous crowd of nearly 40,000 fight fans, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KOs) decisioned Austin "No Doubt" Trout (26-1, 14 KOs) by unanimous scores of 115-112, 116-111 and 118-109.
With an impressive win over the previously undefeated Trout, Canelo unified the WBC and WBA junior middleweight titles.
More than that, the win solidified the 22-year-old as the chief threat to Floyd Mayweather should the latter remain undefeated as expected May 4 against Robert Guerrero.
It wasn't just that Canelo won the fight. It was how he did it. The redheaded Mexican warrior was magnificent in ways unexpected. Where conventional wisdom said he'd need to cut the ring off and be the aggressor, Canelo instead boxed carefully from a distance over many of the 12 rounds.
Sure, he was still aggressive (a seventh-round knockdown of Trout bore witness to that), but it was focused aggression augmented by timed precision. Where Trout would look to land combination punches off his snappy jab, Canelo was content to feint in close in order to draw his opponent's attack out so that he could throw menacing one-twos from long range.
After the fight, Trout confirmed his team did not to expect to encounter that type of strategy.
"He shocked us, I was prepared for a different fighter," Trout told the media at the post-fight press conference. "I tried to pressure the action and change things up, but he kept changing."
Before the bout, ESPN's Kieran Mulvaney wondered if Trout would be facing Cotto 2.0.
Like Cotto, Alvarez is known for the deliberate but forceful pressure he applies during the course of a fight. Neither man is renowned for his pace, for fancy footwork or flashy combinations. Instead, they generally walk their foes down, in the process slowing them with heavy-handed punches, and looking to soften them up for a late stoppage.
But the fighter who beat Trout Saturday night was more than just that. He was a box office smash. He was a skilled boxer-puncher who made the usually sure-fisted Austin Trout miss wildly at times. He was a defensive wizard. His forceful bombs were long and straight, and they seemed to move Trout across the ring whenever they landed. His hand speed was mesmerizing.
Whatever puzzle Trout tried to present him with, Canelo adapted. Simply put, Alvarez was more than perhaps anyone knew he could be.
After the fight, Showtime's Jim Gray asked the winner if he wanted to fight Mayweather next.
"I hope so. Maybe...maybe," he said. "Viva Mexico!"
Last week, I asked if the uber-marketable star was ready to deliver what boxing really needs. This week, I'm telling you he absolutely is.
On Saturday, amid throngs of admirers chanting his name, standing in front of one of the best fighters in the world, Alvarez showed he has the goods to be boxing's biggest and best star.
Look, Mayweather is still the man. There is no doubt about it. But he's got competition again, and this time it's not just Manny Pacquiao. But will we ever see Mayweather and Canelo in the ring together?
Canelo thinks so. He's had his eye on the fight since early last year. Not only naturally larger (Mayweather began his career well south of 154), Canelo now knows he possesses a skill set that might bedevil the gifted technician should a fight between the two ever actually occur.
Before Saturday's win over Trout, pundits already knew Canelo was younger and likely stronger than the 36-year-old Mayweather. But they didn't know how competent a strategist he was, how adept his defense could be or how brilliant he could fight from long range.
All this makes Canelo Alvarez the odds on favorite to end Floyd Mayweather's reign atop the sport.
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