Six months after winning the middleweight championship in a career-defining victory against Miguel Cotto, Mexican star Canelo Alvarez sets to begin his reign in a marquee fight against England’s Amir Khan.
Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) will compete at a catchweight of 155 pounds for the fifth straight fight when he headlines the first boxing card at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET). Alvarez, 25, also claimed boxing’s coveted Cinco de Mayo weekend as his own following the retirement of Floyd Mayweather last fall.
Khan (31-3, 19 KOs), who won titles at junior welterweight, spent the past two years unsuccessfully petitioning for superfights against Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. The 29-year-old will be moving up in weight from 147 pounds to face Alvarez.
Here’s a look at how the two fighters match up in 12 different categories.
ROUND 1: Power
Alvarez, who moved up to junior middleweight in 2010, is not only naturally bigger, his decided advantage in punching power could very well decide the fight. Alvarez is more of a bruising puncher than a true knockout artist, but expect his counter right hand to be a major weapon due to Khan’s repeated vulnerability against looping power shots. Alvarez also proved against Cotto just how drastically he has improved as a body puncher. Khan, whose stinging power is more a result of his speed, was never a big puncher at welterweight and certainly isn’t expected to be one at 155.
ROUND 2: Experience
Despite unifying titles at junior welterweight, Khan saw his reputation for tough matchmaking take a decided hit following his 2012 knockout loss to Danny Garcia. Not only did Khan essentially put his career on hold in order to shamelessly court Mayweather, he was careful not to take any fights that threatened to derail his plans. Alvarez, meanwhile, found himself in one tough fight after another against a variety of boxers, brawlers and defensive-minded southpaws. Alvarez has much more experience on the brightest stage, having headlined four pay-per-view cards and improving steadily each time.
ROUND 3: Speed
Alvarez has quietly offset his lack of speed with improved timing as a counterpuncher. But he’ll be facing a sublimely talented offensive threat in Khan, whose explosive hand speed has long been his calling card. Khan’s jab is lightning quick and his combinations are breathtaking to watch. And despite all the talk of him dangerously moving up to middleweight, Khan is really only moving up one weight class due to the catchweight. With his height and reach being virtually equal to Alvarez, Khan’s advantage in hand speed will play a major role. But it won’t be nearly as important for him as his foot speed. Khan is a classic front-runner, meaning he’s ineffective when he isn’t getting off first and visibly uncomfortable (and vulnerable) when forced to retreat or rally. How well he can utilize movement to escape from trouble and keep Alvarez off balance will decide how long he stays in the fight.
ROUND 4: Durability
Despite Khan claiming how not being forced to dramatically cut weight will improve his ability to take clean punches, his chin remains his Achilles’ heel. Despite his flashy skill and unshakable confidence, Khan’s chin has separated him from becoming an elite fighter. The fact that light-punching Chris Algieri rocked him multiple times last May only hurts Khan’s argument. That’s not to say Khan isn’t tough or courageous. In fact, he’s often too tough for his own good, as evidenced by how often he got up off the canvas on shaky legs against Danny Garcia in 2012 before the fight was stopped. Alvarez, in contrast, has been incredibly durable, to the point where his brief misstep from a Jose Miguel Cotto punch in 2010 has become inadmissible evidence.
ROUND 5: Tenacity
Alvarez has been hit or miss in terms of his level of aggression, choosing to play it safe in disputed wins over Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout instead of plowing forward. He received the same criticism for his passivity (and lack of adjustments) in his humbling loss to Floyd Mayweather. Part of that, though, surrounds his preference to fight a calculated style more akin to Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez than, say, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. But maturity has come with age and Canelo looked comfortable walking down Miguel Cotto in the late rounds last November. Still, Khan owns the slight edge in tenacity, mostly because he only knows one fighting speed and isn’t comfortable (or effective) when not coming forward. It’s a characteristic that has also been his undoing. As much as Khan has preached poise and patience under trainer Virgil Hunter, when the action heats up, he only knows one way — stand and fight.
ROUND 6: Stamina
Give Alvarez credit for repairing his reputation in this category, with his complete performance against Cotto being a perfect indicator of how far he has come. He no longer needs to economize his output in order to go the distance, which previously allowed a foothold for his opponents to rally. Even though Khan has also improved over the past two years — finishing strong in a trio of 12-round decision wins against Luis Collazo, Devon Alexander and Algieri — he still hasn’t found the perfect balance. There’s an energy and explosion level that Khan exhibits in the early rounds that he never quite duplicates as the fight progresses. Avoiding these ebbs and flows will go a long way in helping Khan avoid getting caught in a vulnerable position.
ROUND 7: Versatility
While Khan is the more skilled fighter, gifted with many flashy qualities, he’s far from a complete one. Along with his defensive deficiencies, there’s really only one way for him to be successful: by being the aggressor. Khan is still uncomfortable fighting on the inside and can be bullied from the clinch. Alvarez, meanwhile, has proven he can diversify his attack. At his core, he’s a calculated boxer, who prefers to counter as he stalks forward. But he can also seek and destroy, especially when paired against smaller opponents he can bully. Alvarez is comfortable in the pocket and has worked hard on improving his flaws, including his ability to cut off the ring.
ROUND 8: Defense
There are some who believe Khan would be an elite destroyer if not for the Kryptonite that is his punch resistance. But his defense is often more to blame for putting him in position to get caught in the first place. Not only has Khan had a history of being too aggressive and forgoing defense altogether (something Hunter has worked hard to reform), his defensive and basic recuperative instincts have never been strong to begin with. He remains a sitting duck for counter shots over the top by often standing upright with his hands down. And his only response once hurt is to recklessly fight back instead of holding. Alvarez is more responsible defensively than he gets credit for and has learned to swivel his upper body to avoid punches.
ROUND 9: Technique
Simply put: Khan is a beautiful offensive fighter to behold. His jab is quick, accurate and long. His combinations are fluid and smothering. He’s constantly on the attack yet has the technique to score cleanly from a variety of angles and distances. While he’s not as flashy, Alvarez isn’t that far behind Khan in terms of pure craft. He doesn’t waste punches and has added a variety of wrinkles to his game in recent years, including a devastating uppercut. His left hook to the body has also become a weapon.
ROUND 10: Current form
Khan’s run at the top has been a series of peaks and valleys. He very much appeared to be operating at the peak of his powers as a welterweight in December 2014 when he nearly shutout Devon Alexander over 12 rounds with a masterful (and responsible) exhibition. But six months later he was back to his inconsistent ways, having more trouble with Algieri in a decision win than he should have. He remains an enigma, and someone who is hard to ever label a sure thing due to his vulnerabilities that never seem too far from entrapping him. Alvarez, meanwhile, is not only a sure thing, he’s square in his prime at age 25 and fresh off the biggest win of his career against Cotto.
ROUND 11: Corners
Despite calls for an upgrade from his critics following a one-sided loss to Mayweather, Alvarez has stuck by the father/son duo of Jose “Chepo” Reynoso and Eddy Reynoso. It’s a relationship that works for him, and his team deserves credit for helping him evolve in recent fights to a pound-for-pound level talent. Virgil Hunter, however, will still be the best trainer in the building on fight night, giving Khan an advantage –but only if he uses it. Hunter, who came to prominence in the corner of Andre Ward and has gone on to add a number of high-profile clients, has been trying to slow Khan down and force him to think more. At times, it has worked great. But Khan can be erratic and easily pulled into fight-or-flight mode. Khan will need to be sharper, more focused and elusive than he ever has in order to defeat Alvarez, and he has the right trainer by his side to take that chance.
ROUND 12: Wild card
The equation of what happens when Alvarez’s thudding power meets Khan’s susceptible chin simply can’t be overlooked when making a prediction. It’s unavoidable. But if there’s one wild card in play, it’s the idea that we still haven’t seen the very best of Khan yet in a single fight. He came close against Alexander, but has never been able to overcome inconsistency or danger to fully paint his masterpiece on the highest level. Considering we have a much firmer grasp of Alvarez’s ceiling, it’s interesting to consider what Khan might look like on his best night. With similar physical dimensions to Alvarez, Khan also has the kind of rangy frame to properly support the addition of muscle. If his speed advantage is only magnified at the higher weight and his larger frame better supports his chin, is Khan more of a live dog than we realize? He’ll have to pitch a perfect game to get there, but the fact that he’s capable of it in terms of his skill provides an interesting wrinkle.
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