On Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Canelo Alvarez will face his toughest competition as a pro when he takes on Floyd Mayweather Jr. Both fighters will enter the ring as junior middleweight titlists; one will leave with both belts. If Canelo is going to be that man, this is likely how he'll do it.
"The first thing you have to do is forget about the head. The head is smaller than the body. You have to break a man down, and in order to do so, you're going to hit him in the kidneys and he'll slowly begin to stop his movement."
-- Roberto Duran, in a July 2013 interview with BoxingScene.com
According to ESPN Stats & Information video tracking and CompuBox punch tracking, 25 percent of Alvarez's offense in his two most recent fights (a 12-round decision win over Austin Trout and a fifth-round TKO of Josesito Lopez) has come on body punches. In the Lopez fight, Alvarez fought a natural junior welterweight who was stepping up to 154 pounds for the first time. (Mayweather will be fighting as a junior middleweight for the third time in his career.) Alvarez used his power to chop down Lopez with body shots, putting him on the canvas three times. In the fifth and final round, Canelo landed 20 body punches on Lopez, five more than in any other round.
Against Trout, Alvarez threw at least 10 body shots over the first six rounds. Over the final six rounds, Canelo landed 40 percent of his body punches (16 of 40). Mayweather has absorbed his share of body punches -- he has been hit with at least six per round over his past 24 rounds. The question will be whether the power of Alvarez's body punches can inflict enough damage to slow Mayweather down.
"I'll be fine for the fight. ... It's no big thing. Actually, I feel I'm ahead of the curve. I'm not worried at all. The weight will come off and I will be fine."
-- Canelo Alvarez, in an Aug. 30 interview with ESPN.com's Dan Rafael
When the fighters hit the scale on Friday, they will be expected to be at or below the contracted weight of 152 pounds, a catchweight below the junior middleweight maximum of 154 pounds. While Mayweather should easily make weight, some question whether cutting down will affect Alvarez. On fight night, Canelo figures to weigh roughly 12 pounds more (164) than the contracted weight limit; Mayweather likely will stick around the 152 mark.
Both camps would claim that those numbers favor their fighter, but what can't be denied is that adding weight back will provide Canelo superior strength. In his past seven fights, Alvarez has gained an average of 13.1 pounds between the weigh-in and fight night, bulking up to as high as 172 against Trout.
"Canelo has good skills, just not as good as Floyd's. But he has that size and power which he is gonna need because Floyd got the speed on him."
-- Austin Trout in a Sept. 2013 interview with Boxing News 24
With a replenished Alvarez checking in somewhere in the neighborhood of 164 pounds, he figures to aggressively attack with power punches. Over his past seven fights, according to CompuBox, Canelo landed 52 percent of his power punches -- a higher rate than any other fighter who qualified. Don't expect much out of Alvarez in Round 1: He threw just 14 first-round power punches against Trout and 23 against Lopez, well below his average of 31 per round. But for the next 11 rounds against Trout, Alvarez landed at least 30 percent of his power punches in every round. Overall, CompuBox numbers indicate Alvarez connected on 43 percent of his power punches (compared to 27 percent for Trout).
Against Lopez, Alvarez clearly sought to finish his opponent. He threw between 23 and 32 power punches in Rounds 1 through 4, according to CompuBox, but after knocking down Lopez twice, he increased his output to 50 in Round 5. Canelo landed an amazing 72 percent of his power shots in that final round, stopping Lopez late.
If Canelo can bully Mayweather against the ropes by using his power punches to the head and body, it will go a long way toward neutralizing his opponents' speed advantage. If he can't, Mayweather will skate by his opponent -- just as he has done in his previous 44 fights.
-- Statistical data provided by CompuBox