This kid ain't Cotto, folks
Make no mistake: Austin Trout deserves to be considered as an even-money proposition going into Saturday's fight against Canelo Alvarez. He is skilled, has solid fundamentals and knows how to maximize his physical talents and advantages. He has fast hands and great lateral movement, and we saw the fits that Alvarez endured when Alfonso Gomez -- Alfonso Gomez! - rat-a-tatted him early in their contest in September 2011.
Trout is surely superior to Gomez in most every way, but the key takeaway from that bout isn't that Gomez scored early; it's that he was stopped. Stopped prematurely, perhaps, but by then the direction of the fight was clear and the bout was going to end only one way. Like Floyd Mayweather Jr., Alvarez isn't afraid to give up a couple of early rounds to get used to an opponent's timing, in the belief that soon enough he'll gain the measure of his man and reel him in.
Another reason for the Trout enthusiasm is that all of us in boxing are very good at predicting what just happened. Trout just thoroughly outboxed a future Hall of Famer in Miguel Cotto. Cotto and Canelo have somewhat similar styles. Ergo, Trout outboxes Alvarez.
Except that the differences between Alvarez and Cotto are just as significant as the similarities. Although Cotto has been plying his trade at junior middleweight since 2010, he is realistically an average-sized welterweight. He was physically outmatched by Trout's longer reach. Alvarez, although still shorter than his American counterpart, is a more natural 154-pound fighter and should be less troubled by his foe's physical advantages.
Cotto, as Trout acknowledged, is also pretty extensively battle-scarred after years of hard fights against the best in the game. Alvarez, by contrast, is young and, even after 42 professional contests, fresh. Further, Cotto has at times shown a tendency toward being underprepared and lacking in stamina -- criticisms that have not been leveled at Canelo, whose work ethic is generally praised.
I can absolutely see Trout winning this. I can see him schooling Alvarez. Of course, this is Texas, so I can also picture him whupping the Mexican and getting tagged with a loss. But my gut tells me that the fight will go something like this:
Canelo will look to test Trout early, putting the pressure on him in an attempt to prevent him from getting into his box-and-move rhythm. For a couple of rounds, that will work, until Trout begins to time him and settles into something of a groove. Halfway through the fight, the contest will be delicately poised, perhaps with Trout fractionally ahead. But Alvarez will keep coming, and soon Trout will realize he is finding it harder and harder to deploy the lateral movement that is the key to his success. In turn, Alvarez -- whose footwork is better than he is sometimes given credit for -- will be able to pivot so that Trout finds it harder to escape and spends more time in front of Canelo, which is how the young Mexican star likes it. The final third of the fight will be all Alvarez as he pounds his way to a unanimous decision win.
Lefty Trout still too tricky
There is something commendable about the fact that the greatest advocate for Canelo Alvarez shaking the dreaded label of having been a protected fighter is the junior middleweight titlist himself.
As the tale goes, it was the Mexican sensation who went above the desires and fears of his promoter to demand that his opponent Saturday, in his first legitimate test to date, be fellow unbeaten titlist Austin Trout.
And let's face it: Alvarez clearly has walked a soft path to the outskirts of pound-for-pound consideration, not having been tested by a quality fighter in his prime, let alone one as slick and difficult as the southpaw Trout.
Alvarez has feasted exclusively on a diet of older and smaller opponents during his two-year title run. Any admonition to withhold criticism based on the fact Canelo is just 22 can be met with a reminder that he has been a professional for more than seven years and already has more pro fights than Sugar Ray Leonard put in over his entire career.
That's what makes Saturday's bout the ultimate risk/reward opportunity for Canelo and a chance at instant validation (or exposure). Although this isn't necessarily a trap fight -- Alvarez might be a slight betting favorite, but most experts have labeled it a pick 'em fight -- it's still one the Cinnamon Kid will have considerable trouble winning.
Trout is simply too crafty and polished for the straight-ahead and aggressive Alvarez, who carries the kind of power that grinds down his opponents over multiple rounds but doesn't often end a fight with one punch.
Let's be clear about something: Trout isn't just a difficult opponent based on Alvarez's age or inexperience. In fact, it's Canelo, who turned pro a month after Trout in 2005, who has already been in more title fights than his 27-year-old opponent. Trout is the type of fighter whose contrasting style seemingly would always give Alvarez trouble.
Trout's strengths as a cunning boxer who uses a combination of footwork, awkwardness and tremendous accuracy had been on display to relatively small audiences since he defeated Canelo's older brother, Rigoberto Alvarez, for a 154-pound title just over two years ago. Trout was the definition of an under-the-radar fighter who lacked a fan base or exciting style as he climbed the ladder by paying dues at faraway venues in Mexico, Canada and Panama.
All that changed when Trout was given a somewhat surprising chance to record the signature victory his career had lacked in an upset of Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden in December. The New Mexico native was so much more than simply the difficult out he was advertised to be. Trout proved a durable, tough and deceptively strong junior middleweight who stood his ground and fought back in exciting fashion, coming alive in the championship rounds to stamp his stunning victory.
Alvarez will surely prove to be a tougher challenge than the smaller, faded Cotto come Saturday. And there are still enough questions about Canelo's ceiling for it to be possible that he'll find an escape for every trap Trout is likely to set.
But in the end, it's that combination of size, speed and ring IQ that makes it difficult to doubt the savvy Trout will continue his run to the top with another convincing decision victory in front of a hostile enemy crowd.
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