Canelo graduates to true champion

SAN ANTONIO -- The prefight narrative, boiled down to its most simplistic state and shorn of nuance, was clear:

Would Austin Trout, the boxer, prevail? Or would Canelo Alvarez, the fighter, prove too strong and overcome Trout's anticipated footwork?

The end result, as is so often the case, was more complex.

Alvarez was the victor, and probably deservedly so at the end of 12 intense and skillfully fought rounds -- although he surely didn't win by anything like the 118-109 card handed in by judge Stanley Christodoulou. But although a seventh-round knockdown of Trout -- the first of the American's career -- will likely be the most-played highlight, it was Alvarez's jab, movement, counterpunching and defense that were at least as effective in securing the win.

Certainly, Trout conceded that Alvarez showed far more than he had expected.

"He shocked me with his game plan," Trout said in the ring afterward. "We prepared for a totally different fight. We tried to press the action and change things, but he kept changing."

Although the opening round seemed clearly to go to Trout, as Canelo essentially followed his opponent and watched him through a high guard, and the second seemed to clearly go for Alvarez, who closed the distance and upped the pressure, few of the remaining 10 were obviously in favor of one man or the other. Alvarez, having scored effectively in that second frame, became home run-happy over the next couple, enabling Trout to bank some points.

But even so, there was a sense that two conflicting narratives were unfolding: one in which Trout was taking the small battles, the other where Alvarez was winning the war. Trout rat-a-tatted his way to some early rounds (except, it seems, on the Christodoulou card), but the Mexican star appeared unbothered by his punches. And on those occasions when Trout turned aggressor, attempting to unleash combinations with his opponent's back against the ropes, Canelo showed effective head movement to neutralize the assault. It was as if a python, having clutched its prey in his coils, was unconcerned that its victim was biting it in a desperate effort to make it let go.

Strangely, Canelo's most passive period came in the immediate aftermath of that seventh-round knockdown, a straight right hand that dropped Trout to the seat of his pants. Trout recovered strongly in the second half of that round and appeared to clearly win the eighth, as Canelo gave the impression of being gassed. But like a driver downshifting before beginning an assault on uphill terrain, Alvarez simply reloaded. The first two-thirds of the fight, closely fought, had been essentially the prologue. The last third of the contest was the final examination, and Alvarez, confident he had completed all his assignments, appeared completely comfortable in coasting to the finish.

Trout continued to throw punches, to show that as well as a boxer, he is a fighter, but they had little behind them. And by the end, even his jab -- his key weapon -- was second-best to the one thrown by Alvarez.

"Austin Trout was a difficult fighter, but I was smart," Canelo said through a translator afterward. "Little by little, I figured out how to fight him. My jab was perfect. It was the key."

There was another question during the build-up to the fight: whether Canelo, if he won, was poised to become a genuine star, whether he had what it took in and out of the ring to pull himself up to another level. Fight week in San Antonio had the feel of a big event: A couple hundred people showed up to watch an open workout, perhaps a couple thousand attended the weigh-in. And on fight night itself, officially 39,247 raised the roof of the Alamodome, cheering lustily every time Alvarez so much as twitched an eyebrow. In the ring, although his victory might be stained somewhat by the one aberrant scorecard, Canelo showed enough versatility and ability to suggest his status as a boxer might be approaching his standing as a young icon.

"I was so proud of him," said Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer. "We saw a little bit of everything. He boxed, his footwork was amazing, the way he made Trout miss. In every category, he was the better man. We always knew he was a star, but tonight he showed he is not only one of the most popular fighters in the world, he is also one of the best. Boxing has been waiting for its next young star, Mexicans have been waiting for their next young star, and they have one now."

Promotional hyperbole, perhaps, but understandable. When the smoke cleared and close to 40,000 souls staggered into the Texas evening, there was a sense that tonight was the night Saul Alvarez ended his apprenticeship. It could be the night that Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, superstar, became Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, champion.