SAN ANTONIO -- Canelo Alvarez outpointed Austin Trout in front of almost 40,000 adoring fans on Saturday night, and as is almost always the case in boxing, he set in motion almost as many questions as answers, as well as a raft of discussion points. Here are five things we learned in the aftermath of the defining bout so far of Canelo's young career:
1. Boxing has something to please, and displease, everybody
The past several weeks have provided a wide spectrum of main event outcomes.
Timothy Bradley Jr.'s victory over Ruslan Provodnikov was pure Rock-'Em-Sock-'Em Robots stuff, Hollywood's idea of boxing as choreographed by some twisted mutation of Sylvester Stallone and Quentin Tarantino. A couple of weeks after that, Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado showed many of those same qualities, but with the added element that Alvarado displayed what most observers regarded as boxing skill and Rios dubbed "running." That same word, and the appropriateness or otherwise thereof, was oft raised in discussion of Guillermo Rigondeaux's win over Nonito Donaire, the vituperative nature of the subsequent online commentary somewhat overshadowing the paint-by-numbers brilliance that the Cuban displayed for much of the night.
And then, on Saturday, Austin Trout and Canelo Alvarez engaged in a tense, finely balanced clash of styles, and the way one felt about the verdict generally depended on (among other things) whether one's preference is for volume punching or a lower-output/higher-percentage offense.
Few other sports can yield such entirely different outcomes in high-profile showdowns on a consistent basis, with fans arguing not only over the justness of the outcome but the aesthetics of the contest itself. And in the aftermath of this latest offering, much debate will continue as to whether Alvarez established himself as a genuine force or merely someone who can just about beat Austin Trout. That debate will continue until his next fight, at the conclusion of which it will continue, in different form.
2. Austin Trout can stand tall in defeat
During the build-up to the fight, it was frequently remarked of Austin Trout that he is clearly one of boxing's good guys. Fans in San Antonio raved about his accessibility, and his answers to media questions were thoughtful and frequently delivered with a smile. And although it might be argued that such considerations shouldn't matter, they do: They help a fighter build up a reservoir of good will from which he can draw when needed.
By themselves, though, they will generally count for little unless backed up by in-ring abilities, and even in defeat Trout has underlined he has those in abundance. He not only boxed, as was expected of him (although he would concede he did so with less variety and authority than he would have liked), he also demonstrated that he is a true fighter. The knockdown Trout suffered was heavy, and he was clearly wobbled on a couple more occasions, but he dug his toes into the canvas and fought back hard, winning the post-knockdown portion of the seventh round, and the eighth frame too.
In his two most recent fights, he has convincingly beaten a future Hall of Famer and narrowly lost to a young phenom who, if everything goes according to plan, may one day also prove worthy of Canastota. He remains one of the very best fighters in his division, and if he doesn't always make for the most exciting fights, his skills, heart and class -- the last of which was exemplified in his postfight concession speech -- will ensure that he will be granted plenty more opportunities yet.
3. It's well past time to close the book on open (and semi-open) scoring
As I was writing this piece, one reader emailed me to say that once the official ringside scores through eight rounds were revealed on TV, "we knew Trout needed a knockout to win and all the energy and excitement were sucked from the room." It had the same effect ringside, with the realization that what had appeared to be a close contest was a near-certain Canelo win. The heavily pro-Alvarez crowd would probably have been happy to know that their man all but had victory in the bag, but had the throng been more neutral, and had the scores been announced in the Alamodome, the atmosphere in the arena would have surely deflated faster than a ruptured balloon.
There is an argument that the problem isn't with open or semi-open scoring, but with bad scoring. The issue wasn't that the scores were revealed to the corners and the Showtime audience, but that two of the cards seemed absurdly wide and rendered a Trout win all but impossible. But the two issues are not mutually exclusive. Scoring should be a reflection of the fight and should not impact on it, and the question remains of what exactly such open, or semi-open, scoring is meant to achieve. Let the corners know where they stand so they can adjust their strategy accordingly? If Fighter A suddenly realizes he's helplessly behind, it can be hard for him to secure a knockout if Fighter B knows he can comfortably skip backward around the ring for four rounds. Let the audience know how the fight is being scored, so there is less potential for outrage when the final tallies are announced? Does anyone really think fans were less appalled by Stanley Christodoulou's card by hearing he had Canelo in a whitewash through eight than had they heard nothing but his 12-round tally of 118-109? Any kind of open scoring is pointless, counterproductive and has the potential to detract from the final drama.
4. Figueroa stole the show
Although Canelo Alvarez mostly earned plaudits for taking his time to figure out Austin Trout, and for beating him with brains as well as brawn, Omar Figueroa Jr. went in the other direction. Already known as a defense-eschewing, offensive-minded prospect, he encased that scouting report in bronze by launching himself at Abner Cotto, dropping him twice and stopping him in a round. It's still early days for the young Mexican-American lightweight, but he set the template in taking advantage of a golden opportunity. Presented with a co-main event appearance on the undercard of the newest Mexican boxing idol, he went out and demolished his opponent -- who was not only Puerto Rican, but also a Cotto. The enormous roars in the Alamodome were testament to how well Figueroa's performance was received.
5. A peaceful sporting end to the week
It had been, to put it mildly, a strange week. For this reporter, as for many others, it began with concern for the safety of a friend competing in the Boston Marathon (and who, I am pleased to relate, was unharmed by the bombing). And the news kept becoming more tragic: There was a surreal quality to sitting in a Best Western in downtown San Antonio and watching live footage of an exploding fertilizer plant, or the day-long unfolding drama of the death of one marathon bomber suspect and capture of another. After a mind-numbing week that began with the murderous hijacking of a sporting event, there was a certain relief at it ending with another sporting event that went off peacefully, and sent most of the 40,000 in attendance home happily.