Features

Canelo vs Smith Big Fight Preview

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez – arguably the pound for pound king of boxing – returns to the ring on Saturday night against Britain’s Callum Smith in a showdown to determine 168lbs supremacy. Boxing Social’s Luke G. Williams previews the action…

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is a man with a clear sense of his own destiny, as well as his place in the proud fighting history of Mexico.

For the 30-year-old, the significance of Saturday’s fight against Callum Smith for the WBA, WBC and Ring magazine super-middleweight titles at the Alamodome in San Antonio is clear.

“Money’s not the most important thing here whatsoever,” Canelo told Boxing Social this week. “The most important thing is to have fights against big fighters and continue to make history. That’s what I’m here to do. [I’m fighting Smith] because he’s the best. He’s the best at 168lbs and I want to unify all these titles.”

The historical significance of the fight’s location at the Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas will not be lost on a man such as Canelo, whose pride in his Mexican homeland is both sincere and a matter of public record.

The Battle of the Alamo, fought in 1836, is an event whose name echoes through history and is reflected in the naming of the 64,000-seater stadium. It is also a historical event whose complex legacy is still debated to this day.

After a 13-day siege, Mexican troops commanded by General Santa Anna reclaimed the Alamo mission and killed the mixture of Texians and immigrants who had been occupying it. It proved a somewhat Pyrrhic victory however – as the following month Santa Anna’s forces were defeated in just 18 minutes at the Battle of San Jacinto which effectively ended the Texas Revolution.

Ever since, Santa Anna has occupied a dual position in Mexican history, depending on who you talk to he is either a hero or a sinner, a source of patriotic pride or shame.

The thin line between glory and disgrace defined Santa Anna’s life – a judgment that most prize fighters know all too well.

Since he turned professional in 2005 as a 15-year-old, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’s roster of achievements is stellar – comprising world titles of varying levels of legitimacy through four weight classes from 154 to 175lbs.

To some extent – however – his attempt to build a legacy that places him among the very top rank of modern-day pugilists is still tarnished by the humiliating boxing lesson he received from Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2013.

Canelo rebounded from that loss with admirable determination to improve and consistently seek out tough challenges. This is to his credit, although it is credit which is partly off-set by his failure to face middleweight rival Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin when the Kazakh was at his devastating peak, and by the fact that – although granted a draw by generous judges in their first showdown – most believe Canelo was bested by GGG that controversial night in Las Vegas in September 2017.

In Mexico itself, Canelo is not quite the adored superstar you might expect. He has not fought in his homeland in nearly a decade, and the many old-time fight fans who populate the bars and the barrios resolutely refuse to mention him in the same breath as icons like Julio Cesar Chavez or the tragic Salvador Sanchez.

For taking on Britain’s Callum Smith, however, Canelo deserves much credit. The Liverpudlian showed, in winning the World Boxing Super Series 168lbs tournament in 2018, that he is also a fighter determined and willing to seek out the toughest challenges and prove himself among the world’s elite.

David Benavidez and Caleb Plant may demur, but – in the eyes of this writer – Smith is also the number one super-middleweight in the world, an argument that is supported by the fact he currently possesses The Ring magazine’s widely respected championship belt.

In his own cool, calm and collected way – without recourse to hyperbole or the excesses of trash talking – Smith is talking a great fight, and is clearly relieved to have finally landed a bout against a man he has long targeted as his dream opponent.

“There were times when I thought: the fight’s gone, the fight’ll never happen,” Smith admitted to Boxing Social this week. “It’s been frustrating. People asked me how I felt when the fight was confirmed, if it was exciting and to be honest, no, it was just a relief! It’s been a long drawn-out negotiation, but that’s done. Now the fight is on and I’ve trained really well.

“It would be a huge win. A win that speaks for itself. I’ve proved I’m a world class fighter but I want to prove I can compete with the real elite. It’s a tough fight but definitely a fight me and the team believe we can win. I believe he’s bitten off more than he can chew.”

Smith could be on the cusp of one of British boxing’s greatest ever wins.
Photo: Matchroom Boxing USA.

Smith’s chances have been dismissed by many on the basis of his unconvincing performance in November last year against John Ryder, a unanimous decision victory that some – although not this writer – felt should have gone to the London man.

Certainly if Smith is to compete with Canelo he will need to raise the level of his performance from that night. Indeed, he will probably have to perform at an even higher level than he did in arguably the three finest performances of his career – namely, his ruthless demolitions of Rocky Fielding in 2015, George Groves in 2018 and Hassan N’Dam in 2019.

This is a viewpoint with which both Smith and his trainer Joe Gallagher concur.

“I believe I need to be at my best and you will see me at my best,” Smith told Boxing Social. “The best version of me I believe can beat anyone in the world. It’s all in my hands.”

Gallagher, meanwhile added: “[He] can’t take that [John Ryder fight] form into a fight with Canelo Alvarez and Callum won’t.”

Smith’s chances of victory largely depend on how effectively he can utilise his massive physical advantages. At 6’3”, he towers over Canelo’s 5’8” frame and his 78” reach (compared to Canelo’s 70 ½ “ wingspan) provides a further boon to the Brit.

“I knew I was going to have a big size advantage,” Smith reflected after coming head to head with Canelo for the first time this week. “He’s thick set [but] height wise he’s short.

“He’s good, he can do a bit of everything, I’d be a fool if I went in head on head and let him tee off on me. I’ve got to use my strengths. But am I going to be able to just box and move for 12 rounds? I highly doubt it. The fight will swap and change a few times throughout, all the fights at the top level do. But we’ve been drilling tactics to get them spot on.”

Canelo has a disadvantage in natural size, but a decisive edge in big fight experience.
Photo: Matchroom Boxing USA.

Trainer Gallagher has hinted at an attacking approach to compensate for the fact the three judges are widely considered likely to look more favourably on Canelo than on ‘Mundo’.

“It’s a tough fight,” Gallagher told Boxing Social. “I don’t think we‘ll win on points over here. The only way we win here is by stoppage [and] a good big ‘un always beats a good little ‘un.”

Given Canelo’s formidable chin a Smith stoppage win looks unlikely, although the 30-year-old does possess what his cornerman Russ Anber has described as “debilitating power” and a higher KO percentage across his 27 professional wins (27-0, 19 KOs) than Canelo has achieved in his 53 victories (53-1-2, 36 KOs). Smith also disposed of common opponent Fielding quicker than Canelo did.

It may – therefore – seem something of a contradiction to say that although Smith probably won’t be able to knock Canelo out, he will need to endeavour to do so in order to look dominant and aggressive enough to win a decision.

If Smith can control the distance and keep Canelo off-balance with a mixture of his jab and stinging left hooks and not allow the Mexican time or space to throw pulverising shots at mid-range and on the inside then a famous victory could be his.

What Smith must not do is back off or cede the centre ring. He must also be willing to tie up Canelo when necessary without becoming overly negative and also stay active and throw a large volume of punches.

As GGG proved for stretches across 24 rounds against Canelo, the Mexican can be outworked and his punch output at times drops to levels which means rounds can be stolen by an aggressive, taller and bigger foe. Whether Smith is fleet footed or has quick enough hands to successfully execute such a strategy for 12 rounds is another matter.

The Briton will be encouraged by the success that Sergey Kovalev had early on against Canelo last year, but also aware of how the Mexican used the early rounds on that occasion to get the Russian’s measure before ruthlessly knocking him out.

I believe that Canelo will look to execute a similar strategy this time around, by inexorably and gradually testing Smith’s mastery, range and control of distance before looking to strategically close the gap, walk him down and take him out.

Canelo is certainly not taking Smith lightly. “Obviously, he’s a tall fighter and he has many qualities but we’re ready for him,” he told Boxing Social this week. “We have a lot of experience. I’ve seen a lot of his fights and we are ready.

“He’s a good fighter. It’s going to be a difficult fight. He’s ready and prepared and he wants to beat me. He’s a dangerous fighter. A knockout would be nice but I’m prepared for everything.”

This quote – in the final analysis – is for me the key to the fight; Canelo’s preparedness and professionalism is second to none. Smith will fight bravely and skilfully, and may even bank some early rounds, but Canelo will gradually slow him down with good inside work to the body and educated pressure and win via stoppage in rounds 10-12.

Main image: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA.