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Aftermath: Alvarez vs. Lara – Irresolution


“There are no facts, only interpretations” – Friedrich Nietzsche

By Jay McIntyre: It is indeed a cruel twist of irony when two prizefighters bring a version of themselves that would frustrate anyone in their weight class (except Floyd Mayweather Jr.), stick to their game plans, stay focused, punch hard, and afterwards – once the dust has settled – find themselves leaving so many people dissatisfied.

Erislandy Lara did what everyone expected him to do – he was coy and fleet of foot. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez also fought in a manner predictably similar to every other fight of his life. Why then, were so many of us surprised by the outcome? Sure the split scorecards of 115-113 made sense and the third judge’s scorecard 117-112 made far less, but why the shock? Perhaps looking at the scoring criteria can give us some insight into the nebulous realm of viewer interpretation.

All professional boxing matches are scored according to the following criteria:

  • clean punching – punches that land on areas of the body that can be scored (front and side of the head, the front and side of the torso, arms don’t count). These blows are given merit based on how evident they are, that cause perceptible damage, and are not muffled of deflected by the opponent.
  • effective aggression – intrusive behaviour, designed to impose your will/get a desired response from an opponent.
  • ring generalship – use of and control of the ring to neutralize the opponent’s ability/advantages, and to control the rhythm of the fight to suit one’s purpose.
  • defense – employing any legal methods which nullify the opponent’s ability to land punches.

This doesn’t lend much clarity for us as some of these categories can be disputed throughout the rounds when we try to align them with either Canelo or Lara. For example, both fighters can lay claim to the category of ‘clean punching’, and this comes down the prevailing observations made by each individual judge. Lara’s jab was lancing at Canelo and snapping his head back with some regularity, but Canelo’s body punching could be heard in the next area code.

Regarding ‘effective aggression’, Lara was never the aggressor, but some could make a case that since Lara was so difficult to trap, that Canelo’s aggression wasn’t superbly effective. But was Canelo’s aggression creating some opporuntites for him to punch? Of course, and this is where things get dicey. Does a boxer do enough of the rings things more than his opponent? Alvarez was forcing Lara backwards, but that’s where Lara seemed most comfortable.

Ring generalship was another perplexing category to score. However,given Lara’s ability to float about unobstructed,it could in most cases be awarded to the cagey Cuban simply because he used the surface area of the ring to his own advantage.

Defensively, neither fighter really stood out as a role model for not getting hit. Canelo forgot to move his head, while Lara’s inside game is actually quite appalling. While Lara is praised for his evasive movement, he seems utterly bemused and without answers when Canelo got in his kitchen and started making a racket.

While Lara did indeed land more punches, it was Canelo that landed more power punches (remember that any punch which isn’t a jab is deemed a power punch). The big difference in numbers comes from the absence of Canelo’s jab throughout the fight. This is not surprising since his jab is slow (but hits like a baseball bat), while Lara is quick and aggravating with his own.

The commentators for Showtime were keen to note the absence of Canelo’s jab in pressuring and creating openings to exploit against Lara. This is a fundamental truth is boxing, but another truth is that nothing is absolute in boxing. Why give a slow jab to a faster puncher when he is moving away and you have no hope of landing it? Is it because you are supposed to use your jab to make your opponent back up? Not necessarily. A boxer is also told to use their jab to keep a pressure fighter off of them, and while that worked for Lara, it doesn’t always work for everyone. Ask Mike Tyson’s opponent’s how their jab worked during his warpath in the 1980’s. Conversely, in his prime, Tyson’s jab was instrumental in taking his opponent off balance and setting up his nefarious combinations (example: right hook to body, right uppercut to face, left hook to face). The point here is this: not every rule becomes an absolute stratagem for the boxer, and the scoring criteria doesn’t always help the judges when trying to deliver a verdict. Canelo may have ignored his jab for most of the fight, but it was probably a calculated move to deny Lara’s counter punching.

When Canelo jabbed, he missed. Throwing a punch and missing the target takes more stamina out of a fighter than one might expect (for fun, go a few rounds on the heavy bag and then throw a few that miss as hard as you can and you will feel your whole body have to overcompensate to restore itself, rather than let the bag do it for you). Also, Lara used his right hook to counter over the top of Canelo’s jab, or fired a straight left when Canelo’s glove was out it no man’s land trying to be a jab. Canelo probably felt that his own jab was betraying him. Had Canelo kept jabbing, he more than likely would have continued to miss (wasting energy and giving opportuntiy), and also allowed Lara to rack up the count of his own power punches.

Another (not so) subtle difference was the audibility of Canelo’s punches when compared to Lara’s. When Canelo’s punches landed, their intentions were announced by the sound of their sickening smack. Lara’s inside game was not up to snuff for this fight and the high connect rate for Canelo’s body punches reminds us as to why Lara chose to get on his bike for most of the night (I can’t say I blame him).

Unfortunately for Lara, his furtive style of combat forced him into the reactive role and this invariably gave the assertive, aggressively dominant role to his opponent. While this was a fine thing when he fought Austin Trout, it was yielding mixed results against Alfredo Angulo, and ultimately led to a contentious outcome against Canelo. Regardless of how good he is at hitting and not getting hit, he did let Canelo land often enough with effective combinations – particularly to his body. Also – and I’m not saying this is fair – he was derided by many for “running” for much of the fight. While I may disagree with this oversimplification of his movement, I do see it being a factor for many viewers because it can be perceived as an acquiescence to another’s superiority.

Past Precedent?

This isn’t the first time that a forward moving puncher has faced a gun-shy boxer only to draw the ire from fans. Pernell “Sweat Pea” Whitaker drew with Julio Caesar Chavez by majority decision in 1993, Sugar Ray Leonard split the vote on a decision against Marvelous Marvin Hagler (his legal name is actually “Marvelous” – a not so long story) in 1987, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. narrowly edged out Jose Luis Castillo in 2002. The polar opposites in style – a contrast which should lend to some entertaining discussion – in fact leads to a polarization of the boxing community and the third parties scoring the bouts. Some fans love the patient, calculating style of the back-foot sniper, while others prefer the proud punching of the belligerent aggressor. The biases follow suit, and the subsequent discussions do nothing to mend fences, but instead do everything to generate animosity towards talented prizefighters.

Where do we go from here?

I cannot help but shamelessly invoke the words of Maximus Decimus Meridius from the film Gladiator and ask the fans: “Are you not entertained?” There is truth in the fact that we saw the #1 and #2 prizefighters of the light middleweight division duke it out to an uncertain result. There is also truth in the knowledge that many feel that Erislandy Lara was robbed. However there is often three versions of the truth: what you saw, what the other side saw, and the reality that rests somewhere in the middle.

So, in keeping with the recurring theme of this article (“irresolution”), I cannot give you a definitive answer. I can only say that my perspective – upon re-watching the tape on mute (because while commentators are fun when viewing for entertainment, they are highly distracting when watching for the purpose of analysis) – is that Saul “Canelo” Alvarez won the fight. But, that being said, who am I? I know my truth, but so do the multitudinous viewers around the world. The fight was fun. I had fun watching it, and that’s about all we can ask for when we sit in our seats and observe the sweet science of bruising from our not-so-neutral corners

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