Thursday, March 13, 2014

Alvarez-Angulo Stoppage Warranted

After amassing an undefeated record of 42-0-1, with 30 Knockouts and scoring six successful title defenses of the WBC World Jr. Middleweight championship Saul “Canelo” Alvarez had clearly established himself as a star of the sport of Boxing.  Alvarez’ impressive resume earned him the opportunity to square off against pound for pound king Floyd Mayweather in a unification clash in September of last year.

The fight, which set live gate and pay-per-view records was a testament not only to Mayweather’s stature in the sport, but perhaps more importantly the rise of Saul Alvarez, the man who many believe is the future of the sport.  In that fight Mayweather and Alvarez engaged in a tactical battle that saw Mayweather score a lopsided decision victory in the eyes of most fans and experts alike.  The encounter between the two however, will perhaps be remembered more for the mild controversy that emerged from judge C.J. Ross’ scorecard as she scored the fight a draw, despite consensus opinion of a clear victory for Mayweather. 

Regardless of that controversy, the Mayweather-Alvarez showdown was an overall victory for the sport. Although Alvarez suffered the first defeat in his career at the hands of Mayweather there were also positives that came out of the fight for the twenty-three year old former world champion.  

Outpointed by Mayweather, Alvarez did hold his own in the fight and was not in any way disgraced. Alvarez may have made a strategic error by electing to fight Mayweather at a tactical pace. The loss however, may have done more to benefit Alvarez in the long-term as it will give him the opportunity to improve. In addition to the positives that may come from losing to Mayweather, the notoriety from that fight will do more from a business standpoint as it solidified Alvarez’ status as a star in the sport.

Under circumstances where a star fighter suffers their first loss it is reasonable to assume that a fighter would be put in with someone soft in their first fight coming off a loss. Alvarez however, would opt to take on a dangerous opponent in the form of top Jr. Middleweight contender Alfredo Angulo on March 8th in Las Vegas.

Angulo, who entered the fight with a record of 22-3, with 18 knockouts had earned a reputation as not only being perhaps the hardest puncher in the Jr. Middleweight division, but also one of the sport’s most gallant warriors with a career knockout percentage of nearly 70%. There may have been some opinion heading into this fight that Angulo was an opponent that was hand-picked based on style with the design to get Alvarez back in the win column.

Even when such circumstances would seem to favor Alvarez to fight someone not as dangerous and perhaps lesser-known to the general public for his first fight back, Alvarez showing the fighter that he is went the other way and chose an opponent that if he was not on his game would capitalize on any mistakes. Make no mistake about it this was a dangerous fight for Saul Alvarez.

Angulo came into this fight off of a loss to top contender Erislandy Lara in June of last year. Angulo dropped Lara in rounds four and nine of that fight and, despite being stopped in the tenth round proved that he was a force to be reckoned with and not someone to take lightly.

Stylistically this fight had action written all over it. Although Alvarez lost to Floyd Mayweather convincingly in the eyes of many, he was not damaged physically in that fight. This fight in contrast, would be different as Alvarez would not be going up against a pure boxer as Mayweather is. Alvarez would face a fighter who would come right at him and would be there willing to engage for however long the fight would last.

When the two fighters got into the ring the difference in hand speed was immediately apparent. Alvarez set the tempo of the fight throwing combinations to the head and body and consistently backing Angulo up. Although he was at a disadvantage in terms of hand speed, Angulo remained always “Game” and willing to engage with Alvarez in trying to return offense.

In short, Alvarez was the fighter who was able to get off first more consistently throughout this fight and in addition to being quicker with his offense, he was landing not only power punches, but consistently throwing those punches in combination and varying his attack. As the rounds went on the effects of the punishment dished out by Alvarez gradually became visible on Angulo’s face.

Angulo did however, have his moments periodically during this fight. He never stopped coming forward looking to turn the momentum in his favor, but he could not seem to get leverage on his punches consistently and could not discourage Alvarez from throwing punches. It was clear that Alvarez had more steam to his punches, but the question in my mind was whether or not he could maintain that pace if the fight went into the later rounds.

Gradually Angulo’s eyes began to swell under Alvarez’ offense. Angulo’s best moments in this fight in my opinion were the periodic moments where he was able to get off first and moments where he was able to briefly get Alvarez on the defensive. Angulo however, could not cut off the ring and that along with solid defense by Alvarez seemed to quell any offensive rhythm Angulo had. As the fight went on in addition to the question that I had with regard to whether Alvarez could maintain his pace, another question became clear. Would this fight be allowed to go into the later rounds due to the amount of punishment Alfredo Angulo was taking?

The highlight of the fight in my mind came in round eight where both fighters were able to have their moments and were willing to stand and trade. Alvarez however, maintained his momentum as he remained solid defensively and got the upper hand in exchanges.

Frankly as the fight went on I wondered how much more punishment Alfredo Angulo would be allowed to take. Angulo fought his heart out in this fight, but it was clear in my eyes from round six on that unless Angulo were able to land something dramatic that would turn things around in his favor, what would happen would amount to simply one man taking far too much punishment for his own good.

The end of the fight would come in round ten when Referee Tony Weeks stopped the fight after Angulo’s head was snapped back by a left uppercut from Alvarez forty-seven seconds into the round. An impressive performance by a fighter in Alvarez who has yet to reach his physical prime. Alvarez’ performance and where he goes from here however, is not the story that came out of this fight. No one can take anything away from the heart Alfredo Angulo showed in this fight. In the opinion of this observer however, the beating Angulo suffered throughout this fight was such that it could not only have an effect on his career, but more importantly could have long-term effects on his health.

 The stoppage of this fight was met with outrage from the crowd in attendance and Angulo himself. The stoppage in this observer’s eyes was appropriate. There have been many tragedies throughout the history of Boxing with a commonality that perhaps such tragedies may have been avoided had a fight been stopped earlier. Tragedies such as fatalities and fighters suffering permanent medical problems as a result of taking too much punishment in the ring sadly is a reality of the sport.

Following the fight I commented on Twitter that Referee Tony Weeks should be given credit for doing his job. Although some fans may feel that the stoppage was premature, a referee’s primary objective other than to make sure rules and regulations are followed, above all is to protect the safety and well-being of the fighters who are competing in the ring. With all due respect to fans who may feel that the fight was stopped prematurely and who believe should have seen a more definitive ending to this fight, referees are not supposed to let fights go on for the sake of the entertainment value it might bring the audience.

Many will remember the story of Heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov who collapsed shortly after his bout with Mike Perez last November in Madison Square Garden. Abdusalamov suffered a severe brain injury, which led to him being placed in a medically induced coma and suffering a stroke. 

It was recently reported by various media outlets that the Abdusalamov family has filed documents stating the intent to sue the state of New York and the New York State Athletic Commission claiming  negligence and medical malpractice.

My thoughts and prayers continue to go out to Magomed Abdusalamov and his family. What will come out of the litigation in regard to what happened in that fight and the subsequent tragedy that followed remains to be seen.

An argument should be made that it is better for a referee to exercise his or her judgment and potentially risk stopping a fight early, choosing to err on the side of caution rather than allowing a fighter to take one punch too many. The potential for injury and tragic circumstances is something that will remain an issue for the sport.

Therefore, I find it impossible to point the finger of blame in the direction of a referee for doing his job. A statistical scenario as evidence of why this fight should have been stopped is demonstrated in the final CompuBox statistics in Alvarez landing 295 of 513 total punches to Angulo’s 104 of 770 at the time of the stoppage. A difference of 191 punches landed. 

Although I am of the opinion that the stoppage of this fight was appropriate and give high praise to Referee Tony Weeks for preventing Angulo from taking further punishment, for those who feel the stoppage was premature,  in closing I am compelled to ask this question. Had the fight been allowed to continue and if Angulo were to have suffered effects from the punishment he took throughout this fight after the fight, would those who felt the stoppage was premature be saying that the fight should have been stopped?

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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