British welterweight Amir Khan steps up tonight in a big way as the challenges WBC middleweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez at the brand new T-Mobile Arena in America’s boxing capital of Las Vegas.
The occasion marks the first defense of the belt by Alvarez, 46-1-1 (32) since unseating Miguel Cotto in November and just like that pairing, the Mexican icon has set a weight limit of 155 pounds for himself and Khan, 31-3 (19), which both men made yesterday on the scales.
While this contest has been rightly portrayed in the media as a classic example of Khan’s speed vs. Alvarez’s power, it really will come down to a mental battle as to who will win this one.
Khan will almost certainly look to follow the blueprint laid down by Floyd Mayweather Jr, the only fighter to defeat Alvarez, by practicing the “stick and move” approach, and the 29 year old Bolton man is probably quick and skilled enough to pull it off.
Alvarez will have to cut off the ring and prevent the taller, longer-armed Khan from staying on the outside, gaining proximity and forcing the challenger to engage in a fight.
The determining factor here is going to be the discipline, or lack thereof, of Khan’s ability to stick to the Mayweather plan.
If Khan can stick to the plan he can pull off the upset, assuming that he has the stamina at the higher weight to do so, but Amir likes to have a tear-up, which, as evidenced in his loss to Danny Garcia in 2012, can have disastrous consequences.
Khan was handily outboxing Garcia until he decided to try and KO the American and was knocked out himself after getting caught with wild roundhouse shots he should have seen coming.
But even if Khan can find the maturity he has sometimes lacked in the past, Alvarez has steadily improved since losing to Mayweather in 2013 and showed very good boxing skill in defeating slick Cuban Erislandy Lara in 2014 and Austin Trout in 2013, both of whom are difficult southpaws.
If Alvarez can force Khan to fight or if Khan decides to get brave and trade punches with the champion, it’s almost a certainty that Canelo will retain his title inside the distance.
But, again, if Khan can stick to the gameplan, he should pull off a huge upset.
Over in England, the action this evening takes place at the cavernous Arena in Manchester as hometown hero Anthony Crolla, 30-4-3 (12), looks to defend his WBA lightweight crown against challenger Ishmael Barroso, 19-0-2 (18).
Barroso was in the UK this past December and earned his shot at the WBA title by stopping one of the most popular boxers in England, Kevin Mitchell, and will be gunning for the same result against Crolla, as the visitor is unlikely to gain a points verdict in the champion’s home venue.
Crolla has never faced someone who can punch as hard as Barroso and this should be an interesting bout, similar in many ways to Alvarez vs. Khan except that Barroso is a southpaw, a stance the champion has not met in a professional ring since 2007 against Johnny Greaves.
Can Crolla avoid the same fate that befell Mitchell? It should be an interesting clash, a genuine 50-50 fight.