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Alvarez-Trout: Shades of the past, a window to the future


Saturday night’s WBA/WBC junior middleweight unification bout between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Austin “No Doubt” Trout to be held before a sold out crowd of 38,000 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas is being compared the “super fight” between Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker held at the same locale nearly 20 years ago. From a fighting style standpoint, that comparison would be incorrect. In terms of how important the win is to either man for differing reasons, the comparison is accurate.

Chavez-Whitaker featured two accomplished champions coming together in front of an Alamodome crowd of 65,000. The fight, held at the catch weight of 145 pounds for Whitaker’s 147 pound title, was more about determining who the best the fighter in the world at the time was. There was no question Chavez was the bigger draw but much lay beneath the surface as to who the better fighter was.

The Don King-promoted Chavez entered the ring a 31 year-old superstar boxer with an 87-0 with 75 knockouts record that garnered him five world titles in three divisions. That the fight with Whitaker did 65,000 in attendance speaks to that fact. A right-handed fighter who cut off the ring and punished opponents to the body like few men have ever in boxing’s history with wins over Roger Mayweather, Hector Camacho and Meldrick Taylor , Chavez was as feared as he was respected heading into that September 10, 2003 showdown. For the bout, the junior welterweight champion weighed 142 pounds.


For his part, Whitaker was no slouch, either. Promoted by Dan Duva, the gifted southpaw from Norfolk, Virginia, Whitaker capped a stellar amateur career with a 1984 Olympic gold medal.  As a member of one of the most talented U.S. boxing teams in history, Whitaker had stood out as a supreme defensive talent. As a pro, Whitaker showed that not only could his defense defy logic but that the greatest of his strengths could set up some highlight reel knockouts. Heading into the bout, Whitaker was 29 years old with a record 32-1 with 15 knockouts. Like Chavez, Whitaker came into the ring having won five world titles in three divisions. But despite all he had accomplished, a win over someone of Chavez’ stature would hopefully give Whitaker the respect he felt he deserved. Whitaker, the WBC welterweight (147 pound limit) champion weighed the agreed upon 145 limit for the bout.


In boxing circles, the fight is known as two things: A masterpiece of sweet science virtuosity by Pernell Whitaker and one of boxing’s worst decisions. Whitaker put on a boxing clinic while Chavez, ever brave and moving forward, looked lost as to how to solve the puzzle before him for the majority of the rounds. In the end, the judges had it the fight a Majority Draw. Judge Jack Woodruff gave it Whitaker by a small margin of 115-113 but Judges Mickey Vann and Franz Marti inexplicably scored the fight 115-115. It is hard to impossible to find a respected boxing person who agrees with those scores.


With the stakes so high for both men, the sport got it wrong on a massive level. In all other sports, the score is never up for debate. But in boxing, the score is almost always up for grabs. Hometown advantage, a more prominent or connected promoter, biased networks all contribute to the ambiguity we call “judging a boxing match.” There is still currently no firewall insuring that no one involved with a promotion, and that includes sanctioning bodies, is in control of selecting the judges. Twenty years after the outrage that is the scoring for Whitaker-Chavez, nothing has changed in regards to how fights are scored and judges are selected.


And so we head into Saul Alvarez vs. Austin Trout.


Promotionally, there are some interesting relationships at play. Alvarez was already becoming a star before Golden Boy signed him. Even when they did, Alvarez remained in control of his career trajectory by maintaining his own promotional company and pushing his own agenda.


Trout is advised/managed by Al Haymon who many in the industry feel is calling a lot of shots within Golden Boy. While Trout is certainly promotable with his friendly, intelligent demeanor and willingness to fight the best, it is Alvarez who Showtime (who is televising this and pretty much every Golden Boy/Haymon fight) and Golden Boy are hitching their futures to. Even though both men are promoted under the same banner essentially, from a promotional standpoint, Alvarez is Chavez and Trout is Whitaker.  




Alvarez is Mexican. His demographic from a marketing standpoint, is the fastest growing in the U.S. Couple that with his large following in Mexico plus his aggressive style, red hair and freckled complexion and you have the makings of a perfect marketing storm. One need only to look at Alvarez’ career trajectory over the course of his last ten fights to see how far he is come and how big he will likely be should he win Saturday night in the first elite test of his career. An even stronger example of how much power Canelo wields is found simply in the fact that this fight is happening on April 20 in San Antonio, Texas with tickets as low as $10.


Alvarez had been slated to be the co-headliner for Floyd Mayweather vs. Robert Guerrero May 4 with the Mayweather-Alvarez slated for September. When that deal was not secured, Alvarez decided to headline his own show against Austin Trout, a style many (including some of Alvarez’ own team) said was all wrong for him. But Alvarez wanted to graduate to his own shows while stepping up to face an elite fighter in a match boxing fans care about both online and at the box office.


Here is Steve Kim with an in-depth look at how this fight happened and why:


Austin Trout is an African-American fighter who hails from Las Cruces, New Mexico. In boxing, the African-American community is not known as one that travels great distances to fill large stadiums in support of its fighters. Few fighting demographics do that. In many ways, the African-American market in boxing is both an untapped and neglected market that few promoters have been able to successfully mine with consistency. While Trout is eloquent, intelligent and media friendly, from a marketing standpoint his potential has yet to be fully harnessed. His upset win over Miguel Cotto in December, which landed him this fight, introduced many boxing fans to who he is both as a man and a fighter. A win over Alvarez would push Trout further into the mainstream light and certainly make him a player at the elite level. But that’s if he gets the win. As it stands, Trout has respect in boxing but not the clout that Alvarez does.


An interesting note is Trout was able to push for a stipulation the fight use out of competition testing for the period of training camp to the night of the fight. While Trout asked for the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association to conduct the testing, the bout is being tested under the auspices of promoter Golden Boy’s agency of choice, the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Alvarez, who readily agreed to the testing, joins Amir Khan and Shane Mosley as the only fighters to undergo testing by both agencies as professional fighters.


As a fight, Chavez-Whitaker and Alvarez-Trout have few parallels: Alvarez, like Chavez, fights out of the orthodox stance and Trout, like Whitaker, fights as a southpaw. Alvarez is Mexican. Trout is African-American. If you wanted to stretch, you could say that Whitaker is a defensive master and Trout is a defensive fighter. But again, you’d be stretching and ignoring that there are more ways to defend a cat than one.


Alvarez has long been his own man as a fighter. Having turned pro at age 15 under the guidance and tutelage of Eddie and Jose Reynoso, Alvarez has been crafted into Mexican fighter for the modern day. The aggression, body punching and ability to pressure fight like few nationalities is intact. In that sense, sure, he resembles Chavez. But extras have been added to the no-frills model typical of many Mexican fighters who think Chavez’ was a simple, straight forward attacker (newsflash: He wasn’t). An attention to defense born of a natural counter puncher mentality has been put in place. A patient, measured attack has been coupled with a hard, straight jab that Alvarez rarely forgets to use which opens up his technically sound offense. This is not a simple brawler. This is a kid who had almost no amateur experience who turned pro at age 15 and has been carefully developed for the long haul over pro 41 fights with no losses, one draw and 30 wins by knockout. While Alvarez has faced the likes of Shane Mosley, Ryan Rhodes and Kermit Cintron, they were less threats at the time he faced them than they were prep for a prime challenge like Trout. If Trout is fighting to become a draw, Alvarez is fighting for what Trout has in the boxing community: respect.


At his best, Pernell Whitaker could stand in front of you, make you miss five times and then make you pay dearly. He had an ability to stand in one spot and bend, twist, dodge, duck and dip his way out of harm like few ever have or ever will in boxing. Austin Trout, 26-0 with 14 knockouts, fights tall behind a long right jab. While Trout loves to use combination punching and footwork to keep his opponents at the proper range while staying out of harm’s way he is not known to stand in front of you while making five punches miss. Trout will exchange but a defensive wizard he is not. It’s safe to say while Alvarez’ slower feet will have trouble tracking Trout down, it won’t be because “No Doubt” has the slippery upper body movement of Whitaker.


If Trout wins and decisively, there will be a mandatory rematch. If Trout loses a close one? Well, we’ll see. The match-up figures to be a good one with tight action throughout. We’re going to find out the answer to a lot of questions.


Is Canelo’s chin for real at the elite level? While Trout is not known as a knockout artist, he can punch. Coupled with his hand speed, footwork and combinations, it is conceivable Alvarez will be hit with Trout punches he does not seeing coming.


Can Trout get a fair shake in Texas? Will the judges favor Trout moving and boxing or will they award Alvarez simply for being aggressive if he cannot track down the fleeter of foot fighter?


Is Trout an elite 154 pounder or a good fighter who beat an older, never had a win over a viable 154 pounder Miguel Cotto? I’m not sure if beating Alvarez, who is taking his first true test, is a good measure of that but the question remains.


Knockout losses can diminish a fighter without question. It says here that a knockout loss for Canelo will not happen on Saturday. But a close (or wide) decision loss for Alvarez, which is possible, won’t be devastating if that does happen. What it might do is set up a rivalry we can cherish for years to come or push the young man to further add to his game. It could be an interesting jumping off point for the 22 year old Alvarez.


A loss for Trout won’t be his end, either. But he will go back to being what he has been even to now: a top shelf fighter no one with any drawing power has any reason to face. The exception being that after a loss Saturday, Trout wouldn’t have that precious title belt as leverage anymore. At age 27, Trout’s career will likely survive but it will be a tougher road for him to bounce back than Alvarez.


Whether Alvarez-Trout is a mirror image of Chavez-Whitaker or not, the stakes are high for the winner. Pay-per-view dates, a possible showdown with Floyd Mayweather, and of course, millions of future dollars are on the line. While losing won’t end any careers here, winning is certainly always a better proposition. Here is hoping that if the fighters’ chemistry is as good as their fights generally are, that boxing does it’s part and doesn’t draw one more parallel to Chavez-Whitaker. Here is hoping the right man wins, whomever that may be.

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