Canelo Alvarez was awarded a controversial split decision over Erislandy Lara this past Saturday night inside of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The judges scorecards read 115-113 for Lara and 115-113 and 117-111 for Canelo. The Showtime commentators could not agree either. Steve Farhood had it 115-113 for Lara while Brian Kenny had it 116-112 for Canelo.
This was a classic matchup between speed and power. Lara used his jab, movement and quickness. Canelo countered with relentless pressure, power and body work. They landed almost the same number of strikes and the rounds were close throughout the fight.
Controversy is more than just a Prince song
We got Vegas, a big boxing match and two contrasting styles. Then you mix in a promoter who has made perfectly clear who he wanted to win the fight. Then that fighter wins and one of the judges turn in a crazy card. On top of that, all one fighter wanted to do was put his belt on the line and the other one had no interest. Yeah, we got ourselves a whole lot of strange behavior that all adds up to controversy.
Oscar De La Hoya has not really helped out this situation with his behavior. He never wanted Canelo to fight Lara and was quick to dismiss any chances of a rematch after the fight. Not that many people outside of Lara’s camp were calling for a rematch. It was a frustrating fight for many to watch while others appreciated the defense of Lara and Canelo’s aggression.
Afterwards Canelo accused Lara of running the whole fight and Lara claimed that the body punches lacked power. Kenny was debating Pauli Malignaggi who seemed to take the 117-111 score very personally. Lara’s camp was trumpeting the stats after the fight and De La Hoya was telling us they were not accurate. Which is funny because if you look closely at the numbers they really do not support Lara as much as they seem to think they do.
Let’s take a closer look at this fight and see if we can make some sense out of it.
The Tale of the Tape
When they put up the tale of the tape the two things that pop off of the screen are Canelo’s age of only 23 years old and Lara’s five-inch reach advantage.
Canelo seems older due to his being at the top of the sport for the last four years. At 23 he carries eight years of professional experience. Like many fighters in Mexico he turned pro at 15. At 31 years old and coming from the Cuban system Lara is the more experienced of the two.
Lara’s reach is a key element due to how he approached this fight using his jab and legs. To do that effectively he needed to use his reach to his advantage and not have it just be a number on the screen. Having a longer reach and being a taller fighter is not an advantage if you do not use it.
Before the fight Lara was pretty dismissive of Canelo. Throughout the build up to the fight he questioned Canelo’s cardio. He felt that it was fine through the first five to six rounds but faded after that. He planned on exploiting that element in the later rounds. First he was going to wear Canelo out by forcing him to chase him around the ring.
Did Lara run, or box?
That was one of the debates after the fight between Malignaggi and Kenny afterwards. Even Lara supporter Malignaggi had to admit he did a bit of both.
The early rounds and Lara’s strong start
In the first round you could see what each fighter was trying to do in the fight. Lara was jabbing and moving. At times he mixed in combinations and often doubled up on the jab and moved, and moved and moved. Around the ring first one direction, then the other. When Canelo did throw a strike Lara was usually able to avoid it, even the body shots.
The body was an area of focus for Canelo and it made sense. The body is a bigger and easier target to hit. It is also harder to move than the head. Lara was still able to avoid the body shots as well as most of the head shots. In the first round his movement allowed Lara to implement his game plan and control the distance of the fight.
In the second round Canelo started to have more success with the body shots and pressure. He landed a left hook when Lara was off-balance and it staggered him but did not hurt him. Lara started to come back using his jab and moving away. Malignaggi noted that Canelo was using his jab more in this round, something he did very sparingly in this fight. His focus was the body.
Lara was negating the body punches with his footwork and movement. Even if he could not read the punch soon enough to avoid it he still was able to move with the punch to reduce its impact. This meant that even when Canelo was connecting he was not doing much damage. Canelo was trying to catch Lara as he was moving to create a better impact but Lara was seeing everything easily in the first three rounds.
The third round was Lara moving around the ring dancing in to land a strike or two and then out again. It was a frustrating round for Canelo who spent much of it chasing Lara and getting hit with little potshots.
The score after three rounds
The two scores that make sense at this point are either 3-0 for Lara or 2-1. The second round was the closest of the three and you can make the argument for Canelo in that round.
The other two rounds are Lara’s. Whether you like his style or not you have to admit that it is effective and based on the scoring criteria he won the first three rounds. Neither fighter had been hurt and Lara was landing more punches.
Lara land 12 total punches in round 1 to Canelo’s 6 with Canelo taking the edge in power punches 5 to 4. Round 2 was the same with Lara landing 11 to Canelo’s 9 overall and Canelo leading with 6 to 5 power shots. The third was a little more Lara’s who landed 7 overall and 2 power shots to Canelo’s 2 overall and 1 power shot.
The numbers do not tell the story but they can help fill in the details. What we see here is that in three rounds where Lara looked his best he did not really out strike Canelo by much and landed less power shots.
Canelo’s response is all about that body
Lara came out in the fourth popping his jab and moving around the ring. Canelo was coming forward trying to land something and just missed with a couple of body shots. Then almost thirty seconds into the round he landed a hard right and left to the body. A few moments later and another good left to the body.
After a clinch Canelo used a jab to deflect Lara’s and that opened up a solid right hand to the body. Unlike the first three rounds when Lara was able to move with the punches to negate the power of them, these were landing as he was either stationary or moving into them. Before they separate Canelo landed a left and right to the body.
After Lara used a one two combo to gain room Canelo stalked him into a corner. In this round you saw him finally have Lara’s timing down. This time Canelo threw his jab first but just flicked it out there instead of snapping it. This allowed him to duck under Lara’s jab and deliver a hard right hand to the body that buckled Lara’s left knee.
Lara quickly scooted away forcing the referee to show some nimble footwork to avoid him. He could say what he wanted afterwards – that body shot affected him. You could tell moments later when Canelo feinted a body shot from distance and Lara jumped back. From there he landed a straight left that caused a little swelling under Canelo’s eye. From there Lara spent the rest of the round running.
The fifth started with Lara moving, landing and avoiding Canelo’s punches. Then Canelo landed six body shots in one combination. That was his focus in the round. He also landed two punches to the hip which led to a warning from the ref to keep them up. He landed one earlier in the fight as well.
This was a smart tactic by Canelo against Lara. In the combat sports that allow you to attack the legs, intelligent fighters use it to slow down their faster opponents.
Lara spent the round moving. He did some boxing but much of it was spent avoiding Canelo. This carried over into the sixth round where Lara’s focus was again moving and avoiding. When he did throw punches they were more like extended fakes that were more intended to get Canelo to move than to hit and hurt him. Technically his arm was extending out in a punching motion but they had no force behind them.
The numbers after six rounds
In round 4 Canelo landed 9 total strikes to Lara’s 3 with both of them landing only power shots in the round. In the 5th round they both landed 11 punches. Canelo’s were all power shots while Lara only managed to land 6 of them. The 6th round was another close one with Lara edging Canelo in total punches 7 to 6 but again it is Canelo leading the way with power shots 6 to 4.
It is easiest to score these three rounds for Canelo. In rounds where so few punches are landed the one landing the majority of the power shots is likely going to take the round. If Lara is going to fight such a defensive style then he needs to be out landing Canelo significantly, not just by a punch.
The score that makes the most sense at the halfway point is 3-3. If you scored round 2 for Canelo I can see it but I feel it was Lara’s round. When you compare rounds 2 and 6 they look similar from the numbers. Lara landed 2 more total strikes in round 2 with one less power shot. The difference was that in round 2 Lara was more active and threw more punches than Canelo and was actually trying to hit him. In round 6 it was more about moving and avoiding.
The second half shifts
With an even fight after six rounds the two fighters were still trying to find control in this fight. Lara had fought his fight in the first three rounds. While Canelo had fought his was back into it in the next three. All six of the rounds had been close with low punch outputs.
It was starting to come together as a contest between Lara’s jab and movement versus Canelo’s body work and pressure. Lara had said that he planned on tiring Canelo out and then turning up the defense. Instead it was Canelo working the body that seemed to be slowing Lara down.
Again, Lara opens up the seventh round with five straight jabs that were all thrown at three-quarters speed with the intention of getting Canelo to react and annoy him. After getting backed into the corner Lara uses a one two to get himself out. He looks to move, clinch and uses his half-jab to frustrate Canelo in the first half of the round. Then Canelo started to find the body again. Moments later Canelo also landed a solid left hook to the body and one to the head.
From then on Lara got his track shoes on for the rest of the round. He actually seemed to be doing some of his best work when in the corners. He used his hands to land some punches and head movement to avoid Canelo’s who would target the head more in these exchanges. Instead of trying to build on those moments Lara would just use them to get out and start running. Canelo then would go back to the body including another shot to Lara’s right hip.
Canelo also opened up a cut over Lara’s right eye with a wicked uppercut in the round. It was a sweet sneaky one from Canelo. Lara was backing up and as Canelo came in he drew back the left-hand and it looked like another hook to the body. Lara covered up and crunched down and to the right to protect the body. Canelo instead brought the left hand up between the gloves and caught Lara cleanly on the right eye.
For someone who said afterwards that the body shots did not have any power behind them Lara was working very hard to protect his body from the possible strike.
Lara spent the eighth round moving, and moving and moving. It is rounds like this that make the claim of him running for much of the fight valid.
In the ninth round Canelo did a better job of cutting Lara off and landing punches. It looked like Lara is the one slowing down in this round, not Canelo.
There was a clash of heads in the round and they both pushed back with their heads after the clash. At first the referee only seemed to warn Canelo then told them both to watch their heads. Neither fighter was hurt from the accidental head-butt but it showed that Lara was clinching a little more as he did not have the energy to run as much. Canelo’s bodywork was starting to affect Lara.
The numbers after nine
Of rounds seven, eight and nine I would score seven and nine for Canelo and could see the eighth for him as well. In round 7, Canelo out landed Lara 9 to 8 overall and 7 to 3 in power punches. In the 8th round Lara leads the way with 9 overall to Canelo’s 6 and Canelo has the edge 5 to 3 in power shots. The 9th is Canelo’s best one of the three rounds. He out landed Lara 13 to 9 overall and 13 to 6 in power shots.
For me Lara does just enough to eek out the eighth round making it 5-4 for Canelo after nine. I could see Canelo getting the eighth though and it being 6-3 Canelo also.
The final three rounds
The tenth round was one of Lara’s best rounds. He was moving and landing combos then moving some more. Canelo was able to find the body but not as much in this round. If Lara had fought more rounds like this one it would have been his fight. If not on the judges cards then at least with the fans and the media. Right now they are very split on who won this fight.
The eleventh was more of the same for Lara with a little more movement and less landing of punches. Each fighter had about one or two good solid shots. It was one of the rounds with very little action making it very hard to score and judge.
Going into the final round it felt like watching it the first time that the fight could come down to this round. In the opening 30 seconds of the round Canelo landed a nice four punch combo to the body. A little later Lara responded with clean three punch one to Canelo’s face.
This round was the fight we should have seen. It had Lara moving and punching. Canelo was cutting him off and working the body. It was back and forth with each fighter answering the other.
In this round, for the whole round, Lara was moving and looking for openings to strike and not just to avoid Canelo. It was much like the fight many had hoped we would see, one that showcased the best of their skills.
When the fight ended it looked like Lara thought he won more than Canelo did at the one point in time. Lara landed another quick one two and moved away. He raised his right arm before the bell had sounded and ran to his corner and leaped up in the ropes. Canelo took a moment before raising his hand and looked dejected .
The final numbers
In round 10 Lara led the way out landing Canelo 11 to 8 overall but trailed in power punches 8 to 4. In the 11th Lara held a slight edge 7 to 6 overall and tied Canelo in power with both registering 5 of them. In the 12th they tied in overall punches with 12 each with Canelo’s all being power shots and Lara landing 7 of them.
Overall Lara landed 107 to Canelo’s 97. One big difference is the kind of punches they each landed. Lara landed 55 jabs and Canelo countered with 73 body shots.
I would personally score rounds 9 and 10 for Lara and round 12 for Canelo making it a draw on my card. Now the two 115-113 scorecards make sense, there are enough close rounds where you could see how they get to those scores. It is the 117-111 that is troublesome.
To score the fight that way makes it look like the judge was looking for a way to give rounds to Canelo. That is scoring the fight 9-3 in rounds for Canelo. Even if you give Canelo the second round you are then saying that Lara only won one more round. I question whether you were watching the fight or just listening to the fans in the crowd.
The crowd is one reason you have to re-watch this fight with the sound off. They go crazy for every little thing Canelo does in the fight whether he did damage or not.
The Aftermath: Questions Remain
To no one’s surprise both fighters thought they had won the fight. Lara and his camp were calling for a rematch. Both Canelo and De La Hoya dismissed it. De La Hoya never wanted Canelo to fight Lara at all and will do all he can to keep them apart.
Why was this not a title fight? I am sure it has happened before but I am surprised that Lara was willing to put his WBA interim World light middleweight title on the line but Canelo said no. It makes you wonder why?
One reason is that maybe he did not want to be forced into a rematch. He said afterwards he took this fight to prove to the media and fans who said he would not take it that they were wrong. Going into the fight it was thought that Lara was a bad matchup for him and it proved out that way. Whether you think he won the fight or not it was an ugly one. If Canelo wins the title Lara could find himself in right back as the mandatory challenger forcing them to fight again. It could also be that Canelo just does not value the interim belt that much.
While their future opponents are not clear we do know they will not be facing each other anytime soon. Lara had to campaign to get this fight and now De La Hoya has even less interest in making it happen again.
It’s his clear desire to protect Canelo that brings a cloud to this whole thing. It opens up the question of Levi Martinez and his 117-111 scorecard. It should not be that way but when the promoter has a young money ticket type of fighter in boxing questions start to arise.
It could just be bad judging. It is Vegas and it was a tough, close fight to score. Two of the cards reflected that fight and one did not.
Going forward Canelo has the win on his record. He is one of the biggest draws and who his next opponent is will tell us a lot. You have to give Canelo credit just for taking this fight with Lara and you hope he continues to take tough, interesting and risky ones. It is something that is so rare in boxing today a young talented fighter looking to challenge the best. If Canelo is that fighter then he truly is a rare special fighter.