Robert Brizel Editorial: Canelo’s Master Game Plan, Thoughts On Tonight’s Big Fight

Editorial By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent

Santos Saul Alvarez Barragan, AKA Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, faces his most dangerous opponent in his career history, 30-0 Billy Jo Saunders, since losing a majority decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr.  in 2013, some years ago. The bottom line is Canelo has stated he wants to fight only the most dangerous opponents. The most dangerous challenger of all available challengers is Saunders, a co-world champion along with Canelo in the 168 pounds super middleweight weight class. Saturday night, May 7, 2021, will feature the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Organisation, and World Boxing Association Super World Super Middleweight titles at unification stake in this high stakes megabout.

Already in the sixteenth year of a career which began in October 2005 with a fourth round stoppage of 0-1 Abraham Gonzalez in a scheduled four rounder at Arena Chololo Larios, Tonala, Mexico, Canelo’s 55-1-2 record includes an early draw with 3-5 Jorge Juarez, whose ultimate 8-27-3 record includes a first round knockout loss to 36-0 Jaime Munguia, the always dangerous former world junior middleweight champion now campaigning at 160 pounds with a WBO Inter-Continental Middleweight regional title whom Canelo has yet to face but eventually will.

At age 30, Canelo’s two technical wars with Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, the first of which he most certainly lost everywhere but two questionable scorecards, raise squestions about tonight’s matchup with Saunders. Ring size brouhaha aside (and Canelo has stated Saunders can have any ring size he wants), Canelo is now in with a challenger who is multi-faceted. Canelo has reached round 12 fourteen times, and has gone to the decision in thirteen of those contests, so he is not invincible. He has gone the ten round distance five times, including an odd 10 round split decision win over 5-17-2 Francisco Villanueva in June 2008. Detroit welterweight Lanardo Tyner, 21-2 when he fought Canelo in December 2009 in Tepic, Mexico, for the NABF Welterweight title, still claims he won every round against Canelo, but got only one round on one scorecard from the Mexican judges.

Tonight’s classic confrontation main event at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, virtually guarantees the big draw Canelo will get all three scorecards by geographical location to Mexico. The border states of Mexico and Mexico itself are Canelo territory. However, at 5’8″ with a 70 ½ inch reach, Canelo faces Saunders, at 5’11” and with 71 inches of reach, who has height and foot speed advantage. In a smaller ring, this facet could actually work to Canelo’s disadvantage. If Saunders moves well and walks Canelo down, Canelo could wind up in a backing up situation dealing with the sort of extreme pressure he’s never been under before. The height and reach advantage of the 6’3″ and 78 inches reach of Callum Smith did not figure into their 12 rounder, won by Canelo by decision easily in December 2020. Canelo did get inside, land more, and outwork Smith, who was unable to use his assets to his advantage against the smarter Canelo. Yes, Canelo is a smart fighter who can switchup his game plan and styles to fit the round or mid-round situation at any point in a bout. Canelo is still a thinking boxer’s boxer, better than all of the rest, a modern Floyd.

Saunders has won 12 rounders in title bouts 12 times, a level of experience Canelo has yet to experience. As a southpaw, Saunders could switch up stances and try to keep Canelo awkwardly off balance a la Michael Spinks style.  Saunders will have an edge if he succeeds in confusing Canelo in the early and middle rounds.

The key to Canelo’s success will be in the championship rounds. Jabs and power shots will be at even exchange, with Canelo having the edge in the punch count on scoring combinations. Canelo will have to break Saunders down to stop him late or pull the decision out on the scorecards. Saunders cannot fight a cautious fight as the volume punching Chris Arreola did last week in his 12 rounder with Andy Ruiz Jr. in a major heavyweight eliminator. If you have the skills, you have to be able to put it all on the table if you have done the work. If Saunders fights a cautious fight as Arreola did, Canelo will get the scorecards in every round save if Saunders scores a knockdown in any round in which case the round would be his. A few flash knockdowns are possible in this bout, but should not affect the bout’s outcome as the fight will drag into the later rounds.

Canelo’s master plan, as with Smith, is to get inside and seriously break Saunders down, and force Saudners into a defensive posture for the majority of the rounds. The only chance Saudners really has outside of the United Kingdom on foreign soil is to throw caution to the wind, fight Canelo hard, take his chance, and try to take Canelo out. This approach did not work for James Kirkland or Avni Yildirim (who got beaten by Canelo early), but they did not have Saunders’ level of talent. It is Saunders real only chance.

Hand speed is also going to figure in. The accuracy of the flow, and pinpoint timing, are a major key. Canelo is super fast, but he can be outworked. Even if Canelo does get the cards, much like the first Golovkin fight, or his gift split decision over Erislandy Lara at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in July 2014, Saunders could succeed in making Canelo look bad.

Canelo is to be praised by openly calling out all oppoents and seeking to fight the best of the best at all times. John Ryder showed up to show up Saunders if Saunders backed out, so Canelo will probably fight the brash Ryder next in september 2021. Canelo knows the only way to be him at this point in the game is to knock him out. With Saunders, that is never going to happen. Canelo can be stopped, but it would require the sort of masterful technical performance of a Bob Foster or Larry Holmes or Marvelous Marvin Hagler in their prime. Canelo versus Saunders is going the distance, and while the scorecards will be close, Saunders will be forced into a defensive mode by the middle and later rounds. It will be a close but unanimous decision for Canelo. This will leave Canelo, for the most part, looking forward to the 175 pounds light heavyweight division in 2022, and Gilberto Ramirez in his probable sights for a title of some kind by that point. Canelo is to be praised for keeping active regularly with all of his recent title bouts, and the sport of boxing on its feet during an otherwise sports difficult time period in history due to the COVID-19 Novel coronavirus pandemic, which may take a few years to wind down worldwide, or not.

The biggest question is whether or not Canelo will give a third match to Gennadiy Golovkin. While Golovkin is getting older, at 39 he holds two 160 pounds world titles again (IBF and IBO), and he is like fine wine, getting better with age. GGG is likely to win a few more titles at 160. Canelo versus GGG II would have to be at a higher weight, 168 or 175 pounds, as Bernard Hopkins did when he fought Kelly Pavlik at 175 pounds. GGG versus Canelo III would do best at 168 pounds, but since a Canelo loss to GGG would trigger a GGG versus Canelo IV, and lower his big draw stock, a third with III is unlikely part of team Canelo’s master plan.

After Saunders and Ryder, Canelo’s master plan will feature ongoing entertainment against the various pretenders at 168 pounds. If Canelo wants to go back down to 160 pounds, and tangle with GGG again, Munguia, Ryota Murata, Jermall Charlo, Demitrius Andrade and the rapidly risibng Kanat Islam, it would still be a challenging road.

Due to the pandemic, any boxing or professional sports on the television or pay-per-view at all to be considered a blessed event. Whether or not it is a wise decision to open the spectator seats up in part or to full occupancy in the weeks and months to come, by sports, is an economic decision to be weighed against the cost of human lives. It is still this reporter’s view that it is better to remain safe than sorry, and until the pandemic is resolved, a cautious approach should be maintained. The master plan of both Canelo and Saunders could be impacted by the vibrations of the moment. They may simply want to get the bout over with, while still avoiding any risk of the coronavirus contagion from each other, their respective corners, or the ringside officials. The virus is an additional consideration which should not affect either fighter’s game plan, but depending on how many people are allowed to view the spectacle of Canelo live, the fears of the coronavirus could force both fighters into a far more cautious, reserved fight than they would otherwise have fought.