Friday, March 7, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez couldn’t have chosen two more contrasting opponents in back-to-back fights.
Canelo suffered the first loss of his career in September when he challenged Floyd Mayweather, Jr., the world’s most well known boxer whose brilliance lies in his tactical mastery. He’ll return at the MGM Grand Garden Arena against Alfredo Angulo, a nominally known brawler who’s worked his way up to one of the biggest fights of the year with unencumbered aggression.
“More than the style difference, I’m just happy to be back in the ring,” Canelo said through a translator. “It’s a tough fight, but I’m very confident.”
No one is confusing the 32-year-old, Mexicali, Mexico, native Angulo as the future of the sport like the 23-year old, Guadalajara-born Canelo, who helped Mayweather sell a record $150 million worth of pay-per-views in a unanimous-decision loss.
Everyone, on the other hand, is expecting “El Perro” to come straight at Canelo and incite what both fighters are referring to as a “Mexican war.” Golden Boy Promotions branded Las Vegas’ first major boxing card of the year, which starts to air on pay-per-view at 6 p.m. Saturday night, with the name “Toe to Toe” for a reason.
“I can sense the storm coming,” said Virgil Hunter, Angulo’s trainer. “This is going to be a savage affair. I’ve been anticipating this for the last couple weeks; I can just feel it.”
Perhaps Hunter, known as one of the top coaches in boxing, is also basing that belief on his experience being in Angulo’s corner during the past two years. Nearly every one of Angulo’s matches features the savagery Hunter referenced.
Angulo has knocked out opponents in 18 of 22 career victories. Even in his three losses, he hasn’t gone down without stinging his foes.
That was best exemplified in Angulo’s last bout in June 2013. Angulo knocked down heavily favored Erislandy Lara twice before getting cracked with a shot that shattered his orbital bone for a 10th-round TKO defeat.
Likewise, Angulo came close to finishing James Kirkland as the two engaged in a Fight of the Year finalist two years ago before Kirkland earned a sixth-round TKO.
“I’ve known about ‘El Perro’ for a long time,” said Jose Reynoso, Canelo’s trainer. “I know he’s a dangerous fighter. He’s the type of fighter where one punch can change everything.”
Canelo might not have Angulo’s knockout ability, but it’s close. Canelo is far more technically efficient and derives his power from countering instead of pressuring like Angulo.
Thirty of Canelo’s 42 victories are by knockout, meaning his stoppage percentage only trails Angulo’s slightly. One fight of interest took place three years ago when Canelo knocked out Kermit Cintron, who was the first fighter to defeat Angulo.
“Everyone says Angulo is the stronger guy,” Canelo said, “but I’m the strongest.”
Questions remain about the fighters’ competition level. Despite everything Angulo has done right in his career, he’s lost to the three most recognizable opponents he’s faced.
Canelo’s controversial unanimous decision over Austin Trout last year is his only victory against one of the world’s best fighters as his dismantling of Shane Mosley came years after “Sugar’s” prime.
Angulo is likely the second-toughest challenge that’s stood in Canelo’s way, and “El Perro” believes he possesses something no other opponent could claim.
“I plan to test him like he’s never been tested before,” Angulo said. “I don’t think anyone has ever hit Canelo as hard as I’m going to hit him.”