Junior middleweight Saul Alvarez and junior lightweight Adrien Broner each scored impressive knockouts Saturday on HBO, Broner doing it quickly in the 1st round and Alvarez taking nearly as long as he could to get the stoppage in the 12th round. At the same time, though, their opponents appeared a bit too cooperative, so they probably won’t get full credit for career-best wins.
ADRIEN BRONER – JASON LITZAU
Litzau was coming off a stunning upset against Celestino Caballero, but as hungry as Litzau was that night much of the blame for Litzau’s victory fell on a completely uninspired Caballero. The thinking beforehand was that Litzau, who’d been in some grueling fights and had been KO’d savagely a couple times in his career, was risking a nasty beating and would be swiftly crushed.
That thought came one opponent too early.
Broner didn’t start the 1st round like a man eager to prove that his ugly performance against Daniel Ponce De Leon was a fluke. He was cautious and refused to lead, forcing Litzau to press the action. Eventually, late in the round, he opened up, and when he did, it was good work. He landed a straight right that had Litzau in trouble, and Broner didn’t let up, rocking Litzau’s head all over the place with quick, powerful shots. The referee stopped the fight just as Litzau began to tumble to the ground.
It’s hard to estimate what this win will do for Broner, since Litzau’s punch resistance looked so bad. On one hand, Litzau’s punch resistance wasn’t so bad against Caballero, but Caballero does his damage with volume punching and was moving up in weight, and the night he fought Litzau there was no volume punching to speak of.
I’m inclined to give Broner credit for such a destructive win, but with a slight caveat about who he did it against. And I’d like to see Broner start a bit faster next time.
Talent-wise, Broner matches up well with anyone in the junior lightweight division. But it’s a weak division, to say the least. Looking down the list of top-10 130-pounders, there’s no match-up for Broner that really enthuses me. I honestly don’t know whom he fights now, but given that he got back on HBO so immediately after a boring, awful performance against De Leon, I have to imagine he’ll be back on HBO soon after a performance like this one.
SAUL ALVAREZ – RYAN RHODES
Despite betting odds that made him a huge underdog, Rhodes in some quarters (including this one) figured as a tough opponent for Alvarez. He was the #4 154-pounder in the world; he had speed and power; and he was a veteran with skill and size.
The betting odds had it right.
Rhodes never opened up, outside of brief stretches in the 6th and 11th. In some rounds, according to CompuBox, he was connecting on just a handful — as few as three — punches. I wondered if it was his age, 34, or if he felt Alvarez’ power early and decided pulling the trigger would be risky. After the fight, Rhodes said it was Alvarez’ body shots that slowed him down.
And they were good body shots. Alvarez’ talent has been doubted in some quarters (including this one), but at 20 years old he’s already one of boxing’s best combination punchers, and when he goes to the body he goes there hard. He clearly punches with power, and he lands flush when he lands.
What I liked about this performance is that Alvarez’ speed showed yet more signs of improving, as did his defense. The reason I doubted Alvarez could go very far was because there were lava lamps faster than him. Alvarez’ speed fared well in comparison to Rhodes’, who isn’t exactly a speedster but has some quickness. Furthermore, while Rhodes threw very few punches, Alvarez dodged a great percentage of them compared to previous outings.
Alvarez just beat down Rhodes for 11 rounds, while Rhodes loaded up on single shots, clearly looking for the knockout with every punch, convinced as he said afterward that he couldn’t win a decision in Mexico. Then, when Rhodes came out in the 12th looking to open up on the instructions of his corner, Alvarez was the one who really opened up, hurting Rhodes with a big combination. The referee stopped the fight just as Rhodes’ corner was tossing the towel into the ring.
Based on this performance — against an opponent who admittedly didn’t do much, albeit because of things Alvarez did — I now look at the junior middleweight division and don’t see an opponent for Alvarez that I’m convinced would beat him. He’s come a long way, has Alvarez, to win me over. And at age 20, there’s room for him to get even better.