It was a case of “Let’s go inside”, an inversion of the usual idiom for a fight, at Texas’s AT&T venue tonight as WBO light-middleweight titlist Liam Smith and Saul Alvarez tangled for the Liverpudlian’s belt.
It was fitting that these two single-minded fighters met in the Lone Star State at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in a fight that didn’t feature a pair of angels, but instead pitched together two men with a point or two to prove.
Smith wanted to prove that he is the real deal at 154lbs; Alvarez briefly hit the scales at that poundage to move away from the frankly ludicrous 155lbs Canelo-weight that he has operated, and handicapped, in during recent times. Both men hit 154lbs on the scales during Friday’s weight-in yet the challenger looked the far bigger man in the ring.
However, it has been a long career for Alvarez; he is a little older, wiser and was handed a prime time Mexican Holiday slot by promoter Oscar De La Hoya, who has been a father figure to his charge, in a bid to underline his own top table credentials following middleweight Champion Gennady Golovkin’s dismantling of IBF welterweight holder Kell Brook last week.
A nomad when it comes to his poundage, “Canelo” endured careless whispers about his weight coming in. Would he hit the light-middleweight limit and, if he did, what would be left of him?
As for Smith, he could have opted for a few more easier affairs, but it was clear that ambition burned brightly in him despite a quiet opening round. His faith in his pre-fight claims that he would come on strong late evidenced by an energy-saving early few stanzas.
One of four brothers, a huge source of their mother’s pride, the Liverpudlian visitor kept it tight early and seemed to be praying for time as he sought to reach the high ground of the late-to-middle rounds in order to see if he could dredge Alvarez’s reserves of strength away from him.
A shot made Alvarez move a fast glove up in defence, it appeared that his own glove nicked the Mexican’s left eye in round two, a trickle of blood leaked from the slit. It wasn’t an amazing round, however Smith must have been feeling good after staying in the stanza, the fight and remaining on course for the deeper waters.
Every fighter waits for that day when things come their way and opportunity knocks; Alvarez, though, has conquered the world more than once so has the patience that success brings, biding his time and working away as he aimed for yet another title belt.
— HBOboxing (@HBOboxing) September 18, 2016
Smith decided to spin the wheel when accepting this one. He needed to be flawless in every department and concentration was etched across his features by round four, a tight defence preventing Alvarez from a flawless display, although he was effective and picked his punches well to maintain a solid lead.
Smith, though, started to grow into it, whispering to his opponent like Jesus to a child as the fifth ended. Still, a flash of blood above his right eye was a warning sign that he was a few clean, accurate shots from being in a bit of bother.
It was intense without producing the type of shot that makes the legs do the jitterbug; Alvarez was in control and Smith had to stoically march through a mask of blood as the cut above his eye worsened. He looked disheartened for a moment in a different corner from his usual, home one, maybe losing a bit of the pre-fight faith in his ability to take the middle rounds by the scruff of the neck.
Like a shark smelling blood in the water, Alvarez patiently waited for his moment in round seven then took it when flooring Smith with an overhand right. The British boxer rose, and was firing back by the round’s end, but it was a tipping point, as it was Smith, not Canelo, who was supposed to rise in the middle rounds.
A left to the solar plexus in round eight dropped Smith for the second time in the fight, serving notice that Alvarez can pick out a body shot. Smith rose for more.
Ironically, it had started to take a similar shape to the fight between Brandos Rios and John Murray, Joe Gallagher’s former charge, in that Smith was game yet seemed to pale in comparison to the sheet bulk of Alvarez who, like Rios, was a much bigger, seasoned unit than his British opponent.
— HTC_Antonieta (@HTC_Antonieta) September 18, 2016
Another left hook made it all she wrote in round nine, a body shot sank in and Smith went down heavily, referee Luis Pabon waved it off at 2:29 to leave Smith, now 23-1-1 (13 KOs) living in a broken dream despite a game resistance.
Alvarez’s legacy has not been cemented at middleweight, as he never really was one, and he was soundly beaten by Floyd at a catchweight of 152 for the WBC World belt. It is time to start thinking about where he will be ranked, because we do not really know and he is already a half-century in.
It is either consolidation at 154 or a step up to 160 proper to meet Golovkin. Either way, Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) is the face of boxing now and has a few bargaining chips, so he will probably ponder his next move carefully before moving on.
As for Smith, it is a learning curve. He stepped up to the plate, kept a few spinning when under duress and will go back to the drawing board. At 28, he has time on his side and will want to get back into the world title mix. A fight against Kell Brook could be on the table if it makes sense, and it would be a crossroads fight for two men who have tasted the top-level and fell short.