By Kieran Mulvaney
OK, hands up who saw that coming? In a development that caught the boxing world by surprise, Canelo Alvarez will defend his middleweight championship against Britain’s Amir Khan in Las Vegas on May 7. The event will be produced and distributed live by HBO PPV.
For Khan, a former two-time titlist at junior welterweight, the matchup presents both risk and opportunity. The risk is clear: having started his professional career at 135 pounds, he has fought only four times at welterweight, and of his three career defeats, two have been by stoppage. Now, albeit at a catchweight of 155 pounds, he is taking on the lineal middleweight champion, who secured the title by outpointing Miguel Cotto in November over 12 rounds in a contest in which he looked substantially the bigger man. Canelo’s capacity to inflict damage on opponents was highlighted by his spectacular third-round knockout of James Kirkland last May, raising the question of just what he might be able to do to a man who has been halted by Breidis Prescott and Danny Garcia.
But it's also an opportunity, and not just because it presents Khan – who for a several years now has been a lonely one-man band in boxing’s subway, simultaneously banging the drum and blowing the horn for a bout against Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao – with the marquee moment he has long craved. If Canelo has shown weaknesses during his career, it has been against foes who box him rather than stand and trade, and in Khan he’ll surely be facing the fastest hands he has yet encountered in the ring. Khan will doubtless take encouragement from the surprising success enjoyed by Alfonso Gomez, a smaller man than the Briton, who scored well against Alvarez in their 2011 encounter before succumbing to the Mexican’s power.
For Canelo, the bout offers almost entirely risk. The style matchup is potentially fraught, yet this is a fight he will be expected to not only win, but win by stoppage. Failure to deal with Khan emphatically will hardly increase his bargaining power for a clash with fellow middleweight star Gennady Golovkin. But it will undeniably be a huge event, one that may see his devoted fan base drowned out, even in southern Nevada, by the travelling throng of Khan’s Army.
“As the middleweight champion of the world, I will take on the best fighters in the sport and on Cinco De Mayo weekend, I look forward to making the first defense of my titles,” said Alvarez in announcing the fight. “Amir was a decorated amateur, a two-time world champion and is in the prime of his career. Fans are in for a great fight on May 7.”
“I know Canelo fights the best and wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to face me like others have,” said Amir Khan. “My goal is to always fight the biggest names and the best fighters. That is why I’m excited for this fight.”