Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Amir Khan and Canelo Alvarez have this much in common: they both looked a million bucks at the final press conference on Wednesday for their May 7 middleweight clash. Appropriately suited for the occasion, each man said his piece to those assembled at the MGM Grand’s KA Theatre, and each took his turn talking beforehand with media members; but both at the dais and the preceding round tables, the differences between the two were clear.
Those differences in personality are reflected in their respective fighting styles. Alvarez is deliberate in the ring, throwing relatively few punches and keen to make sure that as many as possible of those he does throw land with maximum effect; Khan, in contrast, is a frenzy of activity, throwing flurries of punches before shifting position and starting again. Similarly, Canelo deals with questions from the press efficiently, respectfully, but without betraying emotion or stepping out of line, as if each response is calculated to avoid making a mistake. Khan, on the other hand, is an open book: willingly sharing whatever thought comes to mind, sometimes to his detriment, in much the same way that he is sometimes guilty of standing in the pocket just a second too long and throwing maybe just one punch too many, when perhaps evasion might be a better tactic than valor.
Asked about his never-changing demeanor, Alvarez allowed himself a slight smile. “It’s a virtue,” he acknowledged, his calmness the result of “confidence in the hard work I have done.” At the age of just 25, he will on Saturday be competing in his 50th professional bout, an achievement made possible by turning pro in Mexico fully ten years previously. “At age 25, I’ve had a good career,” he reflected, “but I can tell you the best years are yet to come. I want the next 10 years of my career to be better than the last 10 years.”
That next stage will begin with his encounter with Khan, but it is mention of another fighter, one Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin, that comes closest to sparking the most slightly temperamental of responses. While Canelo is the lineal middleweight champion, courtesy of his November defeat of Miguel Cotto – who beat Sergio Martinez, who beat Kelly Pavlik, who defeated Jermain Taylor, who dethroned Bernard Hopkins – Golovkin is recognized by the public as the champion-in-waiting, and demand for the two men to meet in the ring will only grow louder should Alvarez dispatch Khan on Saturday. But the Mexican is dismissive of the Kazakh’s record and his string of knockout victories.
“He is the one who has to elevate himself,” he said. “Fighting guys like the other week [a two-round demolition of hapless Dominic Wade] isn’t going to help make it happen. Look at my last 10 opponents versus his last 10. He has to fight someone with skills. Yes, he has knockouts, but who has he fought?”
It is in large part because of that knockout power that Golovkin would likely start as favorite against Alvarez. Khan, in contrast, is the underdog, and understandably so given that he turned pro at lightweight, won world titles at junior welterweight – and was knocked out in both weight classes – and has fought his last few fights at welterweight, never even coming close to the middleweight division. It is, says the Briton, the first time he has been the underdog, and he is inspired by the label rather than bothered by it.
“I’m not supposed to win,” he acknowledged. “I’m a guy who’s supposed to walk in and get beaten. But I’m not going to let that happen.”
Perhaps perversely, he argued that the extra power that Alvarez would bring to bear made it less likely that Khan would be knocked out, as he was by Breidis Prescott and Danny Garcia.
“I haven’t respected guys who’ve knocked me down or knocked me out before,” he said. “But I have to respect this guy. When you know you can be hurt, you’re more on edge. There have been times before when I’ve lost focus. But I can’t lose focus for a bit in this fight. He’s a big, strong guy. He’s a superstar.”
The ever-honest Khan fully admitted the one clear disadvantage he would likely face in the ring against a naturally bigger man, a disadvantage that he has noticed against similarly-sized sparring partners.
“Normally, I can hit my guys and back them up. But against bigger guys, they’re not moving,” he confessed. “I think that might happen in this fight. I might hit him and he won’t feel it. But this fight is going to be won on skill.”
It’s also a fight that pits a Mexican against a Muslim, and as much as boxing operates within its own bubble, the outside world occasionally finds its way in. On this day, with the withdrawal of the last of his rivals, the nomination of Donald Trump – whose campaign has included vilification of both groups – as the Republican standard bearer was all but confirmed. Canelo was asked whether he had any thoughts on the matter, and his natural instinct was to demur, to argue that, “I don’t like to talk politics.” But then he swiftly pivoted and allowed his opinion to be heard.
“It hurts,” he said of Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants. “It offends. When I’m out there running, I see a lot of my countrymen, working hard in the fields. Not everyone comes here to rob. A lot of people want to come and work hard.”
Taking his turn at the dais, Khan didn’t wait to be asked, and addressed the issue in looser fashion.
“You never know,” he smiled, “this could be the last fight for me and Canelo here, if Donald Trump becomes president.”
Behind him, promoter Oscar De La Hoya burst out laughing. The Golden Boy said afterward that Trump would be in attendance – although not, he said, ringside. If he is, he will witness two men, each proud of their heritage, and each in his own way an outstanding ambassador for this most brutal and demanding of sports.