Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
For the best part of six rounds, Amir Khan did everything he needed to do against Canelo Alvarez. He jabbed, he boxed, he circled, he moved, he threw brief combinations and retreated out of range. But, round by round, minute by minute, inch by inch, the bigger, stronger Alvarez reeled him in, stepping ever so slightly closer, timing his punches just that little bit better until one booming right hand rendered the former lightweight instantly unconscious and brought his brave assault on the middleweight championship to a sudden end.
Entering the contest, there was no doubting Khan's talent or pedigree; the 2004 Olympic silver medalist had beaten the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera (albeit a faded version thereof) and Devon Alexander and had taken a pair of world titles at 140 pounds. The questions surrounded his ability to withstand what Alvarez was likely to throw at him, given that the Briton had been stopped at lightweight and junior welterweight and was stepping up two weight classes to take on a champion who had long established his own class and who one year ago violently knocked out bona fide middleweight James Kirkland.
Yet, there were uncertainties about aspects of Canelo’s arsenal, too. Notably, there was his lone loss and two closest wins – to Floyd Mayweather and against Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara – the common denominator of which was those opponents’ relative fleetness of foot and fist. Alvarez, it was said, was fine against face-first sluggers such as Kirkland; against better boxers, he struggled. Khan, it was said further, had the capacity to be such a boxer, but could he do so for 12 full rounds without feeling the full force of the Alvarez offense?
Anyone who doubted Khan's ability to put up a good fight would have had those doubts disabused in the bout’s opening seconds, as Khan (31-4, 19 KOs), after throwing a few rangefinder jabs, launched a lightning fast right hand that thudded into the side of Canelo’s head. A pair of flurries from Khan was mostly blocked by Alvarez, but Khan had set the tone and won the opening round. He won the second, too, stabbing Canelo with straight left/right combinations while Alvarez (47-1-1, 33 KOs) missed wildly with left hooks that, in contrast to Khan’s rapid fire punches, looked as if they were being thrown through treacle.
“He is a fast fighter and I knew things would be competitive in the beginning,” said Alvarez afterward, “but I knew they would come to my favor as the fight went on.”
That prediction appeared on the verge of coming to fruition in the third, as Alvarez had more success in backing up Khan, and landing thudding hooks to the Briton’s body in an effort to slow him down. A hook to the midsection bent Khan over at the start of the fourth, but then the challenger returned fire with spearing jabs and rapid combinations to regain the initiative. The fifth was close, Alvarez again targeting the Khan body and landing with far more success when he did so than when he aimed for the jaw; Khan’s swiftness remained the principal factor separating the two as he demonstrated by landing a left/right and then slipping beneath an Alvarez left.
But at the end of that round, Khan returned to the corner with a cut above one eye, the harbinger of greater Alvarez success. Early in the sixth, the Mexican landed his first clear punch of the night, a hook to the jaw that momentarily froze Khan before he returned to throwing his combinations. But Alvarez was in range now and more confident of being able to land; and toward the end of the sixth, he shuffled forward a half-step or two, bent at the knees and launched an overhand right that exploded on Khan’s jaw.
If Khan had not been knocked out immediately by the punch, he surely was by the impact of the back of his head crashing into the canvas as his limp body collapsed to the floor. Referee Kenny Bayless didn’t even bother to count. The time was 2:37 of round six.
Momentarily triumphant, Alvarez stood and looked down on his foe in obvious concern. His victory had come about with brutal totality; like his countryman Ricky Hatton against Manny Pacquiao in this same city seven years previously, Khan lay prone and completely unconscious. He did eventually arise, with considerable assistance, and evident uncertainty about his surroundings; but when he fully regained his senses, he threw down another challenge at Canelo’s feet.
“I got in the ring with a big guy, and unfortunately I didn't make it to the end,” he said. “I showed my balls tonight by getting in the ring with Canelo. It’s time for Canelo to face GGG.”
That, of course, means Gennady Golovkin; while Alvarez is the lineal middleweight champion, Golovkin is the people’s champion, and a showdown between the two is clearly the biggest fight to be made in boxing today.
Khan’s trainer Virgil Hunter was even more adamant.
“We took the risk,” he declared, “and now [Canelo] needs to stop hiding. Amir set the tone. Fighters should fight each other.”
Having spent part of fight week dismissing Golovkin’s credentials, Canelo struck a more defiant tone afterward, stating that he had invited the Kazakh, who was sitting ringside, to get into the ring. When questioned why, he spat that, “In Mexico, we don’t fuck around. I don't fear anyone. We don't come to play in this sport. I fear no one in this sport.”
Asked if that meant he would face Golovkin later this year, Canelo boasted, “Right now. I will put the gloves on again,” and the crowd, which lingered long after the final bell, roared.
This was the first fight to be held at the new T-Mobile Arena, and Khan had hoped to use this occasion to make history. He fell short, albeit bravely, but the postfight bravado suggested that history was just around the corner. Opening night was an appetizer; the main course is still to come.