Following a brief stint as a lineal middleweight titlist campaigning at 155 pounds, Saul Alvarez drops down one pound to challenge WBO super welterweight king Liam Smith, a hard-nose Brit who, like Alvarez, is the most accomplished member of a fighting family. Smith's three siblings have all reached world-class level: Paul twice challenged WBO super middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham; Steven fought IBF super featherweight titlist Jose Pedraza in April; and Callum -- perhaps the best of all -- is the mandatory challenger for WBC super middleweight titlist Badou Jack. Can Smith, fighting for the first time in the U.S., achieve a massive upset on American soil as Lloyd Honeyghan did 30 years ago against Donald Curry?
Here's the Beef: Smith, nicknamed "Beefy" for being an overweight child, is a pugnacious body puncher who has dominated his opposition thus far. In his last five fights, three of which have been for the WBO belt, Smith has averaged 58 punches per round to his opponents' 63.2; however, thanks to his excellent jab (22.9 thrown/7.3 connects per round) and thudding body shots that comprise a significant chunk of his 43.8% accuracy on his power shots, Smith has doubled his opponents' connects per round (22.7 vs. 11.2) and nearly doubled their landed power shots per round (15.4 vs. 7.8). The accuracy gaps between Smith and his foes are significant (39.1%-17.7% overall, 31.9-10.5 jabs & 43.8%-25.3% power) but Alvarez still represents a huge jump in competition.
So where is Smith vulnerable? His squared torso and the configuration of his tight guard leaves him open to hooks to the body and right uppercuts, the latter of which Jimmy Kelly landed often in the early rounds of their match. Also, John Thompson's busy but inaccurate jab (47.3 thrown/4.1 connects per round, 9%) helped him build leads of 67-57 overall and 45-27 power in the first five rounds before Smith's decisive surge in the sixth and seventh rounds (60-16 overall, 43-11 power).
Canelo vs. Aggressors: Alvarez has had his troubles with slick boxers like Floyd Mayweather Jr., Erislandy Lara, Austin Trout and, at least for a while, Amir Khan in his most recent outing. Khan appeared to have an edge in a war of nerves that saw Alvarez average an anemic 28.3 punches per round to Khan's 27.7. But Canelo compensated with extremely accurate power punching; landing 51% for the fight to Khan's 36%, Alvarez connected on 50% or more of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts in each of the last four rounds, including 63% in the decisive sixth round. But while he sometimes struggles against movers, Alvarez shines against fighters who come to him, like Alfredo Angulo and James Kirkland. Canelo landed 58% overall, 48% jabs and 64% power to Angulo's 14%, 7% and 21%, respectively, while posting similar percentages against Kirkland (58% overall, 44% jabs, 60% power to Kirkland's 21%, 5% and 23%, respectively).
But what separates Smith from Angulo and Alvarez is defense -- he has it and they don't. In terms of defensive competency, Smith is closer to Miguel Cotto, who limited Alvarez to 40.3 punches per round (to Cotto's 52.4) and to 32% overall, 20% jabs and 40% power. However, Alvarez's defense was better than Cotto's (21% overall, 14% jabs, 30% power) and he out-landed Cotto 155-29 overall and 118-75 power to offset Cotto's 54-37 edge in landed jabs. In his last eight fights, Canelo has averaged just 41.1 punches per round (fourth fewest among CompuBox Categorical Leaders). But makes them count, landing 47.8% of his power shots (No. 5 on list). Canelo also compiled a plus-12 plus/minus rating, No. 7 on CompuBox’s Plus/Minus list.
Prediction: Smith is a world-class fighter whose blows are delivered in disciplined, tight arcs. His jabs are jolting and his hooks scything. That said, Canelo is an elite fighter whose best will overwhelm Smith's best. Also, despite Canelo’s catch-weight demands in recent middleweight fights, he'll be far beefier in the ring than the man nicknamed "Beefy" because Alvarez will rehydrate to north of 170 pounds. Yes, the extra poundage may slow Canelo’s foot speed but it'll add power to his already considerable baseline. Smith will show well for a while but pedigree will eventually tell as Alvarez scores a stoppage in the middle to later stages.