Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Canelo-Trout: Have we seen this before?
By Eric Raskin
The superstar-in-the-making, in his very early 20s, is relatively unproven in the ring but is already among the most popular and entertaining fighters in boxing -- particularly with Mexican and Mexican-American fans.
He is risking his undefeated record and his junior middleweight belt against a tricky, lesser-known African-American southpaw in his late 20s.
And this young ticket-seller is instantly identifiable by the hair on his head.
That's an accurate description of Canelo Alvarez as he prepares to fight Austin Trout at the Alamodome in San Antonio on April 20.
It's also an on-point description of Fernando Vargas nearly a decade and a half ago, when he was readying for a Dec. 4, 1999, bout against Winky Wright at Chinook Winds Casino in Lincoln, Ore.
The prefight parallels are undeniable. And if Alvarez-Trout is to be Vargas-Wright 2.0 in the postfight analysis as well, that means we can expect a hard-fought, at times thrilling battle in which the close rounds are not going to go Trout's way. (Remember that Texas is the state that told us Juan Diaz outpointed Paulie Malignaggi and Tavoris Cloud beat Gabriel Campillo, and that continues to put a pencil in the hand of Gale Van Hoy on a regular basis; it's more likely that Pee-wee Herman's bike is sitting in the basement of the Alamo than it is that Trout will get the benefit of the doubt from the judges.)
While some have labeled Canelo the second coming of his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, it is Vargas -- once De La Hoya's most hated (or at least hateful) rival -- who makes for the more appropriate comparison.
They are similarly precocious: Alvarez is 22. Vargas was three days shy of his 22nd birthday when he fought Wright.
They are similarly (un)proven: Vargas had defeated Yory Boy Campas, Raul Marquez and nobody else of note, whereas Canelo has beaten nobody quite as credible as Campas was in 1998 but has topped a few guys in the Marquez range, including Ryan Rhodes, Alfonso Gomez and used-up versions of Kermit Cintron and Shane Mosley.
Their talents and styles are similar: Both are boxer-punchers with world-class technique, power and accuracy but slight deficiency in the defense and hand-speed departments.
And there's the hair: Alvarez's red locks, in combination with his freckled face, are the basis for his "Cinnamon" moniker. Vargas sported a buzzcut all the way around, except for a few strands in front that were grown out several inches, bleached blond and held in place with product before "There's Something About Mary" popularized a similar style.
Well, that was Vargas' hairstyle, anyway, until he suddenly shaved his head on the eve of the Wright fight. "El Feroz" went through some personal turmoil shortly before the fight -- the most he ever revealed on the record was that it had to do with his mother -- and he cut off his trademark locks and later claimed he underperformed in the ring due to his personal distractions.
In actuality, though, Vargas didn't underperform at all. Wright was just better than most of us realized. Winky would go on to defeat Shane Mosley and Felix Trinidad and come up a dubious decision short of capturing the lineal middleweight title against Jermain Taylor, ultimately becoming a far stronger bet than Vargas to end up with a bust in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. But heading into their fight, Wright was a guy with minimal U.S. exposure and a recent points loss to one Harry Simon. Vargas, 17-0 with 17 knockouts coming in, was a considerable favorite.
For 12 rounds, Vargas and Wright dueled, neither ever establishing clear superiority. The 28-year-old Wright, the supposed boxer, was the one moving forward throughout, but according to CompuBox, it was Vargas whose hands were firing and landing slightly more. Wright seemed to pull out to a lead in Rounds 8 and 9; Vargas took both the 10th and 12th clearly. HBO's Harold Lederman scored it 115-113 for Wright, and as we've seen countless times, the Lederman card invariably influenced public opinion. The comments currently posted underneath the fight on YouTube are almost all about the scoring and suggest that the only thing unanimously agreed upon is that the bout was close.
Vargas won a majority decision by a hard-to-swallow 116-112 and perfectly reasonable scores of 115-113 and 114-114. It was considered the worst night of his career at the time. In retrospect, it's one of his most meaningful wins.
If Alvarez beats Trout -- as long as it isn't an all-out robbery -- it will surely be the most profound accomplishment of his career thus far. Trout, 27, convincingly outpointed Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden last December and is, like Wright, a skilled southpaw who prefers not to slug it out but certainly isn't a runner.
Is Alvarez as gifted a fighter as Vargas was? Can he be even better and go even further? Does he, too, have an enormous fighting heart?
We should get some answers when he fights his Winky Wright next month.