For many of Saul Alvarez’ fans, Liam Smith is going to be somewhat of an unknown quantity. He has fought all of his pro fights so far in the UK, and he has no notable world level names on his resume. Where Alvarez has spent the majority of his career so far in the limelight, mixing with some of the best fighters Junior Middleweight has to offer (contracted weights aside), Smith has been a pretty slow rise. Plying his trade mostly under the radar of the world scene. It doesn’t make him a bad fighter. It does mean that predicting how he holds up under the bright lights in Texas is an educated guess at best. But, educated guessing is what boxing is all about, so lets look at how these two champions match up.
Lets get this out of the way first. This should be an action packed fight. Liam Smith is not an elusive trickster, he comes to fight and he comes to pressure, while Alvarez has shown that if you put yourself in his range, he is as explosive a fighter as you will see in boxing. Expect fireworks for as long as it lasts.
Liam Smith, for those who don’t know, has based his career so far on using educated and patient pressure to slowly turn the screw on his opponents. Expect him to start slow behind the high guard, often refusing to punch even when in good positions. Against John Thompson, probably his most accomplished performance so far, Smith was able to exert huge amounts of pressure without committing too much energy himself:
By staying in range, shuffling forward, keeping a tight guard and slipping occasionally, he forces Thompson to keep throwing shots to keep him off, all while throwing very little himself. The threat of Smith’s activity is enough to keep Thompson mentally and physically occupied, while he himself conserves his energy for the later rounds.
Unfortunately, this is not a tactic that wins rounds. Like many Gallagher fighters seem to, Smith found himself behind through the first half of the fight, just due to his limited activity. Smart tactics? Maybe. IF he can avoid too much damage and force his opponents back, you can be sure that come rounds 6-12 Smith is going to come on strong. Worryingly however, Thompson was able to find success freezing and manipulating Beefy’s high guard to land shots behind and through Smiths arms, something that Canelo is extremely skilled at:
The jab especially was effective early, keeping Smith’s hands at home and allowing him to find angles around the guard. For this fight, it was not so much of an issue for Smith as Thompson’s lack of power meant he came out of these moments pretty much unscathed.
Canelo, however, is a different animal to Thompson. He is brilliant at manipulating opponents guards and, unlike with John Thompson above, when he finds openings the punches hurt. In the Angulo fight Alvarez landed many combinations and power punches after first arranging Alfredo’s guard how he wanted it:
Here he uses a throw away uppercut to occupy Angulo and move his arms closer to his centre before whipping a vicious left hook downstairs. The examples of this type of move from this fight are too numerous to put in here, but rest assured, Canelo is an expert at finding and creating openings. Although Smith may not be as slow or one paced as Angulo was on this night, he offers a similar defensive posture that I do not believe will serve him well against the Mexican.
As Smith moves through the rounds, he tends to get a better read of his opponents movements. He gets closer and closer using his feet, and he forces them into a brawl:
If his opponents can’t hurt him or stop him coming forward, Smith will gain confidence as the rounds wear on. He defends himself well in close quarters, doing a good job of dipping and sliding with shots coming his way, while landing good shots of his own. He also punches well in combination as his opponents feet slow down. His lack of activity in the early rounds, and the fact he forces his opponents into a high work rate, means that come the second half of the fight he is much fresher. This is when he does his best work.
In contrast, in the Angulo fight, Canelo did the majority of his best work in the first 5 rounds, and the fight this Saturday could hinge on Smith’s ability to come through the onslaught. In these early rounds Alvarez was able to take Angulo’s play away by standing his ground, backing his opponent up and cutting through him with combinations.
While he wasn’t KO’d in these rounds, Angulo took far too much damage to ever get back into the fight in any meaningful way. If he could have stayed fresh however, I believe there was a chance for him to do so.
Alvarez in many of his fights has the look of a man who struggles with his stamina. Although he hasn’t gassed completely before, he often looks disheveled and slack as the fight moves through to the second half of the fight. From rounds 5-8, Canelo went through one of these periods, backing up more and allowing Angulo opportunities which he maybe shouldn’t have had. Is he tired? Is he just taking a break? Either way he is a much less effective boxer in these moments.
By this point Angulo looks weak and tired after taking a battering earlier on. But even in this state he was able to put some punches together
After round 8, Angulo continued to slow down and Alvarez got a second wind, with Tony Weeks calling it in round 10. Smith’s best chance in this fight is going to come if he makes it into the later rounds with some of his faculties still intact and some energy left over. He isn’t exactly the same as Angulo despite their similarities. He is a more effective boxer with better footwork and head movement, however he isn’t anywhere near as proven as Angulo is in the chin/toughness department, how he rates with these intangibles will decide if he is able to give Canelo a real fight or not.
In reality there is only one pick, and its almost not worth the effort typing this out to say it. Alvarez should win. He is the more proven, more skillfull boxer and the better athlete. If Smith can make it to the second half of the fight, he could turn this fight into an exciting one, but he shouldn’t come close to winning. Canelo will be able to open up and back Smith up at will through the early rounds and while Smith might make it through them, he will have taken far more damage than he is used to. His late round surge could well have been beaten out of him by the time time Alvarez offers him any opportunities to come on strong.
That said. Canelo is trying to make 154 for the first time since 2013, and while it’s only a single pound, it could have an effect. Maybe it could make his potential stamina issues worse? Who knows. It’s a tall order for Smith either way.
Canelo has opted to box more in recent performances, I doubt that will be the case here, fighting an unheralded opponent in front of a raucous Texan crowd. If he decides to box a clear decision win could well be on the cards, but it would be disappointing if he did, and he is likely aware of his recent dip in popularity.
In conclusion: After an exciting fight, Saul Alvarez to win by TKO in the middle rounds. Specifically with a body shot, then, Alvarez to talk shit about Golovkin in a rant that leaves us all hating him just a little bit more.
Good luck to both men.