Can Hatton work his 'Magic' on ''Canelo''?
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European welterweight champion Matthew Hatton gets an unexpected opportunity to win a world title when he meets undefeated Mexican sensation Saul Alvarez for the vacant WBC super welterweight title at the 19,000 capacity Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Ducks ice hockey team, in Anaheim, California on Saturday night.
The bout was originally made at welterweight with no title at stake but following Manny Pacquiao's recent decision to vacate the 154 lbs title he won with a tough points victory against Antonio Margarito last November, Hatton v Alvarez was elevated to world title status. Alvarez is the WBC's no.1 contender at super welterweight, Hatton is ranked fifth by the WBC at welterweight. The bout will be made at a catch-weight of 150 lbs, three pounds above the welterweight limit, and four pounds inside the super welterweight limit.
It is a well deserved lucky break for 29 year old Hatton ( 41-4-2, 16 ko's), who has stuck doggedly to his dream of a world title, and has lost just twice in the last eight years, one of those being a disqualification.
Now in his eleventh year as a pro, Hatton has made steady improvement since dropping a decision to Craig Watson in a Commonwealth welterweight title fight three years ago. Wins over Ben Tackie (W10) and Ted Bami (KO 6) were followed by an unlucky draw with former IBF light welterweight champion South African Lovemore N'dou in 2009.
In 2010 Hatton became only the third man to beat evergreen Italian Gianluca Branco, winning the EBU welterweight crown in the process. Last July Hatton came through his toughest test yet when he survived a first round knockdown to outpoint Ukrainian hard case Yuriy Nuzhnenko in a European title defence. Nuzhnenko had lost just once in a ten year - 32 fight career, and that was against compatriot Vyacheslav Yakovenko in a WBA title fight in 2009.
The Ukrainian had entered the ring a firm favorite with the bookies, but after surviving the knockdown and a rocky first three rounds it was Hatton who took control and dominated the fight, winning a deserved unanimous decision.
Matthew, younger brother of three time world champion Ricky Hatton, has developed into a genuine world class welterweight contender, and although he will be a heavy betting underdog on Saturday, he must have an outside chance of derailing the 20 year old Alvarez (35-0-1, 26 ko's), nicknamed ''Canelo,'' - Spanish for cinnamon - in reference to his red hair and pale, freckled complexion.
The fight's promoter Oscar De La Hoya, head of Golden Boy Promotions recently said ''El Canelo looks like an Irishman, acts like an American and fights like a Mexican,'' surely the perfect eulogy for young Alvarez should he fulfill his potential and rank one day alongside the likes of Mexican boxing legends Ruben Olivares, Salvador Sanchez and Julio Cesar Chavez.
Alvarez, like many young boxers in Mexico, turned pro aged just 15, after winning the Junior Mexican Championships in his 20th amateur bout. One of six boxing brothers, he stood out from his siblings who all have black hair, while only Saul is a redhead like his mother Anna Maria.
With slightly less luck, Alvarez's record might not have been so impressive. In his third fight he won a split decision over current IBF lightweight champion Miguel Vasquez. In his fifth bout he was held to a four round draw by one Jorge Juarez.
Fourteen wins later, and Alvarez followed up a career best 12th round TKO over fellow unbeaten prospect Gabriel Martinez by almost blowing it against paid loser Francisco Villanueva, just scraping by on a ten round split decision.
At that stage of his career Alvarez was a raw talent, capable of flattening eight opponents in a row, and then going the distance four straight times. But he kept on winning, often spectacularly.
He made his US debut in October 2008 with a points win over Larry Mosley. He returned that December to flatten prospect Raul Pinzon in a round.
It was about this time that young Alvarez and his exploits came to the attention of ring legend Oscar De La Hoya, himself a six weight world champion and two-time conqueror of Mexico's all time no.1 boxing hero Julio Cesar Chavez. De La Hoya clearly liked what he saw, and in January 2010, signed ''Canelo'' to a three fight deal with Golden Boy Promotions.
Alvarez stopped Brian Camechis in two rounds for his Golden Boy debut, and followed that with a ninth round TKO over Jose Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas, and a sixth round KO over Luciano Cuello - three victories against solid fighters with winning records.
Impressed, De La Hoya promptly signed Alvarez to a long term deal and then matched his latest acquisition with by far his highest profile opponent so far; Argentina's ridiculously tough former WBC welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir at the Staples Center in Los Angeles last September.
Baldomir is a tricky, awkward boxer with a concrete chin, and had been stopped just once - way back in 1994. A seventeen year pro, he had beaten Zab Judah, Arturo Gatti and Joshua Clottey and gone the distance with Floyd Mayweather Jr and Vernon Forest. He vowed to ''beat the freckles'' off the youngsters face.
Baldomir had never been knocked out in his career - until he ran into a Saul Alvarez left hook in the sixth round. Baldomir keeled over face forward, and never looked like beating the count. It was by far Alvarez's most impressive performance to date and prompted Oscar De La Hoya to comment:
"If anyone wasn't convinced that 'Canelo' Alvarez is a future world champion, they have to be believers now. At just 20 years old, he knocked out a tough former world champion who had only been knocked out one time in 64 fights and that was 16 years ago. He is going to be a star in this sport for a long time, and we're proud to have him on our team."
''Canelo'' is not the first red-headed Mexican to hit the boxing ring. The Mexican-American Lopez brothers, Danny ''Little-Red'' and elder brother Ernie ''Indian-Red'' were successful fighters during the 60's 70's and 80's famous fro their red locks. Born on an Indian reservation in Utah but hugely popular with Mexican fans in Los Angeles, Ernie was a tough welterweight contender who twice fought Jose Napoles for the world welterweight title, while Danny won the WBA featherweight title and defended it eight times, all by KO.
Whether Alvarez can eventually aspire to the heights reached by ''Little Red'' or even beyond remains to be seen, The potential is immense for one so young, and understandably, his promoter Oscar De La Hoya is high on his fighter. After witnessing his fighter getting mobbed by fans after the weigh in for his last fight against Carlos Baldomir, De la Hoya quipped:
"This kid has a rock star following. It's unbelievable. We had the weigh-in, jam-packed outdoors, and for the first time ever I realized I'm retired and that nobody cares about me anymore. When all the little girls were following Alvarez and I was left behind, I was getting trampled. It was like, '"Wow, this kid is the next guy.'"
Even Matthew Hatton admitted he looked a bit special in an interview last week.
"You can't knock him really. From what I've seen of him he's an excellent young fighter," said Hatton. "He's a good all-rounder; he can fight, he can box, he's obviously got a lot of power. He's a strong guy but like any other fighter he's got weaknesses.''
Hatton went on to explain why he thinks the Mexican sensation is far from unbeatable.
"I'm a seasoned fighter. I feel as if physically and mentally I'm coming into my peak and producing the best form of my career. At this moment in our careers I feel I'll be more than a match for him."
Hatton may not have his brother's natural talent or devastating body attack, but what he does posses is a ram-rod of a left jab, a tight defence and a great chin, three essentials against an aggressive fighter like Alvarez.
Style wise, Alvarez reminds me of another prodigy, Mexican-American Tony 'El Torito' Ayala. Like Alvarez, Ayala had a confidence and patience in the ring way beyond his years. Like Alavarez, Ayala possessed explosive punching power.
In 1982 Ayala was the no.1 contender for the super welterweight title aged just 20 years old. Then he made some terrible life choices and the rest is history.
Alvarez is already the biggest boxing attraction in Mexico, despite not yet winning a world title. De La Hoya says ''Mexican boxing fans aren't stupid – they sense that in this kid, they have their next great fighter.''
Maybe they are right. If De La Hoya has his way, Alvarez will be fighting and beating everyone the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Sergio Martinez in the next few years.
First he has to get past Matthew Hatton, which I think he will do, and in some style. Much has been made of the 150 lbs catch-weight clause for this fight, but there was a similar clause in Alvarez's fight with Baldomir. Alvarez made the weight easily, but weighed a massive 163 lbs on the night. Alvarez will have a clear advantage over Hatton is size and power if not boxing ability, and with just 16 stoppage wins in his 47 fights, Hatton doesent have the power to keep the aggressive Mexican at bay for long.
Hatton will keep him at bay with his jab, but the sheer size and power of Alvarez will start to get to him after the first four rounds, and I see Alvarez winning his first world title with a big left hook in round six.
Alvarez by KO in six.
Big Fight Odds:
Saul Alvarez 1/14, Matthew Hatton 7/1 bet365