When IBF middleweight titleholder Daniel Jacobs, 35-2 (29), faces WBA and WBC titleholder Canelo Alvarez, 51-1-2 (35), at the T-Mobile Center in Las Vegas this weekend, it’ll mark the collision of two fighters who established themselves as elite middleweights fighting former champion Gennady Golovkin. Jacobs lost a disputed unanimous decision to Golovkin in March 2017, while Alvarez fought Golovkin to a questionable draw in September of that year, and then won a majority decision over him in September 2018. Both showed against Golovkin that they don’t fold when they’re met with resistance and things don’t go their way.
Alvarez altered his style from the first to second fight versus Golovkin. During the first he countered and tried to time Golovkin. After coming up a little short, with the fight ending in a draw, Alvarez fought as the aggressor in the rematch and had more success forcing Golovkin back—although, to be fair, Golovkin did outbox him while going backward during many stretches during the second half of the bout. But since Golovkin didn’t win, his fight plan will be judged unsuccessful and future Alvarez opponents may be inclined to try to push him back, which could be a mistake.
Sometimes when a star fighter doesn’t overwhelm while winning in a big fight, many observers see the victor’s strategy as being the Achilles’ heel for the star who lost. Two examples stand out. The first is Vito Antuofermo defending his middleweight title against Marvin Hagler. Antuofermo fought as the attacker and smothered Hagler’s room to counter. The problem with that mindset was that Antuofermo fought everyone as the attacker and the draw was considered controversial, with many believing Hagler won a close fight. But through the lens of history, Hagler took apart every opponent who tried to force the fight against him from then on. And it’s no coincidence that the only two fighters to take him to the distance in title bouts were Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard, who both made Hagler force the action. The thing that was overlooked at the time too was that only Antuofermo could have held his own fighting Hagler as the attacker, and even he came up short when they fought again two years later.
The other fine example is George Foreman, only this time instead of future opponents changing their style, it was the loser who changed his style. And that happened to Foreman after he lost to Muhammad Ali, suffering the first defeat of his career after entering the bout 40-0 (37). Based on no other reason than Foreman tiring while trying to annihilate Ali as he was fighting off the ropes. Ali survived the pounding and came back to stop a worn-out Foreman. After that, Foreman was implored to change his style from a catch-and-kill attacker to a measured counter-puncher (which led to Jimmy Young beating a fighter in Foreman who was instructed to wait and react, thus totally nullifying his obvious strength and power). This, then, was another mistake based on one losing effort, and Foreman’s team should have worked on convincing him that no other fighter could have beaten him fighting the way Ali did other than Ali. And Ali was aging and slowing down and more than likely couldn’t have done what he did again in a rematch.
This leads us back to Alvarez–Jacobs. During the buildup for the fight it has been highlighted by many pundits and fans who believe the thirty-two-year-old Jacobs should go after the twenty-eight-year-old Alvarez, with the aim of beating him up and hurting him so there’s no wiggle room and the judges can’t score the fight against him. What’s more, many are pointing to the fact that Gennady Golovkin overwhelmed Alvarez more in their fist fight than he did in their second. Yes, that’s true, but only Golovkin could fight Alvarez by forcing the fight. Golovkin has a much better chin than Jacobs, so getting hurt walking into something he didn’t see wasn’t likely—and the fact that Golovkin is a demonstrably bigger puncher than Jacobs prevented Alvarez from taking chances he’d normally take against other opponents.
As a technician, Jacobs has very good basics but isn’t really outstanding at any one particular thing. He has a good jab and follows it up nicely with a good right hand and left hooks, but his offense tends to be unimaginative. He has a sneaky right uppercut but can be wide with the hook in the heat of big exchanges. If forced to, he can be effective moving forward or backward depending on who the opponent is. That said, his style is hard to pin down.
Just this week Jacobs said: “What I know is that I have the physical advantages and I hope to use my physical advantage—my reach, height, distance—and also that I have speed, power, intellect in the ring. . . . That is what will allow me to emerge victorious.”
And that sounds like a hodgepodge plan with the underlying message being, “I can beat Canelo fighting any style.” Which is something that may be applicable because an Alvarez–Jacobs fight based on Jacobs’s versatility and Alvarez’s newfound versatility is difficult to handicap. And for some reason many view Jacobs as being the tougher guy and that’s not true. Alvarez is the fighter who has been tested more against various styles, and his chin has never failed him, which can’t be said for Jacobs. So if there’s a continual firefight between them it favors Alvarez because he seldom gets wild or fights recklessly, translating into his getting nailed less with punches he doesn’t see—as opposed to Jacobs who sometimes gets too animated and cocky when he feels in control.
Here’s what’s known. Alvarez isn’t at his best when he is forced to fight solely as the attacker, as evidenced in his bouts against Amir Khan, Miguel Cotto, Erislandy Lara, Floyd Mayweather, and Austin Trout. Yes, he won all of those fights officially except the one against Mayweather. But there are some who saw him losing to Lara and Trout and having difficulty against Khan before his size and punching power rescued him. And then there’s the second half of his rematch with Golovkin—which adds another layer of proof, despite his newfound diversity, that Alvarez is still most susceptible to fighters who move and pick up their feet.
Granted, if Jacobs were to outfight Alvarez over twelve rounds it shouldn’t surprise anyone. On the other hand, it’s plausible that Alvarez could outbox Jacobs fighting at long range, despite his shorter reach, because of his great timing and ability to anticipate how his opponents may counter and react.
The problem for Jacobs, then, is what style should he use? (With the thought in his head being that if he doesn’t win rounds definitively, the decision will go against him.) If he tries to, as some like to call it, “power box,” by starting on the move and picking spots to go in looking to hurt Alvarez, he opens himself up to get nailed coming in; and if he’s only shook for a moment, the judges will see that as an Alvarez round regardless of what happened before or after he was momentarily stunned. With that in mind, Jacobs would probably be most effective boxing Alvarez and going after him only when he’s sure he can either get out or answer Alvarez’s counter—and that won’t be easy.
Roy Jones has said this fight will come down to who can impose their will on the other. Perhaps, but a battle of wills usually morphs into fighting, and that may favor Alvarez because he survived with Golovkin and because he has a better chin and is more durable. Jones may or may not be right regarding their wills. Maybe Jacobs can use his greater size and physicality and weigh him down when he can, but it isn’t something he can bank on and it doesn’t offset Alvarez’s higher boxing IQ.
On paper the onus is on Jacobs because of the influence of politics when it comes to how big fights involving a superstar are judged. Boxing needs Canelo Alvarez more than Daniel Jacobs. Alvarez is boxing’s biggest star since Floyd Mayweather retired, with only Anthony Joshua having the chance to supplant him if A. J. lives up to his ability and hype. It’s difficult to see Jacobs getting a decision in a fight that looks fifty-fifty after twelve rounds. Somehow Jacobs, in order to separate himself in the eyes of the judges, must find a way to exploit a known or unknown weakness in Alvarez’s game. If he can do that in a way only Mayweather has, albeit against a green Alvarez in his first big fight, and an Alvarez who’s improved dramatically since then, Jacobs may be able to overcome the perceived advantage some see Alvarez having with the judges and the establishment?
Based on the above, it’s hard to pick Jacobs to win by decision; and based on Alvarez never being in trouble against Golovkin, it’s hard to see Jacobs winning by stoppage. He needs to have the best night of his life and needs to vary his approach against an improving and more confident Alvarez.