Worth a Thousand Words: Saul Alvarez Shatters Billy Joe Saunders

Ed Mulholland/Matchroom

The eyes fix first on the man in the foreground, Mexican super-middleweight, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Proportion explains that, yes, but also the pose. An iconic pose meant to intimidate. It isn’t the nervous inflation of the pufferfish or toad; trickery intended to dissuade. It isn’t the silverback on his hind legs either, because that show of strength hopes to make violence unnecessary. No, this is an attitude signifying confidence and a capacity for cruelty. It is a promise kept.

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There is symmetry between the musculature in Alvarez’s back and the infinity symbol on his trunks. The augmented strength of intertwining fibers and no end in sight. Consider who might conceivably beat this version of Alvarez, the version who crushed a Krusher, who is proving the super-middleweight division undeserving of the adjective. Alvarez is walking down larger men, cowing them with his elusiveness, with every counter, with every perfectly-placed shank to the liver. Does the man you would wager your neck on toppling Alvarez weigh less than two hundred pounds?

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The photo seems to have been taken mid-round: the referee is nowhere to be seen, which he wouldn’t be if he were acting on the clacker or the bell. A triumphant flex struck during a round suggests that what remained was a mere formality, an outcome already determined and likely concussive. This gesture is arrogant, all the more stinging for being so dismissive of a supposedly legitimate threat.

Billy Joe Saunders had the ring he wanted, 484 square feet to exploit, but, twice in the opening round, he let his back touch the ropes, and twice Alvarez pounded him with a right hand to the body for it. Those punches established the roles of predator and prey, they told Saunders that Alvarez would slug him unconcerned by retaliation. His messaging was flawless. That retaliation came too infrequently, too tentatively to dissuade Alvarez. In recent years, only Gennadiy Golovkin has committed fully to the punches he threw at Alvarez. And that effort exceeded its effect.

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The arrogance in that pose also charms by flaunting vulnerability. Standing defenseless across from a man trained to unmake you should be imperiling. It should be, but here it isn’t—and it isn’t because that would-be unmaker no longer entertains any thought of victory. There is no recovering from this first defeat. When you stop believing you can beat the man across from you, you’ve lost already. Then you decide how you wish to lose, what satisfaction you are willing to concede to your opponent, what your pride can endure. Each fighter must decide for himself. Saunders, who stayed on his stool after the eighth round, made his decision soon after the uppercut he ducked into shattered his orbital bone. Like the fighters who make them, such decisions are not judged equal.

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Suffering both physical and mental forced this upon Saunders. His visage tells us that. There is the right eye, of course, angrily purple, swollen; the cheek too looks traumatized, the kind of injury that buzzes before it aches, one you would paw at were the man in that harmless pose not so harmful. And that marbled temple, how will twenty-four hours of swelling render it? Then there is Saunders’s expression: that of a man fully aware he is in crisis. That isn’t fear on his face: it’s panic. Anxiety over the unknown thickens fear, but the Saunders in the photo is anxious because of what he knows awaits him. He expects the worst because he understands what his tormentor is capable of and because Saunders, half-blind and overmatched, is lost for ways to stop him. Saunders wants mercy. But while Alvarez is powerful enough to grant it, he is too proud to do so.

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His mouth is agape with hurried breathing, his hands are up because of a lifetime of programming, but those hands aren’t positioned for violence. Those comically colored gloves look useless. On the fists of men wedded to the deed, even such comically colored gloves are tools for hurting. But look at him: Saunders wants all hurting to stop provided his own be wiped away in the process. Taunted, dared to venture something malicious, he can only look on incredulously—Freddy Lounds drained of his insolence and forced to behold the monster he once ridiculed.

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The charcoal smear beyond Alvarez’s left arm is the crowd, a fraction of the over 70,000 people who attended a sporting event during a pandemic. Alvarez does not fight for them, at least not like Felix Trinidad, for example, fought for Puerto Ricans. Alvarez is not so religiously patriotic: indeed, it is hard to imagine him feeling that kind of passion for something so beyond himself. He did not fight for them when he was a crimson novelty, one excluded for being so unlike the Mexican archetype, and he does not now. In this respect, he is like Floyd Mayweather Jr., who made Mayweather fans without making boxing fans. Mayweather wanted to be the best and become absurdly rich in the process. If people saw something other than that in Mayweather, he turned it to his purpose. Alvarez is the same. That his desires and those of his countrymen coincide is fortuitous but secondary. Still, he understands what he means to the people screaming his name, pounding their chests, taunting the other in the crowd, and he enjoys the lofty status their affection affords him. That pose—it was for them too. He wants to be great; they want a great Mexican. They are satisfied. Yet Alvarez, to his credit, is not.

 

About Jimmy Tobin 80 Articles
Jimmy Tobin is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in The Cruelest Sport, 15 Rounds, Undisputed Champion Network, Esquina Boxeo, El Malpensante, The Queensbury Rules, and The Fight Network. Jimmy is the author of Killed in Brazil? The Mysterious Death of Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, published by Hamilcar Publications. Connect with Jimmy on Twitter.