Earlier this month (on the 8th), a few hours before Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez and Alfredo 'El Perro' Angulo battled each other, I stood on the sidewalk of Las Vegas Boulevard gazing up at the sprawling structure called the MGM Grand. The venue was hopping with anticipation for the big fight.
The sport of boxing and Las Vegas go hand-in-hand. A number of years ago, big cities like New York and Chicago showcased the major fights. Not anymore, Las Vegas is the capital of pugilism.
Inside the MGM Grand is a theater created for gladiators. It’s called the Grand Garden Arena. The color green predominates - as if to remind the boxers that they’ve hit the jackpot.
The fights that night were a mixed bag. An undefeated fighter by the name of Will Tomlinson ventured from Australia to show off his skills. His opponent, Jerry “The Corpus Christi Kid” Belmontes, came into the fight with three losses on his record.
In the opening rounds, Tomlinson fought like he expected to win. He moved forward and threw punches. The only problem - most of his punches weren’t landing. The crafty Belemontes boxed him silly. He moved, he shucked, and he jived.
Tomlinson ate jab after jab. He never stopped trying, but he looked relieved when the final bell rang.
Belmontes was elated.
Next up was former featherweight champion Jorge Linares and the “Japanese Rocky,” Nihito Arakawa. Linares has done a good job of rebuilding his career after suffering devastating losses to Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson. (more on Thompson later)
Arakawa came to prominence last year when he absorbed tremendous punishment in a losing effort against hard-hitting Omar Figueroa, hence the moniker the “Japanese Rocky.”
Linares is a talented fighter. He beat Arakawa to the punch in every conceivable way. The gutsy Arakawa took everything Linares landed and asked for more. His nickname is no mirage.
Ricardo Alvarez looked confident as he waited for his fight with Sergio Thompson to begin. Alvarez is the older brother of Canelo Alvarez. He’s only lost two fights out of 25.
Make that three.
Thompson knocked Alvarez down twice during the 10-round affair. He rocked him numerous other times. Between rounds, the monitors above the ring showed the stricken face of Canelo, as he watched his brother take a licking. Hall of Fame referee Joe Cortez opined that allowing Canelo to watch his brother get beat up was a mistake. He also said that it could motivate Canelo.
The victorious Thompson has been down this road before. As mentioned earlier, he shocked Linares last year. The man can fight.
Speaking of talent, Leo Santa Cruz is loaded with it. He’s so good that his fights are becoming anti-climatic. Former flyweight champion Cristian Mijares was pushed, punched, and battered for 12 rounds. Santa Cruz looked fresh and ready for stiffer competition.
The last bout of the night was the headliner.
Canelo Alvarez was fighting for the first time since his loss to pound-for - pound king Floyd Mayweather. Alfredo Angulo had been stopped by Erislandy Lara in his last match. Many consider Alvarez a paper champion. He’s feasted on smaller and over-the-hill opponents. But in some ways he can’t win - even when he does.
Last Saturday night was no different.
Alvarez took it to Angulo from the opening bell. The first punch he landed, a crunching left hook, sent “ohs” and “ahs” echoing through the arena. For the next seven rounds, he connected with brain-rattling hooks and uppercuts. Angulo, born with one of the strongest chins in the game, took the shots pretty well. He even rallied in round eight by backing Alvarez into the ropes. Trainer Virgil Hunter implored Angulo to let his hands go.
Angulo did at times, but still looked sluggish. The fire he showed against Lara was lacking, but his heart is bigger than the state of Nevada.
In round 10, Alvarez stepped inside and unleashed a jolting left uppercut. The blow knocked Alvarez back a step. His head wobbled, though he remained upright. Referee Tony Weeks had seen enough. He waved the fight off. Angulo reacted angrily. He pulled away from Weeks and waved his arms. The crowd of fourteen thousand and change, booed loudly.
I had no problem with the referee’s decision. Angulo was way behind on all three of the judges' scorecards. He needed to knock Alvarez out to win. I didn’t see that happening. His rally in round eight had been usurped by Alvarez’s punches in the next frame.