By Tim Smith
In boxing there are career-defining fights and there are career-altering fights. Alfredo Angulo believes he had his career-defining fight against Erislandy Lara, even though he lost on a 10th round TKO last June.
When Angulo takes on Canelo Alvarez in a 12-round junior middleweight match Saturday night, the outcome could change the course of Angulo’s career and his life forever. A victory over Alvarez in a major, nationally televised SHOWTIME PPV event on a big stage like the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas could propel Angulo to heights he could only dream about a few years ago.
“This is a very, very important fight for me,’’ Angulo said. “If I beat Canelo this opens many doors for me. All the things I’ve been waiting for will be there for me. This is a steppingstone to more great fights, especially the other fighters with high ranking opponents in the 154-pound division.
Following a successful amateur career that saw him land a spot on the 2004 Mexico Olympic boxing team, Angulo’s career got off to a blazing start, knocking out 12 of his first 15 opponents. But in the last two years Angulo’s career has been characterized by fits and starts. He had differences with his former promoter, Gary Shaw, and sat on the shelf while sorting them out. Golden Boy Promotions bought out his contract and signed him in 2011.
Then in 2012 Angulo, who was born in Mexicali, Mexico, was detained by U.S. Immigrations for eight months at the El Centro Detention facility in California near the Mexico border after he turned himself in for being in the U.S. on an expired visa.
Clear of his legal and managerial issues the 31-year-old Angulo is ready for some serious forward momentum. But he will be stuck in neutral, or maybe even go in reverse, if he can’t get past Alvarez.
“My life has been difficult both in personal obstacles and professional obstacles,’’ Angulo said. “I don’t look back on regret with anything. This is the point that I’ve reach at my career.’’
All of it has given Angulo, whose nickname is El Perro (The Dog), motivation for the match against Alvarez. But there is something else bubbling just below the surface that has added more heat.
Call it the green-eyed monster – envy.
While Angulo (22-3, 18 KOs) has struggled to build a following and clawed his way up the ladder to top contender status, Alvarez has had his image heightened by clever marketing and his path to the top guided by his promoters at Golden Boy. It has resulted in Alvarez becoming a superstar in Mexico and standing at the threshold of becoming a crossover star in the U.S.
Angulo said he doesn’t resent Alvarez for taking advantage of the marketing that has made him a star in Mexico. He would have done the same thing if given that opportunity. But it’s obvious from listening to him that he thinks Alvarez has been pampered. Alvarez will have to fight someone tough to prove that he deserves the hype. Angulo believes that’s where he comes in.
“I do believe that he has gotten a lot of marketing help in Mexico and this is why his team wanted him to have a fight against me so that he can prove that he does belong at this level,’’ Angulo said.
Virgil Hunter, Angulo’s trainer, said there are plenty of Mexican fans looking at the fight between Angulo and Alvarez as a battle between the haves and the have nots. He said he first noticed how Mexican fans aligned themselves into rooting classes when Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales fought for the first time. Barrera was born into a middle class family outside Mexico City and Morales was born to a poor family above a boxing gym in Tijuana.
“You can liken it to the Barrerra-Morales situation,’’ Hunter said. “It’s the Mexicans from the soil and the Mexicans from the new Mexico. There are class issues and class situations. I think that exists. The Mexicans from the soil understand Perro. The Mexicans that escaped the soil understand Canelo.’’
The actual class distinction between Angulo and Alvarez is minimal. Angulo is one of six boys from Mexicali whose father died when he was five years old, and Alvarez, the youngest of eight children, was raised on a farm in Guadalajara, Mexico. Neither was born with a silver spoon in their mouths.
Though Alvarez has been well marketed in the U.S., Angulo said on fight night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he will have the allegiance of the hardcore boxing fans. He earned those fans with his straight ahead Mexican style and ferocious KO power.
“If you’ve seen my fight you know what it means that I leave it all in the ring,’’ Angulo said. “I do everything possible to come out with my hands high. I give it my all.’’
He expects Alvarez to be equally motivated to thrill the crowd, though he doesn’t believe Alvarez has faced a true 154-pound puncher in his career.
Angulo said Alvarez’s match against Mayweather proved that he isn’t close to the elite level. There is no shame in losing to Mayweather, who is undefeated in 45 professional fights and is the best boxer in the game. But Angulo said it is the way that Alvarez lost that makes fans wonder about his credentials as a superstar boxer.
“I thought there would be greater things showing from Canelo,’’ Angulo said. “I thought he’d put up more of a fight. But I wasn’t really surprised that he didn’t show that much. It shows that Canelo (42-1-1, 30 KOs) still isn’t at that level of Floyd Mayweather.’’
Austin Trout was the toughest opponent at 154 pounds that Alvarez fought before stepping in against Mayweather.
“Look at what (Erislandy) Lara did to Trout and look at what Canelo did against him and that will tell you where Canelo is,’’ Angulo said.
Trout lost decisions to both Alvarez and Lara.
Angulo made the Lara reference because Alvarez has avoided fighting Lara and Angulo fought Lara last June 8. Angulo dropped Lara twice in the fight, once in the fourth round and once in the ninth. But the referee stopped the fight in the 10th round once Angulo got a large hematoma over his left eye from a punch and turned his back to Lara.
Angulo credits Hunter with giving him a strategy that allowed him to hit the crafty Lara and make it a back and forth battle.
“He’s a better fighter than Canelo. He’s a better technical fighter than Canelo,’’ Angulo said.
Hunter, who has helped Angulo increase his ring IQ, agrees with Angulo that the Lara fight was indeed career-defining.
“In the sense that he gave the best 154 pounder in the world a life and death fight. That was career defining to me,’’ Hunter said. “With this fight coming up, if he’s victorious, marketability-wise and notoriety-wise, it will define another aspect of his career.’’
The money-making aspect.