There is no pressure at the top. The pressure is being second or third.Jose Mourinho, Football Coach, 1963-
Many words and phrases enter into boxing’s lexicon. Some pass, like ‘drug cheat’, others linger, hold, like Henry Akinwande, and are as misunderstood as the heavyweight octopus too. Others feel contrived and crash against our senses like finger nails on a chalk board; “downloading data” one unpopular example, “purse split” another. Often these new terms describe something old, something eternal, but the descriptive refreshes and repackages the classic, adds a veneer designed to appeal to a younger audience and infer wisdom in the speaker.
Beneath this modernism, or bullshit as we used to call it, remains the skill, the truth, the meaning. In Saul Alvarez’s performance last night, dismantling a world class fighter six inches taller and with a barge pole reach, the flame haired Mexican added a 2020 definition to the often misunderstood ‘educated pressure’.
If you didn’t know what it meant, nodded bewildered on hearing the term used without appreciating what it looked like, how it could be distinguished from any other type of ‘pressure’, then last night was a definitive exemplar.
From the first to the last, Canelo dictated the pace of the fight, determined where the action would take place and held the centre of the ring for all but moments across the 36 minutes. He did this despite the advantages of height and reach his opponent, unbeaten in 27 contests before the bout, possessed. Added to this was incredible footwork, that maneuvered Smith into the ropes frequently and an elusiveness that offered the Ring magazine champion precious little success to build on.
There were moments, all too fleeting, when Smith was pro-active enough to make a case for winning a round, I had him nudging the first and taking the 5th and 7th, the latter the clearest. No breakthroughs were forthcoming despite Smith’s improved output in those rounds. Canelo’s elusiveness when facing pressure was sensational. It isn’t melodramatic to suggest so. A turn of the head, a shift of weight, danger avoided in margins of millimetres and when Smith did land more cleanly, because in a world title fight, all fighters get hit, the distressing reality for Smith was, Canelo absorbed those power shots without flinching.
His ability to absorb punches from Super-Middleweights and Light Heavyweights, given he began life as a Light-Welterweight, albeit as a 15 year old, seems astonishing. He isn’t the first to traverse those divisions, but his chin is other worldly. It must be hugely dispiriting to catch a fighter with a significant uppercut and derive no reaction from the recipient.
To my observation, Smith accepted his fate from the end of that 7th round. From there he seemed to wilt physically and Canelo swept the final five rounds without opposition. In the last two, it was plain Smith was bereft of ideas and energy but endured the punishment, the relentless pressure Canelo imposed on him. There was credit in surviving to the bell such is the zenith Canelo appears to have reached. It was a consolation prize Smith was content to pursue in the end. Furtive glances at the clock above the ring evidence of that reality.
In defeat Smith has the clarity few fighters achieve in their careers, that being, that there is a better fighter than me at this weight. As 30 year old contemporaries, that is unlikely to change. He can rebuild, rehabilitate from the terrible muscle injury he seemed to accrue in is left arm and perhaps enjoy the benefit of moving North to 175lbs and feel rejuvenated. Performances against Canelo are one thing, but there was a sense of him fading against Ryder too. Certainly, he needs to develop a plan B. Injury may have impacted his ability to adapt but there seemed precious little variety in tactics across the fight.
Some comfort eating will be excused to start that process.
Canelo meanwhile, he scoffs at the Golovkin option and turns his attention toward further unification within the 168 pound class. Which may be good news for Billy Joe Saunders, the WBO belt holder, if you consider an evening inside a ring with Canelo as a blessing. Saunders is a fighter with a style likely to test Canelo’s educated pressure still further. For all his immaturity and buffoonery, Billy can fight and may have the fleet of foot to trouble Canelo more than Smith could muster.
On the other hand, Canelo may blast him out with combinations. His educated pressure ensures he will be situated perfectly to try.