LAS VEGAS — Middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez had a lot of problems with the speed and movement of Amir Khan, just the way Khan and his team planned. Then Alvarez connected.
Alvarez, the heavy favorite, landed a monster right hand to Khan’s chin in the sixth round, and that was it, as he brutally knocked Khan out before a crowd of 16,540 on Saturday in the main event of the first boxing card at the new T-Mobile Arena.
The largely Mexican crowd cheering Alvarez on during Cinco de Mayo weekend erupted as Alvarez retained the middleweight title in his first defense, six months after taking it from Miguel Cotto by unanimous decision. Alvarez and Khan fought at a catchweight of 155 pounds.
Sitting ringside was unified titleholder Gennady Golovkin, the fearsome puncher who, by virtue of his interim belt, looms as Alvarez’s mandatory challenger.
Immediately after the fight, Golovkin took to Twitter and indicated to Alvarez that he’s “ready.”
— Gennady Golovkin (@GGGBoxing) May 8, 2016
Alvarez’s manager and co-trainer Jose “Chepo” Reynoso came to the ring ropes after the fight and pointed at Golovkin, inviting him into the ring.
Alvarez, viewed by many as the new face of boxing in the wake of the recent retirements of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, and Golovkin are supposed to fight in the fall, based on a deal they made with the WBC. Under the signed agreement, they both were allowed to take an interim fight. Golovkin knocked Dominic Wade out in two rounds on April 23, and then Alvarez (47-1-1, 33 KOs) smashed Khan (31-4, 19 KOs).
But it was not the easy night many expected for Alvarez, who at 25 is Mexico’s most popular active fighter. He had tremendous problems dealing with Khan’s movement, just like he did when he lost for the only time in a one-sided decision to Floyd Mayweather in their 2013 junior middleweight championship fight.
“Like I said from the beginning, I knew he was very fast and knew it would be competitive in the beginning,” Alvarez said through a translator. “But I knew time would come to my favor, and you saw that.
“Many people focus on my power and talk about my power, but I have many more qualities in the ring. I like to surprise everyone.”
Moments into the fight, Khan landed a clean right hand, but Alvarez barely budged. Khan said in the days leading up to the fight that he knew he did not have the power to truly hurt Alvarez. He said he would have to rely on speed and skills, and he did just that until the violent end.
“Like I said in Mexico, ‘We don’t f— around.’ We don’t come to play in this sport. I fear no one in this sport. I’ll fight him right now. Let’s put the gloves on and get in there with him.”
Canelo Alvarez on potential Gennady Golovkin fight
While Alvarez pressed forward looking for heavy shots, Khan stayed on the outside, moved around, kept his back off the ropes and threw quick combinations. It was working to a tee.
Alvarez landed his share of punches, especially to the body, which he targeted in an effort to slow Khan, but he was having a hard time landing cleanly to the head.
In the sixth round, it all changed. Alvarez finally connected with a big shot by nailing Khan with a left hook to the head. Then he landed another moments later, but Khan, whose chin problems have been well-chronicled, took the blows well and fired back.
Alvarez then found a home for a huge right hand that ruined Khan, who fell like a rag doll, with his head slamming on the canvas. Referee Kenny Bayless did not bother to count and waved the fight off at 2 minutes, 37 seconds. Medical personnel swarmed Khan, who needed a few minutes to get to his feet.
Khan, who didn’t attend the postfight news conference, was taken to University Medical Center for observation as a precaution. He tweeted after the fight that he was OK.
According to CompuBox, Alvarez landed 64 of 170 (38 percent), and Khan landed 48 of 166 punches (29 percent), though only one of their shots really mattered.
Alvarez was surprisingly ahead on two scorecards 49-46 and 48-47. Khan was ahead 48-47 on the third scorecard. ESPN.com had Khan ahead 48-47.
Khan, 29, a former unified junior welterweight titleholder, was taking an audacious challenge by moving up two weight classes to fight Alvarez. He had suffered knockout losses to Breidis Prescott, in the first round in 2008 as a lightweight, and to Danny Garcia, in the fourth round in 2012 in a junior welterweight world title fight. Khan had fought only three times as a full-fledged welterweight.
What Khan, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist for Great Britain at age 17, really wanted was a big pay-per-view fight against Mayweather or Pacquiao, and he was being strongly considered for both the past three years. But Khan never got the chance to fight them, and then both retired, Mayweather in September and Pacquiao last month. Alvarez, however, provided the big-time fight Khan wanted.
“I’m one of the fighters to step in the ring with whoever,” said Khan, who went to the hospital to be checked out after brief post-fight remarks. “I was getting in the ring with a big guy, unfortunately, and I didn’t make it to the end.
“But I tried my best. I want to be the best, and I want to fight the best. That is why I took this fight.”
Khan said he would probably return to the welterweight division.
“I’m naturally 147, and this challenge came, and it was hard to turn down,” Khan said. “My natural weight is 147, and I will probably go back down to that.”
Alvarez earned a base purse of $3.5 million, and Khan earned $2 million, but both will make many millions more from television revenue.
With Khan vanquished, the pressure on Alvarez to fight Golovkin next will be intense. Before the fight, he and Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya sounded very reluctant to commit to the fight next. If Alvarez doesn’t fight Golovkin next, he is to be stripped of his title.
Khan was bidding to become only the third fighter to win a world title at junior welterweight and middleweight, along with Cotto and De La Hoya. He and his trainer, Virgil Hunter, said Alvarez needs to fight Golovkin next in what would be the biggest fight in boxing this side of a Mayweather-Pacquiao rematch.
“I think it’s time that Canelo steps in the ring with Triple G,” Khan said.
Added Hunter, “He’s got to quit hiding behind the flag and fight Triple G. Amir set the tone. He’s got to stop hiding behind the flag and fight the fight that we all want to see.”
In an interview ringside with Jim Lampley during the HBO PPV telecast, Golovkin (35-0, 32 KOs), who has made 16 defenses and knocked out 22 opponents in a row, was asked if he would accept a catchweight between 154 and 160 for the fight. Alvarez prefers 155 pounds. The weight for the fight has been a major point of contention between the camps.
“I am old-school. Middleweight is 160,” Golovkin said. “I respect the sport of boxing.”
After the fight, when De La Hoya and Alvarez addressed the potential fight, they had a much different response than they have had in recent weeks.
“Golovkin, make sure you answer your phone tomorrow morning,” De La Hoya said. “We will call you. Make sure you answer your phone tomorrow.”
Said Alvarez: “Like I said in Mexico, ‘We don’t f— around.’ We don’t come to play in this sport. I fear no one in this sport. I’ll fight him right now. Let’s put the gloves on and get in there with him.”
No need to do it right now. September will do just fine.