Sugar Ray Leonard once said, "Like a lot of things in life, when you put the gloves on, it's better to give than to receive." Saul Alvarez should heed that advice, because if he's on the receiving end of Kermit Cintron's powerful right hand, the Mexican's express train to superstardom could come off the rails.
The overriding question about this fight is whether the largely untested Alvarez can stand up against blows from the first legitimate power puncher he has faced. Cintron is definitely a step-up for the 21-year-old, unbeaten Alvarez. At 32, Cintron may be a trial horse in this matchup, but he's a pony with kick. Of his 33 victories, Cintron has knocked out 28, although none since 2007. How far Cintron has slid from peak is open to debate, but just two years ago he fought Sergio Martinez to a draw, and then handed Alfredo Angulo his first defeat. Cintron (33-4-1, 28 KOs) can be his own worst enemy, tending to lose focus, but if he can manage to bring his "A" game, Alvarez will be tested.
There are seemingly no marks on Alvarez's record (38-0-1, 28 KOs) other than a 2006 four-round draw with club fighter, Jorge Juarez, when Canelo was a mere 16. But there is something that doesn't show on the record which should give the Alvarez camp some pause when he gets in the ring Nov. 26 with Cintron.
In May of last year Alvarez nearly went down in the first round against Jose Miguel Cotto, but managed to survive with more than a little help from the ropes. Many top fighters experience rounds like that. What was disturbing about this one was that Cotto was a 32-year-old blown-up lightweight who stands just 5'5 ½" and began his career as a featherweight. Yes, Manny Pacquiao started out as a flyweight, but Cotto, the older brother of Miguel, is no Pac Man.
This also wasn't a fluke, one-shot blow by Cotto that Alvarez quickly shook off. With 1:15 to go in the round, Cotto caught Alvarez with a counter left hook that staggered Canelo back into the ropes. Alvarez was unable to get his hands up, and Cotto pummeled his uncovered head until the Mexican slipped off the ropes and began backpedaling on wobbly legs. Had the rope not been there, it's possible that Alvarez would have gone down.
Enter Cintron, who can throw hard shots with the best of them. His trainer, Ronnie Shields, said recently that "Kermit will probably be the biggest guy Alvarez has fought in his career...he hasn't fought a big, strong guy that can push him around." Not only is Cintron strong, but he is athletically gifted and has excellent boxing skills, which he demonstrated against Angulo by constantly circling and popping off shots from a distance. Although Alvarez is not as slow on his feet as Angulo, he is hardly swift. Cintron at his best could outbox Alvarez for 12 rounds, and if Canelo should get frustrated, he might leave himself open for a bomb.
Other than the Cotto near fiasco, Alvarez has not been tested by fire. At 21 he is still a mere baby in boxing terms. Perhaps remembering that awful first round, his promoter, Golden Boy, has carefully chosen his last three opponents, all relatively light hitters in Matthew Hatton, Ryan Rhodes and Alfonso Gomez.
Some say that Alvarez is just a strong young kid with promising talent who has been pushed into the limelight way too soon. He has good technique, is more of a boxer-puncher than typical Mexican fighters, but in any other situation he would still be learning, not holding an alphabet belt. Like Marco Antonio Barrera, Alvarez started fighting professionally when he was 15, and has been getting the boxing equivalent of on-the-job-training. If Alvarez can school Cintron, a former champion, he will graduate into a higher class.
Of course this all boils down to what Cintron brings to the ring. Since beating Angulo, Cintron has not given any indications he is still in his prime, having lost two of four fights. The first loss was a bizarre fourth round technical decision to Paul Williams last year in which Cintron appeared to be fighting very well when their legs got tangled. Cintron stumbled backwards about four steps before diving headfirst through the ropes and onto the scorer's table and then the floor. He was ruled unable to continue. There are those who think Cintron looked for a way out of the fight, and question why he didn't grab the ropes to keep himself from falling.
Cintron took a year off from boxing after that disaster to spend time with his four kids, hoping the break would rejuvenate him. But in his first fight back against Carlos Molina, who had an undistinguished record of 18-4-2, Cintron dropped a unanimous decision. That defeat, after 14 months out of the ring, could be chalked up to ring rust, although he did have a six-week training camp and for the first time worked with a strength and conditioning coach.
His last fight in August did nothing to erase the doubts. Cintron won a lackluster unanimous decision over Antwone Smith, whose previous two bouts came against boxers with a combined record of 26-35. The common link between Molina and Smith was that both worked Cintron's body hard and slowed him down. Alvarez also goes to the body well, and unless he gets careless and is caught with a counter bomb, should be able to wear down Cintron and emerge with his unbeaten record intact.