One of the most explosive — and marketable — fights on the 2016 boxing calendar is scheduled for Saturday: middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 knockouts) versus Amir Khan (31-3, 19 KOs).
When Khan, England’s former world champion, enters the ring, he’ll be bringing a 344-day absence from the sport to a close; Alvarez last fought six months ago and has won two bouts over the past year. Khan, it’s worth noting, is moving up in weight for the bout, which is set at a catch weight of 155 pounds.
With Alvarez’s world middleweight title on the line, the fight is a collision of the lightning-quick speed and bruising power of one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Alvarez, meeting a fighter who, for a while, seemed unable to headline a marquee pay-per-view event (Khan).
The fight is yet another feather in the cap for Alvarez, who hails from Mexico and will be headlining the card on Cinco de Mayo weekend.
“It’s a great honor,” Alvarez told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “There’s extra motivation to fight on this holiday.”
Let’s break down the fight in three areas.
Khan’s calling card throughout his 11-year professional career has been his hand speed; very few fighters, if any, can deftly unload the vision-blurring combinations he effortlessly produces.
“I don’t know if the speed I have is something that Canelo’s experienced,” Khan told ESPN.com.
Against stronger, knockout-seeking fighters like Marcos Maidana and Paul McCloskey, it was Khan’s innate ability to pepper his opponent with firecracker jab-and-cross combinations that put him over the top.
Khan threw an average of 27 jabs per round over his past 11 fights, according to data from CompuBox, connecting on nearly 30 percent of them. Much of this was a result of how quickly he unloaded his hands, giving the opponent fractions of seconds to attempt to block or avoid them.
“We are going to have to use the right game plan,” Khan told ESPN.com. “We will have to be very focused in this fight. What beats Canelo, in my eyes, is speed and movement, skill and boxing IQ, so that’s what we are going to be using.”
Alvarez is more of a counterpuncher, opting to work with the action his opponent brings to him. However, should he sense his opponent wavering or getting lax on the ropes, he has the juice to shed his calculated offensive approach and transcend what’s expected of a bruising middleweight.
The disparity in speed is perhaps best exemplified by the disparity in jabs thrown; Alvarez threw 18.2 per round in his past seven fights, connecting on 21.4 percent of them, just slightly better than the middleweight average of 20.8 percent.
Edge: Amir Khan
That Khan hasn’t knocked out a fighter in nearly five years is worrisome. He can certainly put an opponent on the mat with his frenetic, dizzying combinations, but has struggled recently to end fights.
“I know I’m not going to be stronger than Canelo in any way,” Khan told ESPN.com. “I’m not going to be thinking I’m stronger than Canelo.”
Be that as it may, Khan still throws 28 power punches per round and connects on 44.3 percent of them.
Alvarez’s power is undisputed: He’s knocked out two opponents since 2014. He throws 24.1 power punches per round and connects on 47.3 percent of them, a 10 percent higher average than other middleweights.
Edge: Canelo Alvarez
Khan’s incessant bring-the-fight-to-the-opponent ideology is problematic in this fight. He frequently puts himself in a defenseless position, affording composed fighters the opportunity to freely land counterpunches and send him sprawling to the mat.
While he has only lost three fights, two have come by way of knockout, and he came eerily close to having his fight against Maidana, which he ultimately won, ended in the later rounds.
Alvarez has never been sent to the mat in his professional career, and has rarely so much as been put on his heels in a fight. In his most recent win, the biggest of his career — a unanimous decision victory over the knockout-hungry Miguel Cotto — it was clear that Cotto couldn’t hurt Alvarez.
There’s no evidence to suggest that Alvarez, who has gone toe-to-toe and beaten Shane Mosley (41 knockouts), Cotto (33 knockouts), Ryan Rhodes (31 knockouts) and Lovemore Ndou (31 knockouts), could be in danger against the punching ability of Khan.
Edge: Canelo Alvarez
Saturday night could be a launching pad for Khan’s career, but all signs point to it being a fight Alvarez can — and should — handle.