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Left-Hook Lounge Mailbag: Canelo vs Angulo, Santa Cruz, Rigondeaux, and Tony Weeks!

Erik N. (El Paso, TX): I thought Canelo performed very well against Angulo and I feel he’s the best at 154lbs. How did you rate his performance and what are your thoughts for him going forward?

Vivek W. (ESB): From the subplots coming into this event to the ones during the event, as well as those which have spurned in the aftermath of it, there are so many different things to consider with Canelo when you analyze the big picture. Just kind of taking things full circle, I’ll start with the pre-fight angle…..namely the weight issue.

There was a common perception that the two separate fight camps had negotiated an option like we saw with Mayweather/Marquez, where Mayweather had the option to enter at a higher weight and pay a certain penalty amount, with the fight moving on. That perception was later squashed when it was confirmed by two independent sources that in fact there was no agreed upon option; instead, Team Canelo had to reach out to Team Angulo hours before the fight and flat out admit that they were not going to make 154lbs.

I think about that confirmation, and add to it the fact that Canelo said multiple times leading up to the fight that “making weight is always [his] greatest concern prior to a fight”, and I really begin to wonder how dedicated he truly is at this stage. At age 23, it’s easy to live on pure adrenaline, emotional highs, and the brute strength that comes with youth. Most understand that the older one gets, the more difficult this blissful ignorance becomes. Evolving from the weight scenario to the actual fight, I thought Canelo looked as good as he should have looked. He was without doubt, the more skillful, faster, and accomplished of the two. He showed power, speed, toughness, and what I consider a very underrated ring intelligence. All that being said, you can’t totally knock the speculation of some that “this was a guy placed in front of him to make him appear that way”.

Personally, I felt Angulo had a chance, and my prediction actually shifted to him in one of those proverbial ‘out-on-a-limb’ type selections. I felt Angulo, under Virgil Hunter could expose the fact that Canelo has never truly handled a full-scale Jr. Middleweight. At the end of the night, Canelo did what he needed to do, but I think in hindsight, we learned a few things about him that put other perceptions to rest. In the aftermath of the Mayweather fight, there was a strong contingent that felt Mayweather “only got high numbers at the office and gates because he had a huge dancing partner across from him”. A somewhat small crowd at the weigh-in was one thing, but beyond that, I couldn’t help but notice that there were several empty seats in the building. Beyond that, after a controversial stoppage, several on hand threw particles at Canelo, who was booed on his way back to the dressing room.

If there was a question before, it became very evident that this young man is not quite the international phenom some were led to believe. Based on ability, I think he’s as dangerous as any contender you’ll find. But for those who have labeled him “the next pay-per-view star after the departure of Mayweather, Cotto, and Pacquiao”, I think that’s wishful thinking at this point. It all depends on how they navigate his future. But as of now, I just don’t know that I see this. I found it pretty interesting that when confronted at the post-fight press conference, he asked Lara “who else wants to see the fight”? As if to say Lara isn’t on his level and there’s no demand for them to face-off. Angulo was an interesting option, and the only available that gave him an angle at tapping into his biggest crowd base (Mexican). If he only earned $1.25M against Angulo and didn’t achieve a sell out, how big is he?

Is he truly at a level that gives him the flexibility to cast off good opposition? To be very frank, there are no better options for him, outside of Miguel Cotto. When you add in the weight issues, the only true possibility he has at making better fights than a potential clash against Lara is at 160, yet he appears reluctant to go there. So, as big of a fan as I am, I can openly acknowledge that Canelo’s ego, right now, is as disproportionate as his apparent weight issue. It’s simply not practical. If he only made a million in a fight that involved his best and biggest fan base, it’s pretty much downhill from here. I think the pay-per-view numbers will support that angle quite well.

All in all, he’s still the best at ’54, not named Mayweather. Some tried to take away from him after being white-washed, but ask those same people, who hasn’t against Floyd? They’ve all looked that way in the past. But he’s the only one (outside of Marquez) to recently lose to Mayweather and still manage to earn a victory in their followup fight. He’s the best of the best at 154. But keeping things in perspective, if he doesn’t plan on moving up, it will get no bigger or better than Lara for him. Period. Stay tuned….

Anais R. (Covina, CA): My husband and I are huge fans of Leo Santa Cruz, but he is Mexican and I Cubano. We often discuss the possibility of a Santa Cruz vs Rigondeaux fight. Who do you see winning that fight if and when they do finally square off?

Vivek W. (ESB): That’s a matchup made in heaven! And what I love most is that it would feature two of the best at what they do. It’s almost a poor man’s version of Mayweather vs Pacquiao! I say that in the sense that you have one very solid, come straight ahead type fighter who is relentless, has a good shot selection, less power in comparison, but equally as dangerous based on his ability to chop you down; compared to a very cerebral, skills type fighter who has an underrated (and under-appreciated) element of power to his game. The biggest issue for Rigondeaux would be the accelerated workrate of Santa Cruz. It’s hard for a boxer who limits his punch output to outpoint a volume puncher. That being said, you can’t touch (or hurt) what you can’t hit! And anyone expecting Rigo to sit in Santa Cruz’s kill zone all night has no understanding of what makes him great.

Rigondeaux is a master at establishing a safe distance. Short reach and all, he will always have you one step too far from connecting on him, as he finds one centimeter (it seems) withing the necessary space to connect on you. His ring generalship is just flat out uncanny, and I think volume punching and all, it’s a tall order for Santa Cruz. I see benefits for both men; but I can’t seem to narrow a decision down. Honestly, I think the man who executes the best on fight night is the hand that will be raised when the final bell sounds. I don’t see either guy being stopped; although I do think a well placed body shot from Rigo could solve the puzzle quicker than we think. Agbeko isn’t at Santa Cruz’s level, but think of how he (as a volume puncher) had zero answers when faced with a man whose intelligence was simply beyond his comprehension. I lean Rigo, but it’s really a tossup fight.

Michael H. (Raleigh, NC): I find myself at odds about the way referee Tony Weeks stopped the Angulo/Canelo matchup. How do you assess the stoppage? And what do you think the correct thing to do would have been?

Vivek W. (ESB): I think the reason you find yourself “at odds” about the stoppage is because there was nothing easy about the decision. No matter which side of the isle one resides on, there was nothing easy about it. My personal checks and balances system comes down to this: If the same thing happened 10 times, would I have responded the same way more than 6 of those times? In my book, if there’s more than a 40% margin of doubt, it’s probably not the right direction to go in…..no matter what element of life we’re talking about! Tony Weeks is one of my favorite referees in the game today, and I think that has changed. But that being said, I do look at his ability to handle things in critical moments a bit differently after this situation.

When we look at what happened to Mago a few months back, and several other fighters over the years, it’s totally understandable why he would have considered the stoppage. That being said, the way he went about it was all wrong. On the elite level, when fans have paid top dollar to watch up close or pay to view, you have to realize, everything happens according to a different standard. A different set of rules, so to speak. My biggest challenge of his decision comes on the strength of his decision to do it during an actual round where the fighter was more than alert, he wasn’t on the ropes taking punishment, he was standing in the center of the ring and he was fighting back! A decision like this where a fighter has never touched the deck and doesn’t appear to be in position to should only come between rounds after consulting ring doctor’s and trainers.

Virgil Hunter gave very precise instructions to his fighter. “If I see him landing punches in bunches and you’re aren’t responding, I’m gonna stop the fight”. This wasn’t a case where Canelo was landing punches in bunches (when the fight was stopped). He landed one shot, and it was a shot in which Angulo responded immediately, without pause, by stepping forward with his hands up. One other thing few are talking about is the fact that Weeks is the same referee who stood between the late Diego Corrales (RIP) and Juan Castillo. There’s no argument anyone can provide to support Angulo taking more punishment than both of the men involved took in that fight. There was legitimate grounds for stoppage at several points for both men, but he allowed the one who ended up winning (Corrales) to battle on, despite showing no return fire at certain stretches in that affair.

I don’t want to be too critical of Weeks, because I still feel he’s one of the best in the business. That being said, even the best have an occasional bad night at the office. For Weeks, it’s rare, but it’s real! If we are gonna use the logic that says “he saved a fighter who was gonna lose anyway”, that has to be a consistent measure. What has so many outraged here is not so much that it was a bad decision, as much as it was the fact that was inconsistent with what we’ve seen so many times in the past. Angulo proved to us in his last outing that he’s not afraid to let a ref know when can no longer go! When his eye was swollen and he knew he could no longer fight, he had no qualms stopping the action against Lara. And that was a fight he was actually winning on the cards.

When we analyze the sheer numbers, the decision to enact a “premature stoppage” speaks much louder. One of the worst beatings we’ve seen in the past few years was Mikkel Kesslers’s victory over Librado Andrade. In that fight, Andrade landed an abysmal 10%, which echoes the fact that he pretty much never mounted an attack. Kessler landed a staggering 348 punches, most of which were power punches, and the fight was not stopped. Calzaghe landed a stunning 351 punches, over half of which were power punches against Jeff Lacy. No stoppage. Pacquiao landed 411 power punches over Margarito, who was also allowed to finish the fight. One could argue that a non-stoppage there is what ended his career. But the flipside is that he had very visible damage done to a very intricate area of his eye, wherein Angulo was slightly swollen, yet not as bad as we’ve seen him previously fight through.

Again, it’s very tough to act and think in the moment. And although fans typically put most of the emphasis on the fighters who have to perform at the highest level on that stage, the reality is that the referees have equal or greater pressure, because they directly influence the final outcome. Bottom line, no, Angulo wasn’t going to win. And no, he wasn’t going get a stoppage to overcome the point deficit. But if we are gonna go to this “save the fighter” platform, it has to be consistent. If we took (3) of today’s top refs and (2) of yesterdays, (Coles, Weeks, Bayless, Lane, and Cortez), given that situation three times each, none of them stop it in the middle of the round two or more of the three times. Truth be known, neither would Tony Weeks. Good intentions….bad timing!

(Vivek “Vito” Wallace can be heard every Tuesday night on “Left-Hook Lounge Radio” at 9ET/6PT. He can also be reached at Twitter (@vivekwallace747), Facebook, and Instagram (ViveksView)