Commentary

Alvarez handles Hatton with ease

Updated: March 7, 2011, 2:48 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Saul AlvarezHoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions


A roundup of the past week's notable boxing results from around the world:

Saturday at Anaheim, Calif.
Junior middleweight
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez W12 Matthew Hatton

Wins a vacant junior middleweight title
scores: 119-108 (three times)
Records: Alvarez, 36-0-1, 26 KOs; Hatton, 41-5-2, 16 KOs

Rafael's remark: That was about as entertaining a one-sided beatdown as you will ever see. Alvarez stalked, punched, hammered and generally battered England's Hatton for virtually every second of every round in the HBO "Boxing After Dark" main event. However, Hatton -- the 29-year-old kid brother of former two-division titleholder Ricky Hatton (who was ringside) -- displayed enormous heart and will. Despite the bad beating, he never went down and tried to win no matter how long the odds became. His survival made the drama of a highly entertaining fight in front of a Honda Center crowd of 11,674 -- the second-largest for a fight in arena history, according to promoter Golden Boy. Nearly every fan was there to cheer for Alvarez, the 20-year-old Mexican sensation, who is already a megastar in his home country. But in the United States, where he has fought a few times, his popularity is growing. And why not? With most of Mexico's top fighters past their best days, the fans are looking for a new star. Alvarez, with his all-out fighting style, youthful enthusiasm and charisma, may be it. The jury is still out, because he is not yet fighting top opponents, but that will come with time. Remember, despite 37 fights, many of them came against complete stiffs in Mexico, and he is still just 20.

But Alvarez poured it on Hatton. He bloodied his nose in the second round, cut him over the left eye in the fourth round and played rough, sending Hatton to the canvas in the seventh and 10th when he hit him in on the break. Referee Lou Moret docked Alvarez a point for the infraction in the seventh round, but it hardly mattered. That point deduction is all that kept him from a clean shutout on all three scorecards.

With the victory Alvarez, the 2010 ESPN.com prospect of the year, entered the boxing record book by becoming the youngest fighter to ever win a junior middleweight world title. Fernando Vargas, who was 21 years and 5 days when he claimed a 154-pound belt in 1998, had held the record. Alvarez won't turn 21 until July 18. Maybe when he turns 21, he can celebrate his new title with an adult beverage. Although Alvarez now has the record, it is a little bit of a hollow one. First off, the fight was contracted at a 150-pound catch weight, yet Alvarez came in over by 1.4 pounds and had to give up 20 percent ($70,000) of his $350,000 purse; half went to Hatton and half to the California commission. So while Alvarez was comfortably inside the division limit to fight for the belt, he was over the contract weight. That is not good and highly unprofessional. Also, the title had been held by Sergio Martinez, who moved up and won the middleweight championship. In November, Manny Pacquiao won the vacant belt by battering the ultra-undeserving Antonio Margarito in a one-fight move to the division. When the title was declared vacant, because Pacquiao had no intention of defending it, Alvarez-Hatton -- which had already been made as a nontitle fight -- was sanctioned by the WBC for its belt. Alvarez, despite his huge potential, was a ludicrous No. 1 contender. Hatton being allowed to fight for the belt was even more of a joke since he was not ranked at junior middleweight, had been campaigning as European welterweight champion and never beaten a top opponent. But this is today's boxing landscape, where none of that really matters. So while Alvarez now has a major world title, we will still watch to see if he can live up to the potential and hype inside the ring. He will be moved carefully by Golden Boy because he still gets hit too much and he is not blessed with a lot of hand or foot speed. What he is blessed with is, however, is a wonderful fighting spirit and the kind of charisma and popularity that has made him a star. Boxing could use a hundred more of him.

Junior lightweight
Adrien Broner W10 Daniel Ponce De Leon

Scores: 99-91, 96-94 (twice)
Records: Broner, 20-0, 16 KOs; Ponce De Leon, 41-3, 34 KOs

Rafael's remark: On paper, this was an intriguing matchup between a 21-year-old blue-chip prospect taking a huge step up in competition (Broner) facing a 30-year-old veteran fighter (who is still good) moving up in weight. Broner, of Cincinnati, was the bigger man with far superior skills and speed. Ponce De Leon, a former junior featherweight titlist and featherweight contender from Mexico, was a much bigger puncher and vastly more experienced. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a dog of a fight, mainly because of the way Broner boxes. He's sort of like a poor man's Floyd Mayweather in that he is fast and skilled but does not like to mix it up and relies heavily on defense.

In the end, it was an exceptionally close fight. Ignore the scandalous 99-91 scorecard turned in by judge Tony Crebs. That is about a bad a scorecard as you will ever see. Did he actually watch the fight? If he did, he would have seen a nip-and-tuck battle that saw the fighters land almost the same number of blows, even though the heavily Mexican crowd cheered every move Ponce De Leon made. He fired far more punches than Broner did, but landed at a much lower rate, although he did rip Broner to the body with excellent blows throughout the fight. Overall, Broner landed 126 of 351 (36 percent) of his shots, according to CompuBox, while Ponce De Leon connected on 127 of 592 (21 percent). Two judges turned in solid scorecards in favoring Broner ever so slightly. (From the couch, ESPN.com scored it a 95-95 draw.) The main thing to take away from the fight is that Ponce De Leon might want to go back to featherweight, where he is a formidable contender and Broner, while talented, did himself no favors in terms of giving fans entertainment, which might make it tough to crack the HBO lineup on a regular basis.

Super middleweight
James Kirkland KO1 Ahsandi Gibbs

Records: Kirkland, 26-0, 23 KOs; Gibbs, 10-3, 4 KOs

Rafael's remark: Kirkland, who turns 27 later this month, returned to the ring for the first time almost two years to the day from his previous fight, an HBO-televised sixth-round knockout of Joel "Love Child" Julio. Kirkland was a top junior middleweight contender rolling toward a title shot and creating excitement with fans, media and HBO executives when he short-circuited his career by winding up in prison for gun possession by a convicted felon. When he was released, he left Austin, Texas, and relocated to Las Vegas earlier this year to train with Kenny Adams. Making his return, Kirkland stormed Gibbs and simply overwhelmed him with pressure and punches, stopping him in just 34 seconds. Kirkland was like a man possessed, even yelling at Gibbs while he was on the ground as the referee counted him out. Kirkland, who weighed 162 pounds and has designs on getting back to 154, is due to return on the April 9 Erik Morales-Marcos Maidana HBO PPV undercard, although there is a chance he will fight once more before that, according to comanager Cameron Dunkin. It's nice to have Kirkland back. He is aggressive, crowd-pleasing and one of the most exciting fighters in the world. Hopefully, he will realize he has another chance and not blow it this time. Gibbs, 32, of St. Petersburg, Fla., lost his third fight in a row.

Super middleweight
Daniel Jacobs KO1 Robert Kliewer

Records: Jacobs, 22-1, 19 KOs; Kliewer, 11-13-2, 5 KOs

Rafael's remark: Jacobs, 23, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was the 2009 ESPN.com prospect of the year, a blue-chipper with tremendous upside. Then he faced Dmitry Pirog for a vacant middleweight belt in July and was knocked out in the fifth round of the upset. The road back began in December, when Jacobs scored an easy win on the Jean Pascal-Bernard Hopkins undercard. Matched again with a sub-.500 opponent in Kliewer, Jacobs blew him out in short order in his first fight since heading for Hollywood, Calif., to train with Freddie Roach. Jacobs dropped Kliewer twice with thudding overhand right hands. Kliewer went down in a corner on the first knockdown and went down face-first on the second knockdown, prompting referee Ray Corona to call it off at 1 minute, 44 seconds. This was a complete mismatch from the moment the contract was signed. Kliewer, 23, of St. Paul, Minn., dropped to 2-9 in his past 11.

Heavyweight
Seth Mitchell TKO2 Charles Davis

Records: Mitchell, 21-0-1, 15 KOs; Davis, 19-22-3, 4 KOs

Rafael's remark: Mitchell, 28, of Brandywine, Md., is considered by many to be the top American heavyweight prospect, something that is in short supply these days. He began boxing in his 20s after playing college football at Michigan State. He has shown the ability to learn quickly and has been moved along steadily, although at this stage of his career he should be beyond fighting journeymen such as Davis, 39, of Tucson, Ariz., whose only recent claim to fame is getting an eight-round draw with long-faded contender Monte Barrett in January. That draw boosted Davis to 0-5-1 in his past six bouts. Mitchell blew him out, dropping him once in the first round and three more times in the third round for the knockout. Mitchell did much of the damage with his left uppercut. It's not that Mitchell should be thrown in with a top contender, but he is due to step up at least somewhat.

Saturday at Newark, N.J.
Junior welterweight
Zab Judah TKO7 Kaizer Mabuza

Wins a vacant junior welterweight title
Records: Judah, 41-6, 28 KOs; Mabuza, 23-7-3, 14 KOs

Rafael's remark: Judah won his first junior welterweight belt, the IBF's version, when he claimed the vacant strap by knocking out Jan Bergman of South Africa in the fourth round in February 2000. More than 10 years later, Judah reclaimed the same vacant belt by knocking out Mabuza, who is also from South Africa. Judah was 22 the first time around and a rising star. He would have two stints with junior welterweight titles, become the undisputed welterweight champion and be involved in several major fights. His numerous ups and downs have been well-chronicled. Now 33, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native seems to finally have found maturity. He credits becoming a born-again Christian. Whatever it is, it has been working. Judah returned to junior welterweight last year and, in November, claimed a hard-fought split decision against Lucas Matthysse in a title elimination bout. When Devon Alexander was stripped of one of his belts for taking a significant January fight against Timothy Bradley Jr. rather than facing mandatory challenger Mabuza, Judah was next in line for the title shot.

Mabuza, 31, was a formidable opponent. He had not lost since 2007 and had won his past two fights on hostile turf, outpointing Serhiy Fedchenko in Ukraine and stopping New Jersey's Kendall Holt in the sixth round of a major upset in Atlantic City to secure the mandatory title shot. Judah, with Hall of Famer Pernell Whitaker running his corner as trainer while his father, Yoel Judah, took a bit of a backseat, came into the fight in tremendous condition. He was also supremely focused, and it showed. There was no hot-dogging, like Judah often does. No taunting. Just a serious fighter taking care of business. Although Judah suffered a fourth-round knockdown when his glove touched the canvas after being knocked off balance, he was not hurt and shook it off. In earlier days, that sort of incident might have made Judah lose his focus and get careless. But not on this night. He stuck to his plan, boxed, moved and fired stinging shots at Mabuza, who hurt Judah with a right hand late in the sixth round. But he could not effectively follow up and Judah made it through the round. In the seventh round, Judah caught Mabuza with a fast, sneaky, short left hand that cracked him on the chin. Mabuza was immediately staggered and drooped face-first between the ropes, which held him up. He was in very bad shape and wobbled around as referee Sam Viruet gave him a count. The fight probably should have been stopped then, but Viruet allowed it to continue. Judah rushed to Mabuza and landed several more bombs that staggered Mabuza, who was out on his feet as Viruet finally stepped in to call it off at 59 seconds. Judah closed the show in sensational fashion -- sending good pal Mike Tyson, who was ringside, into a frenzy -- and set himself up for some potentially huge business in one of boxing's most exciting divisions, one that boasts Bradley, Amir Khan and Alexander. An eventual fight with Alexander in his hometown of St. Louis would be big. That is where Judah earned the ire of fans when he went there and knocked out St. Louis' Cory Spinks to become the undisputed welterweight champ in 2005.

Saturday at Tepic, Mexico
Junior welterweight
Humberto Soto W10 Fidel Monterrosa

Scores: 100-88, 100-90, 98-92
Records: Soto, 55-7-2, 32 KOs; Monterrosa, 25-3, 19 KOs

Rafael's remark: In September, Mexico's Soto, 30, pounded out a unanimous decision against Monterrosa, 22, of Colombia, in a lightweight title defense. It was not a particularly good fight and Soto was the clear winner. However, they met again in a pointless rematch in the main event of "Top Rank Live" and Soto more easily won the decision in a nontitle bout. The only real drama was wondering whether Soto would be able to make it through the fight without getting cut or injured. The reason was because Soto went into the fight with a rematch in a title defense already scheduled against Urbano Antillon on the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley Showtime PPV undercard May 7. Soto edged Antillon in December in a fantastic fight that was the 2010 ESPN.com fight of the year. It was a physically grinding battle and it made little sense for Soto to put the rematch in jeopardy with the interim bout against Monterrosa so close to the date of the Antillon fight. But Soto got away with it and came out unscathed after schooling Monterrosa to win the near-shutout. Soto dropped Monterrosa with a flush left hook in the first round. It was a great shot, but Monterrosa survived. Soto padded his lead in the eighth round when Monterrosa was docked a point for a low blow.

Friday at Kissimmee, Fla.
Light heavyweight
Ismayl Sillakh W10 Yordanis Despaigne

Scores: 99-90, 98-91 (twice)
Records: Sillakh 15-0, 12 KOs; Despaigne 8-1, 4 KOs

Rafael's remark: It is not very often that you see two bona fide prospects early in their careers put their undefeated records on the line against each other. But that is what happened in this excellent "Friday Night Fights" main event on ESPN2. These guys, however, are not your average prospects. Despite thin pro résumés, they were both elite amateurs. Sillakh, 26, of Ukraine and now living in Southern California, was a regular in international amateur competition and won a silver medal at the 2005 world amateur championships. As a pro, he opened a lot of eyes in April when he annihilated the usually durable Daniel Judah (Zab Judah's brother) in two rounds on the undercard of the Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones Jr. rematch. Despaigne, 31, a Cuban defector living in Miami, also had a deep amateur career before escaping Cuba and turning pro in 2009. He beat Andre Dirrell in the 2003 Pan American Games and beat Jean Pascal in the 2004 Olympics before eventually losing to Dirrell.

As pros, they put on a very entertaining scrap, even though Sillakh dominated. Sillakh showed more polish, speed and skills while scoring a knockdown on a right hand late in the second round and controlled most of the fight. But Despaigne had his moments, showed a big heart and kept fighting hard, despite bloody cuts around both eyes, even though he was clearly behind. This was a really good win for Sillakh, who has to be considered a contender now.

Welterweight
Ray Narh W10 Freddie Norwood

Scores: 100-88 (twice), 99-88
Records: Narh 25-1, 21 KOs; Norwood 42-4-1, 22 KOs

Rafael's remark: If you stayed awake through this entire contest, congratulations. You deserve a medal. This was bad. Really bad. Narh, 32, of New York, was fighting for the first time in 11 months and showed some rust, but still was able to easily defeat Norwood, 41, of St. Louis. Norwood, who did not fight between late 2000 and mid-2006, part of which was spent in prison, is a former featherweight titlist who was way above his best weight. He looked more like a human football than a fighter against Narh. He was just too small and could not do a thing, so he resorted to what he always did even when he was good, which is holding and doing whatever he could to stink his opponent out. He was also much shorter than Narh and could not deal with the size disparity. In the ninth round, when the outcome was already clear, Norwood was docked two points for a purposeful punch behind Narh's head. Hopefully, we will never have to see Norwood on TV again. When he was a top featherweight, he was horrible to watch. As a shot welterweight, he's worse.

Friday at Indio, Calif.
Lightweight
Vicente Escobedo W10 Walter Estrada

scores: 97-92 (twice), 96-93
Records: Escobedo 23-3, 14 KOs; Estrada 38-14-1, 25 KOs

Rafael's remark: Escobedo, 29, of Pasadena, Calif., was a 2004 U.S. Olympian, who has not been able to win at the highest level of boxing. He is now 2-2 in his past four fights with the losses to top opponents and the wins to lesser foes. He lost to top contender Michael Katsidis in late 2009 and rebounded to beat a journeyman. Then, in his last fight in November and on HBO, he lost a lopsided decision to former two-division titleholder and top lightweight contender Robert Guerrero, who dropped him twice. Returning from that defeat, Escobedo headlined Telefutura's "Solo Boxeo Tecate" against Colombian journeyman Estrada, 34. Estrada had been on a decent run of late, having entered the fight on a four-bout unbeaten streak (3-0-1), including an upset decision win against former unified lightweight titleholder Nate Campbell in November. While Estrada gave his all, Escobedo was just better. He controlled the fight in a steady but unspectacular performance, although he did land a flush right hand to Estrada's chin to score a knockdown in the seventh round.

Junior featherweight
Randy Caballero W6 Hugo Ramos

Scores: 60-54 (three times)
Records: Caballero 8-0, 4 KOs; Ramos 3-8-2, 1 KO

Rafael's remark: Caballero, a local draw from nearby Coachella, Calif., was not challenged in an easy shutout victory. The 20-year-old was in his first scheduled six-round fight and thoroughly dominated Ramos, 21, of Palm Springs, Calif., in yet another of Golden Boy's gross mismatches that are a staple of Telefutura's "Solo Boxeo Tecate." Caballero is one of Golden Boy's better prospects. Through 22 rounds in his eight pro fights, he has not yet lost a round. Part of the reason is because the kid is good. The other part is because he has been matched very, very softly, having not yet faced a fighter with a winning record or even a .500 record. Ramos lost his third fight in a row. Caballero returns to action April 1 on Telefutura on the undercard of a bantamweight bout between former flyweight titlist Eric Morel and former junior bantamweight titleholder Martin Castillo.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.