The five toughest opponents for Canelo Alvarez

Cotto Canelo Boxing

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (c) The Associated Press 2015

Canelo is arguably the biggest star in boxing. After Floyd Mayweather’s retirement and Manny Pacquiao‘s “semi-retirement” he has become the man. Everyone near the middleweight division would love to land a fight with him. However, being the top draw in boxing doesn’t mean that he is perfect. As he has risen in popularity and taken more high profile fights some cracks in his game have become more and more apparent, which is normal when you fight world class opposition. Below I rank the five fighters that would give him the most problems.

5. Floyd Mayweather

Floyd Mayweather Jr

Mayweather training (c) The Associated Press 2012

Mayweather being at the bottom doesn’t represent him being the easiest out of these five fighters. I ranked him at number five because the chances of him facing off against Canelo are very slim. If Floyd were not retired I would rank him higher as I believe he would still give Canelo a lot of problems in the ring. Mayweather thoroughly schooled Canelo when they met in 2013.

Floyd Mayweather Jr., Canelo Alvarez

Canelo versus Mayweather (c) The Associated Press 2013

Canelo was very young and unable to hang in the ring with the masterful Mayweather when they fough in 2013. His superb counter-punching ability, movement, and otherworldly defense frustrated Canelo from the opening bell. Mayweather’s defense was what flustered Canelo the most and I believe it still would. Canelo struggles with complete boxers, but he particularly struggles with defensive oriented slick fighters. If Mayweather and Canelo face off again expect Canelo to still struggle against him. Don’t let Mayweather’s age fool you, there’s a strong chance he would take Canelo back to the classroom.

4. Erislandy Lara

Erislandy Lara

Erislandy Lara training (c) The Associated Press 2014

Lara and Canelo fought a closely contested fight in 2014 where Canelo won via Split Decision. The fight was not an easy one for Canelo as he struggled to corner the elusive Lara while getting pot-shotted in the process. Lara is the type of fighter that is a nightmare for Canelo, an elusive, slick, defense-oriented fighter that can rack points while reducing confrontation.

Canelo Alvarez, Erislandy Lara

Canelo versus Lara (c) The Associated Press 2014

Canelo was visibly frustrated throughout the fight as Lara did laps around the ring while tagging Canelo as he pursued him. Lara is a product of the Cuban amateur system that emphasizes scoring points while minimizing any sort of engagement. This style is not only challenging for Canelo, but for any fighter out there, which is a testament to how good Lara is.

Canelo was able to work the body enough and solidify his role as the aggressor in the fight that two of the judges awarded him a split decision. However, if he fought Lara again expect a difficult fight. Canelo has been improving at an exponential rate every fight since clashing with Floyd Mayweather. However, he still struggles with fighters like Lara. His inability to properly cut the ring off and issues with conditioning would still make this fight a difficult one for Canelo.

3. Jermall Charlo

While he doesn’t have the name recognition of other fighters on this list Charlo is a big threat to Canelo. He is trained by Ronnie Shields who also trains Lara…you can guarantee that Shields has collected some important data on how to fight Canelo and even ink out a victory. Don’t let Charlo’s low profile fool you, he can fight. He has power in both hands, he’s slick, he has good movement, effective at cutting off the ring, and he is not afraid to engage. Charlo is a very complete fighter and that will give not just Canelo but any fighter in or around the Middleweight division problems. His counter-punching and ability to catch fighters coming in would give Canelo huge problems. I don’t think he has the power to knock out Canelo but he can stun him and frustrate him with his slick style.

2. Danny Jacobs

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Danny Jacobs (c) The Associated Press 2017

I don’t know why this fight hasn’t been proposed or why fans are not clamoring for it. Danny Jacobs would not only make for an entertaining fight given his aggressive style, but he may even beat Canelo. Jacobs put on a scintillating performance versus Gennady Golovkin in 2017 and was the one to snap his vaunted KO streak (23 KOs in a row) by going the distance with GGG. He narrowly lost on the cards to GGG and it was a knockdown that made the difference in the bout.

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Jacobs versus Golovkin (c) The Associated Press 2017

Jacobs has very heavy hands and even seemed to hurt GGG in their bout. He is also very good with his combinations as he varies his attack between the body and head. His most dangerous attribute is the fact that he is fearless. Jacobs is called the “Miracle Man” as he was able to beat cancer and immediately began training despite doctors telling him he may not be able to fight again. I believe conquering something as life threatening as cancer made him fear no man, what else could he be afraid of? He illustrated this in his fight with GGG as he kept imploring GGG to engage and fight despite being knocked down once. This would be a very exciting fight to watch as Canelo loves fighters that come forward, but Jacobs can fight…if this fight goes down Jacobs could hurt Canelo in an exchange and even pull off a victory.

1. Gennady Golovkin

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Gennady Golovkin (c) The Associated Press 2017

Golovkin and Canelo fought back in September in an great fight that ended in controversy. Many believe GGG won the bout due to his aggressive style, jabs landed, and ability to keep Canelo on his back foot. Canelo was very good at counter-punching and landing combinations in spots, but he was often derailed by GGG’s pressure who forced Canelo to retreat far too often. As Teddy Atlas said in his scathing analysis of the fight, Canelo was a log in the ocean and GGG was the ocean.

Alvarez Golovkin Boxing

GGG versus Canelo (c) The Associated Press 2017

When Canelo was able to connect GGG just walked through his punches as if he was the Terminator. Despite his efforts, the fight was scored a draw which angered many fans who believe he was robbed. GGG is aging and appears to be slowing down a bit, but he is still a very formidable opponent. Canelo seems to have conditioning issues as he only fights in spurts. GGG also has a granite chin that can take hay-makers that would KO anyone else in the division. Combine this with a masterful jab, massive power, a superb ability to cut off the ring, and the ability to walk through fire like the Terminator and you have GGG. If they rematch on Cinco de Mayo expect another firefight that would further test Canelo.

Can Spence beat Thurman?

Keith Thurman, Carlos Quintana

Thurman delivering a lethal blow versus Quintana (c) The Associated Press 2012

This past Saturday Errol Spence Jr. put on a masterclass against Lamont Peterson. Spence’s constant pressure, use of his jab, and blistering combinations forced Peterson’s corner to throw in the towel heading into the 8th round. After the smoke settled, one name in particular was thrown around as Spence’s next opponent…Keith “One-Time” Thurman, or as Spence called him “Sometime” Thurman. Much to the delight of fans Thurman replied to Spence on twitter.

It’s no longer if Thurman and Spence will clash, but when. Boxers call out each other all the time, however Thurman is a fighter who has iron in his words and I do believe this bout will happen soon. They are also under the Al Haymon banner and therefore don’t have to worry about the messy matchmaking politics that plague the sweet science.

Now comes the fun part, what would happen if these two met in the ring in say the latter part of 2018. Well it’s a fight that would yield fireworks given both fighters styles. Thurman is as aggressive as they come yet has superb boxing skills. Spence is…special, he has the skills Thurman has, but has some intangible qualities that just make him stand out. Let’s look at both fighters strengths, weaknesses, and how they would match up.

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Keith Thurman Versus Shawn Porter (c) The Associated Press 2016

Keith Thurman

Keith is a rare hybrid between a boxer and a brawler, a boxer-puncher if you will. He has the raw power to knock out opponents, I mean look at his record of 28-0 with 22 KOs. He also has the boxing skills to engage in chess matches with more complicated fighters.

Power

Thurman isn’t called “One Time” for nothing, he can crack. Thurman has knocked out Diego Chaves, Robert Guerrero, Jesus Soto Karass, and Julio Diaz to name a few. It’s not all about his one time power, but he knows how to maximize his power by throwing incredible amounts of leverage into his punches.

Effectiveness in Exchanges

When a fight devolves into a slugfest Thurman is incredibly dangerous, not just because of his power, but his ability to catch his opponent in the chaos. In rewatching his fight against Shawn Porter I noticed this unique trait. Porter continued to rush him and Thurman swung for the fences while maintaining his head and chin tucked to avoid getting caught. He also timed Porter’s wild swings so that his counterpunches would land while minimizing the chance of him getting clipped. It was like a controlled chaos.

Counterpunching and Killer Instinct

Thurman is aggressive, but he also likes to lure an opponent in and catch them with his lethal hooks. He is particularly dangerous when he appears to be “boxing.” I put boxing in quotation marks as Thurman has an explosiveness that can turn a scientific boxing match into a brawl in an instant. Once he clips an opponent with an effective counterpunch he will immediately go for the kill. It’s what makes him so difficult to deal with, you never know when that “one time” power will show up.

Errol Spence Jr.

Errol Spence training (c) The Associated Press 2018

Errol Spence

Combination Punching

This is what makes him so special. Spence is able to connect so many different of permutations of punches that an opponent will not know what to defend. One instant it’s a jab to the head, right cross, left hook to the head, right hook to the body…then he’ll invert it or add a small jab just because he can. While most boxers will systemically target one part of the body, Spence attacks it all, making him incredibly difficult to read. It’s scary how good he is at this, he’s like a surgeon in the ring, he picks his opponents apart while consistently changing his combinations. He reminds me of a young Floyd Mayweather, not “Money” May, but “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather.

Body Work

His body punches are like gunshots. I was present in the nosebleeds of the MGM Grand Arena when Spence fought Phil Lo Greco and I remember hearing the body punches from all the way up in the rafters. I also noticed how Lo Greco’s right side of his body began to tighten after Spence’s vicious body assault. It looked like he was walking with a stump in his leg. His commitment to attacking the body opens up the opportunity to lower his opponents guard and go for the KO.

Patience

This is probably his greatest virtue. Spence doesn’t seem to fight in a rush, he fights at a methodical pace. He slowly breaks down an opponent. Despite his young age he really does live the mantra of “don’t look for the KO, it will come.” This is what makes him so scary as an opponent.

How they would match up

Thurman tends to throw punches so hard that he ends up off balance at times. He also has shown susceptibility to body punches. If you rewatch the fight against Luis Collazo, Thurman was badly hurt by a body shot in the 7th round by Collazo.

Spence was in trouble a couple of times against Kell Brook. Particularly whenever Kell came forward and forced Spence on his back foot. In a rare moment Spence looked befuddled and confused. That may be the key to defeating Spence, but it is a huge task.

Predicition

It’s tough to call given how good they both are. Thurman has the skills to put Spence on his backfoot and land some blistering combinations on him. Spence has superb body punching skills that could rattle Thurman and hurt him far worse that Collazo ever did. The fight would be an instant classic. Spence would work with surgical precision while Thurman would land counterpunches initiating a controlled chaos. But I think Spence’s body work would be the difference. He wouldn’t be able to knock out Thurman as he is incredibly tough, but he would slow him down and edge a slight victory on the cards.

Spence wins via Split Decision in a close bout

The fight would be so good and contentious that a rematch would be in order.

Peterson versus Spence, Keys to Victory, Prediction, and What a Victory Would Mean for Both Fighters

Lamont Peterson

Lamont Peterson training (c) The Associated Press 2018

Lamont Peterson will face the IBF World Welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr in a tough fight this Saturday. Both fighters are fairly complete fighters with excellent punching technique, movement, combinations, defense, and pace. Spence has great power, excellent body punching, and an ability to cut off the ring a la Golovkin. Peterson always maintains a good enough distance from his opponent to ensure he can defend and land combinations when an opening presents itself. Below are the keys to victory for each fighter.

Errol Spence Jr.

Errol Spence Training (c) The Associated Press 2018

Errol Spence

Spence is a fighter to watch in the coming years, in short he is a phenom and an anomaly. For being a 147 pounder he has the frame of a 160 pounder. When he punches it sounds like gunshots going off. He has the confidence of a veteran in the ring despite his very young age. The key to this fight comes down to three things:

Start Fast and Pump the Jab

Lamont Peterson has a tendency to start slow as he wants to figure out his opponent in the early rounds then step on the gas. This holds true with more complete fighters like Danny Garcia in which he lost the bout. Spence can take advantage of this quirk and and come out guns blazing. He can pump his jab to push Peterson back and execute the next key to victory.

Work the Body

Spence has prodigious punching power and he knows how to put punches together. If he can land solid body punches early in the fight while keeping Peterson on his back-foot he can set up a knockout in the middle or late rounds. Spence definitely has the power to knock out any welterweight with a well placed body punch. The reason body punching is so important for Spence is that it will confuse Peterson while also wearing him down in the later rounds. If Spence attacks the body enough Peterson will start to wonder whether to drop his hands to protect his body or raise them to protect his head. Spence can throw any number of combinations that will take advantage of this confusion and set him up for the next key to victory.

Get in the Phonebooth and Finish

Spence is incredibly dangerous in close quarters. He can cut off the ring well and throw any number of permutations of punches with great power. Spence can seal a TKO or KO victory if he gets in close quarters and lets his hands go. Peterson is not particularly good in the Phonebooth and he has shown that he can be a little chinny. He was knocked out by Lucas Matthysse which illustrates that he can definitely be knocked out particularly against fast starters who are also aggressive. If Spence can cut off the ring after vicious body attacks anticipate a KO or TKO victory this Saturday.

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Peterson training (c) The Associated Press 2018

Lamont Peterson

Control Distance

Peterson has a tendency to frustrate fighters with his control of the distance between his opponent and himself. He is always in a position to either defend or counter-punch. Peterson can control the pace of the fight and limit Spence from connecting punches while collecting data on how to solve the elusive Spence Puzzle. If Peterson limits Spence from connecting and remains in control of the fight he can frustrate Spence and shift the fight in his favor. Also stay off the ropes!

Effective Counter-Punching 

Peterson has to be effective at pot-shotting Spence. Combined with his control of distance this could be the magic formula to defeating Spence. Spence is not used to being outclassed which is why he looked a bit befuddled when Brook drove him back and he was even able to stun him. An effective accumulation of counter-punches would set the stage for history to repeat itself in this fight with Peterson delivering the punishment.

Weather the Storm and Be in Control

In Spence’s fight against Kell Brook, Spence seemed to be a little lost in the rounds leading up the championship rounds (7th, 8th, 9th…). I firmly believe this is a result of him knocking everyone out prior to stopping Brook in the 11th. Spence wasn’t used to fighting elite competition in the late rounds prior to that. You can train all you want in the gym but there’s nothing like actually being in the championship rounds in a live fight against top opposition. Peterson can take advantage of this inexperience and ink out a victory on the cards or like Brook did force Spence back and unload on him on the ropes. Patience is key here.

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Errol Spence at a Presser (c) The Associated Press 2018

What a Victory would mean for both

Spence defeating Peterson would mean a continuation to his legacy. A fight against Keith Thurman could be next. This is an opportunity for Spence to show that he can consistently fight the best and be able to outclass them. He’s beyond fighting substandard competition at this point.

Peterson Defeating Spence would mean a career revival. Peterson would be added to the list of top dogs of the welterweight division and would be the new IBF Welterweight Champion of the World.

Prediction

Spence is a prodigy that has all the tools to carry Floyd Mayweather’s legacy and even surpass it as the top welterweight in this era. I believe he may be too much for Peterson and I see him stopping him in the later rounds due to an accumulation of punishment.

Prediction: Spence wins via TKO in the 8th or 9th round

I must also add that Peterson pulling off the upset is not as far-fetched as you may think he’s a wily veteran that can be a scientist in the ring. if he controls the pace and fights the perfect fight he may also pull off the upset.

Why Pacquiao versus Lomachenko would be a big deal

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Lomachenko versus Rigondeaux (c) The Associated Press 2017

“To be the man, you got to beat the man”

-Ric Flair

You may be wondering why am I mentioning Professional Wrestling legend Ric Flair in an article about why Pacquiao versus Lomachenko would be a big deal. Well there’s one line he’s famous for that transcends professional wrestling and applies to virtually every combat sport and sports in general. In order to be the man you got to beat the man. Essentially to be next big draw you have to beat the current draw.

Ric Flair

Ric Flair (c) The Associated Press 2007

It’s a formula that has worked in professional wrestling with Flair ultimately passing that torch to Sting in WCW, or Hulk Hogan passing the torch (kind of) to Bret Hart who then passed it to Stone Cold Steve Austin and so on… There came a time when the top guy would face the young lion and gave him the opportunity to be the man.

Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

De La Hoya faces off against Floyd Mayweather (c) The Associated Press 2007

Remember “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather? That fighter that was rampaging boxing’s lower weight divisions defeating fighters like Jose Luis Castillo, Genaro Hernandez, and demolishing Diego Coralles? Mayweather was definitely on the radar of boxing fans, but he could not cross over to the mainstream… he needed to fight someone on a grand stage that would give him the exposure to cross over. He would also have to beat him. The man during that era was Oscar De La Hoya.

With the victory over De La Hoya, Mayweather became a star…he beat the man. De La Hoya was recognizable outside of boxing circles and the PPV fight itself gave Mayweather the much needed publicity outside of boxing, and the victory cemented him as a must see attraction, or the A-side if you will…

Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya

Pacquiao versus De La Hoya (c) The Associated Press 2008

The same happened with a familiar fighter who terrorized boxing’s lower weight divisions, Manny Pacquiao. He defeated Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barerra, and Juan Manuel Marquez…and did so in spectacular fashion with his aggressive fan-friendly style. Despite all of the top level performances and memorable fights, Pacquiao did not achieve mainstream recognition…he needed that push or better yet an opportunity to shine on a big stage. That’s where De La Hoya comes in…

The fight with De La Hoya gave Pacquiao the opportunity to gain mainstream recognition as more eyeballs would be watching that fight due to De La Hoya’s celebrity status. Whether De La Hoya was “the man” in 2008 was questionable, however his drawing power was still formidable. The fight with De La Hoya saw your casual fans take notice of the Filipino Phenomenon…you know the fans who will host a fight and have a Carne Asada or BBQ if you will. These are the fans that you want to take notice of you, after the fight with De La Hoya, Pacquiao was the reason to have a BBQ.

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Pacquiao after his TKO victory over De La Hoya (c) The Associated Press 2008

Pacquiao along with Mayweather, and some would add Canelo into the mix although to a smaller degree, are the last big draws in boxing. They are the only “active” fighters that are recognizable outside of boxing circles. I must add that Mayweather has retired, however he is still the most recognizable in outside circles. You can literally go to a random person on the street and ask them what they know about boxing, and they will probably mention names like Ali, Tyson, Mayweather, and Pacquiao. Mayweather seems to have ridden off into the sunset while Pacquiao still seems to still have an itch to get back into the ring. That reality makes a potential fight with Lomachenko a very exciting prospect.

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Lomachenko training (c) The Associated Press 2017

Lomachenko’s career draws a very similar parallel to what Pacquaio and Mayweather experienced. They demolished and dominated their respective weight classes but needed a marquee fight to become “the man.” He has put on sensational performances against Gary Russell Jr., Nicholas Walters, and Guillermo Rigondeaux. Not only did he beat all these top level fighters, he destroyed them and looked amazing doing it.

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Lomachenko versus Rigondeaux (c) The Associated Press 2017

Despite his otherworldly skills he needs a fight on the big stage in order to solidify himself as a star. When Mayweather fought Canelo, it gave the rub to Canelo that made him a star. He was thoroughly outclassed, however Canelo has grown exponentially since then and has become a top draw in boxing despite losing to Mayweather. A fight with Pacquiao would give Lomachenko the opportunity to not only fight one of the best, but put on a great fight and get casual fans to witness how great he is…and most fans think he can win.

Some would argue that Pacquiao is past his prime and that the fight is not worth making. When De La Hoya fought Pacquiao was definitely past his prime, however it was the stage itself and the show Pacquiao put on that catapulted him into the stratosphere of mainstream exposure. Lomachenko fighting Pacquiao would be a similar situation.

Vasyl Lomachenko

Lomachenko after defeating Sosa (c) The Associated Press 2017

Boxing is not where it once was in terms of popularity. It needs top draws that can take Boxing into the next era, it needs new household names that the average person on the street can recognize and tell their friends about. A fight with old guard, in Pacquiao, would give Lomachenko the opportunity to shine on a big stage. Pacquiao is also aging and the clock is ticking on his drawing power, why not use it as an opportunity to give the young lion an opportunity to carry the sport into the next era. To be the man you got to beat the man…

Is this Brandon Rios’ last stand?

Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios

Brandon Rios (c) The Associated Press 2013

Brandon Rios has always been a blood and guts warrior. It’s the reason so many fans love him. He always delivers great fights and gives it his all in the ring despite what it may mean for his health and career longevity.

Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios

Rios versus Alvarado (c) The Associated Press 2013

Rios was thrust into the spotlight after his brilliant performance against fellow brawler Mike Alvarado in 2013. He won the bout via TKO. The bout was so good that a rematch took place immediately after and produced another thrilling fight, however this time he lost via unanimous decision.

Despite losing his first professional fight he earned a fight against the returning Manny Pacquiao. Many fans wondered whether he simply a sacrificial lamb for the returning Pacman or if he could step up to the plate and ruin the comeback of one of the best fighters in the world.

Manny Pacquiao Brandon Rios

Pacquiao versus Rios (c) The Associated Press 2013

Shortly into the fight fans got their answer, this was a showcase fight for the returning Pacquiao. Rios showed a lot of heart and withstood the barrage of punches from the Pacman who was eager to show the boxing world he still had it. Despite a few landed punches against Pacquiao he could not muster any serious offense and lost a clear unanimous decision. Rios was also badly beaten with his face noticeably swollen.

Manny Pacquiao, Brandon Rios

Pacquiao lands a right hand on Rios (c) The Associated Press 2013

This fight won Rios respect in the ring as a tough guy, but it also pinned him into a corner. Tough guys in boxing win the respect of the fans and of their peers, but they are often seen as one-dimensional. They are matched up with superior boxers in order to make the “star” look good, or with elite fighters that need to bounce back from a tough loss. Rios went on to fight another tough brawler in Diego Chaves.

The fight was a toss up, and Rios further illustrated how tough he was by weathering a fight filled with dirty tactics and fouls. It even included Chaves executing a DDT on Rios in the ninth round when the referee disqualified Chaves and awarded Rios the fight.

Rios would then fight Alvarado once again to cap off their trilogy. Rios would easily win the fight against an out of shape Mike Alvarado, however he would soon face his biggest test outside of Manny Pacquiao. His next fight was against the skilled Timothy Bradley.

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Bradley and Rios at their presser (c) The Associated Press 2015

Rios would again face an elite fighter that can not only brawl but box with the best of them. Rios was coming off two straight victories and looked confident heading into the fight. Bradley began training with famed trainer Teddy Atlas and seemed poised to give a great fight. The question heading into the bout was would he be able to shine against an elite fighter or would he serve as a stepping stone for Bradley.

Rios Bradley Boxing

Bradley lands a left hook on Rios (c) The Associated Press 2015

Bradley seemed like a different fighter under the tutelage of Atlas, he was incredibly aggressive yet swift and slick. Bradley fought so well that he was able to do something incredibly rare given his style and limited punching power, he got the KO. It was genuinely shocking to see Rios on the canvas, however was this a result of Bradley being that good? Rios not being able to rise to the level of skill? or was it poor preparation from Rios?

Rios Bradley Boxing

Bradley delivers a lethal body blow (c) The Associated Press 2015

Rios in the post fight interview said he was going to retire as his body couldn’t take it anymore. After a two year hiatus he returned to the ring against Aaron Herrera and defeated him via KO. Herrera was scrappy, but overmatched in the bout against a hungry and vicious Rios.

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Garcia and Rios face off at their press conference (c) Jose Cuevas 2018

He will face Danny Garcia on the 17th of February. Danny Garcia is another elite boxer in the same vein as Bradley and Pacquiao who could give Rios a ton of problems. Everyone knows that Rios will give an excellent fight, when has he not? The question is can he defeat an elite boxer? Or are boxers his kryptonite?

The reason this may be Rios’ last stand is if he loses he may very well be relegated to be a perennial brawler that will make the prospects look good or give a “star” a chance to get a W and bounce back. If Rios wants to bounce back he will have to be more than a blood and guts warrior, because it may very well be that his greatest asset may pigeonhole him into a corner he can’t get out of.

 

WrestleKingdom 12 and the changing landscape of Pro Wrestling

During a time that Professional Wrestling has been said to be on a downward slope, a PPV like New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestlekingdom 12 comes along and reminds us of what is so special about Pro Wrestling. It also serves as a reminder that the landscape is changing and it is doing so rapidly.

The main draw of the Pay Per View was Chris Jericho versus Kenny Omega. A dream match that many never thought was a possibility. For many Kenny Omega is considered the best Pro Wrestler in the world today and for him to wrestle one of the greatest of all time in Chris Jericho meant an instant classic that was can’t miss. The event for many eclipsed any other wrestling event(s). NJPW even called it the world’s premier pro wrestling event.

Now one might say what about WWE? The global leader in sports entertainment has been hit and miss when it comes to pro wrestling. WWE hasn’t been shy about saying that it’s all about sports entertainment while companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and Ring of Honor (ROH) define themselves as Pro Wrestling companies.

JOHNNY KNOXVILLE, THE GREAT KHALI

Johnny Knoxville at WWE Raw (c) The Associated Press 2008

WWE has tried to satiate too many masters by bringing in celebrities, making movies, remaining family friendly, and aiming tirelessly to cross over into the mainstream. That endless pursuit has alienated an audience of fans that clamor for Pro Wrestling.

ROH and NJPW have filled that void by being Pro Wrestling companies first and foremost, they are not looking for celebrity guest hosts, nor do they choose their top wrestler based on his crossover appeal…but on his wrestling abilities.

Roman Reigns

Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania 32 (c) The Associated Press 2016

A big complaint of wrestling fans has been WWE force feeding the same types of performers as the next star. The prototypical big muscular guy with Hollywood good looks is always what cuts it to be the top guy in WWE. The next guy is Roman Reigns, he has everything that WWE wants in their top guy.

I remember being at Wrestlemania 32 in Dallas Cowboys Stadium and hearing deafening boos that filled the stadium as Reigns wrestled. When he defeated HHH for the championship the boos intensified to such a degree that you could not talk over the boos. This rejection of the “top guy” and WWE’s endless pursuit of mainstream crossover has created a vacuum where NJPW and ROH have given fans what they want…Pro wrestling.

Wrestlekingdom 12 was not all about Jericho versus Omega, but Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks and many other notable pro wrestlers. Wrestlers like Rhodes and the Young Bucks are not exclusively signed to NJPW but they are able to appear on their shows producing great matches with opponents all across the world.

This is an advantage that NJPW and other outside organizations have over WWE. They are able to put on great matches by bringing in outside talent. For a long time pro wrestlers viewed WWE as the promised land, the place that you want to go to if you wish to be successful. WrestleKingdom 12 showed that the landscape is changing and that wrestlers can make their name outside of WWE and be better off to a certain degree.

In these other companies, yes, looks matter, but not so much to the degree that they do in WWE. The Young Bucks are not the biggest guys but the quality of their matches is top notch. Cody Rhodes has reinvented himself after being given the Stardust gimmick that left him in limbo. Okada the IWGP Heavyweight Champion has consistently put on top tier matches in NJPW. Many people forget that he was in TNA and was horribly misused and given a gimmick inspired from the Green Hornet.

It’s a breath of fresh air for many pro wrestling fans to see great pro wrestling as the main selling point of a PPV. Many fans complain about how WWE programming seems aimed towards getting Roman Reigns over, the wrestling is a vehicle to achieve that…the wrestling will only be good if it serves the purpose of getting him over. It is as if the wrestling has taken a backseat in a wrestling company.

WWE has incredible depth in their roster with Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor, Bobby Roode, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, the list can go on and on…Yes, I include Reigns because his work is really good and has drastically improved, the issue has been how all of the show revolves around him and the other talents are booked haphazardly. If those other wrestlers were booked with the depth that Reigns was booked the WWE could put on amazing shows.

WrestleKingdom 12 illustrates a sort of pro wrestling meritocracy. Everyone booked on the show could wrestle a great match and was placed on the card due to how well they resonated with the crowd. This meritocracy makes it makes wrestlers re-think going to WWE where they risk being misused due to WWE’s pursuit of getting Reigns over at all cost and gaining mainstream exposure. Fans even bicker on online forums and among themselves that they fear wrestlers like Omega and Okada going to WWE. They worry over them being misused, underutilized, and the commentators saying “he has wrestled all over the world, but he’s never faced the big dog.”

All of these factors led to a new Phoenix rising, similar to how ECW was in the old days. NJPW, ROH, and other notable pro wrestling companies are filling the pro wrestling void and are producing great shows like WrestleKingdom 12. The landscape is changing and Pro Wrestling fans are loving it.