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Judo Chop: Canelo Alvarez's Bag of Tricks

Saul "Canelo" Alvarez beat Alfredo Angulo in a dominant performance last Saturday, showing off an impressive array of techniques in the process. BE's striking specialist Connor Ruebusch breaks down his bag of tricks.

Kevork Djansezian

In his comeback fight against Alfredo Angulo, Saul Alvarez proved that which really shouldn't need proving in the first place: losing to Floyd Mayweather does not indicate any lack of skill. Nonetheless, many boxing fans were saying just that after Alvarez's first ever loss at the hands of the world's greatest active boxer, and the young standout seemed to vent his frustration at those criticisms against Angulo. Canelo came out guns blazing, and only seemed to let up in the middle rounds to catch his breath and show off his ever-improving defensive skills.

Most interesting to me was the creativity of Canelo's offense. At just 23 years old, he is learning at the rapid rate one would hope to see from a young fighter, and doing so more consistently than any boxer in the game other than perhaps Floyd himself. With each fight Alvarez seems to show off at least one or two completely new techniques, and a whole slew of others more familiar but newly refined. As a dedicated fight geek, you can't help but marvel at the prospect of watching Canelo make the journey from young prospect to knowledgeable veteran before our eyes. Today I'm breaking down the fruits of that journey so far.

Let's delve into Canelo Alvarez's growing bag of tricks.


It's no secret that a feint can help set up a big shot, but Canelo demonstrated a very peculiar type of feint against Angulo that was perfectly designed for his opponent. Check it out.


Here, you see Alvarez feinting his right to set up the left hook. He does so by flinging his right arm out to the side as he loads up his left hip, which looks for all the world like the start of a wide right hand over the top. Angulo attempts to jab, and his eyes are so preoccupied with the threatening right hand that he doesn't see the real threat coming. You'll notice also that Angulo has a habit of shelling up when he senses an impending attack, curling his spine and bringing his shoulders up to protect his chin, but leaving himself very vulnerable to straight and upward attacks.

Canelo caught on to that opening quickly. Using almost the same exact set-up, Canelo began unleashing tight, powerful left uppercuts. Angulo stopped even trying to interrupt these attacks with his jab, instead trying only to block Alvarez's powerful right hand and putting himself right in the path of the uppercut in the process.


Again, Canelo sets up his punch by flinging his right hand out to the side, drawing Angulo's eye and causing him to duck down in a desperate attempt to defend. Note that it is his left hand that Angulo brings up highest: he is thinking only of stopping the right hand when the uppercut collides with his chin. The trajectory of that uppercut, by the way, is perfect. It travels both upward and outward--many fighters throw uppercuts straight upward, causing them to miss the target completely if the opponent moves his head. Even were Angulo to have pulled back at the last second, Canelo's punch still would have at least partially landed because it drives forward.

In defending referee Tony Weeks' decision to stop the fight after that last uppercut, the commentary team remarked on Angulo's slowed reactions. "Look at how big that uppercut [was]" one of the broadcasters said "[Canelo] could've held a press conference to say he was gonna throw that uppercut, and he still got it in."

There's a strong tradition of commentator's completely missing the point, but this one takes the cake. Yes, Canelo had the luxury of fully loading up his uppercut, but look at Angulo's eyes: he has no clue that punch is coming, no matter how exaggerated the motion. His eyes are drawn too far to the left by Canelo's outflung right arm, and he covers his eyes a moment later, expecting the attack from that side. Look at Alvarez's eyes, too. Throughout the sequence, he watches his opponent closely. He knows that he has drawn the desired reaction from Angulo, and he knows he is safe to throw a huge, devastating punch with no fear of repercussion.

Canelo practically did hold a press conference before that punch, but the subject of the conference was his right hand, not his left, and Angulo bought it.


It seems that Canelo and his trainers picked up a few tricks from Floyd Mayweather since September. At the risk of painting with too broad a brush, Mexican boxers are not known for their flexible hand positions--that's an American thing. Most Mexican fighters are brought up with something resembling the style that Angulo employed: hands high in a static "guard" position unless punching. It is a testament to both Canelo's creativity and his growing confidence in his defensive skills that he has started to abandon the guard in favor of more proactive hand positions.


Whiffing on the last punch of a combination, Alvarez finds himself momentarily unbalanced. Angulo, sensing the opportunity changes levels and moves in behind a pawing jab, loading up for a big right hand. Instead of covering up and waiting for the punch to land, Canelo prevents his opponent from throwing it, stiff-arming him with his lead hand on the side of Angulo's head to keep him at range until Angulo stands back up and resets.

This is a technique more commonly seen from American slicksters like Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward, and Timothy Bradley than Mexicans, usually renowned for their hard-nosed, hard-chinned style. That Canelo recognizes the value in preventing an attack rather than simply defending against it is very promising indeed. But, of course, it takes more than defense to win a fight, and Canelo also showed that he also knows how to use this newfound tool to measure his opponent for vicious power shots.


Here, Canelo extends his lead to get a bead on Angulo, who moves back to Canelo's right before rolling and attempting to escape to his left. Instead of letting him leave range unscathed, Alvarez uses his lead hand to keep Angulo in his sights, even obstructing Angulo's vision until he is in the perfect position to throw a tight overhand right. Punching wildly at such a quickly moving target would have been a fruitless expenditure of energy, so Alvarez forgoes any offensive action with his left hand, using it only as a measuring stick and distraction to prepare the way for his right hand.

And of course, the opponent still has to worry about Alvarez's left cross, a punch that has long been a part of his arsenal, but which is now well-disguised among a rapidly increasing array of left hand tricks.


Most fighters follow their right hand with a left hook, but Alvarez has an excellent understanding of range, and places his shots very cleverly. Noticing that Angulo was both too far away for a powerful left hook and too well defended to the sides by his gloves, Canelo throws his follow-up left hand straight, like a jab but with the full body rotation of a hook behind it. The impact of the punch is clear, as Angulo's head snaps back and he freezes in place for a second before realizing that he should either play the punch off or fall down. Of course, Angulo is a tough bastard, so he elects to play it off. All the same, it's obvious that's no typical jab coming from Canelo's loaded left hand.

So, there you have it. With every new performance, we fight fans are treated by a ceaselessly growing number of attacks, set-ups, and defensive tricks from Saul Alvarez. It's no wonder that such a young boxer has created so much buzz in the boxing world. It's only a shame that we'll almost certainly never see a Mayweather-Canelo rematch, because in two years we're likely to see a very different, and completely improved Saul Alvarez.

For more fight analysis and fighter/trainer interviews, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast that focuses exclusively on the finer points of face-punching. Be sure to check out our technique-centric recap of UFC 170, and look forward to UFC 171 coverage this Thursday. Please take a minute to rate and review the show on both iTunes and Stitcher.

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