Thursday, September 12, 2013

Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul "Canelo" Alvarez - Algorithms and Blood

Even for complainers, cynics and pessimists, 2012 was a solid year for the pygmachia congregation, and 2013 has shaken out nicely. There have been cancellations, weird decisions and failed match ups in 2013, yes. But if you haven't gotten used to that yet, then you haven't gotten used to boxing. 

We now approach the the last third of the calendar year -- more specifically Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul "Canelo" Alvarez -- and statistically speaking, that means good things for us boxing psychotics. Traditionally, the last handful of years have scheduled big fights in September and November. 

Even better, in the last five years, three Fights of the Year have taken place in the second half of the calendar year. And of the two that didn't, one, Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Juan Diaz I, had stiff competition from Paul Williams vs. Sergio Martinez I in December -- a month that often isn't factored in to the awards, barring extreme circumstances like Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Manny Pacquiao IV, or Jorge Castro vs. John David Jackson. 

So, what do the bones say as far as the kind of chance Mayweather vs. Canelo has of being not only a good fight, but worth the lip service? 

We'll be using the Ring Magazine awards as a barometer. That's not to say Ring necessarily always gets it right, or that the best fight of a particular year, as voted by a panel, is a great indicator of how entertaining boxing was in a given month or year. But Ring has been the most consistent in giving out said awards, yielding the best data to work with here. 

A lot of the numeric mumbo jumbo is encouraging to the late summer, fall and early winter crowd...


Funnily enough, when splitting the calendar in half from January to June and July to December, 34 of 68 total Fight of the Year winners, or exactly one-half, have taken place in each half of the year. 

The following are some "...of the Year" awards records and fun facts -- some already well-known, others cherished, and some seemingly new: 

- Muhammad Ali participated in the most Fights of the Year at six, and Carmen Basilio nipped at his heels with five. Just behind them are Arturo Gatti, George Foreman and Joe Frazier with four, then Tony Zale, Rocky Graziano and Micky Ward with three apiece. And all of these men should be treated to free beer for life, or afterlife.

- Mike Tyson and Donald Curry are the only fighters to lose in an Upset of the Year twice, though one might wonder how the loss came to be such a surprise the second time around.

- Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao all made the Knockout of the Year list more than once, but as both the deliverer of the knockout, and the one who got flattened. However, Nonito Donaire became the first fighter to score the KO of the Year twice: in 2007 and 2011, against Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel, respectively. Only two fights have taken Fight of the Year, Knockout of the Year and Round of the Year honors: Arturo Gatti TKO5 Gabriel Ruelas, and Juan Manuel Marquez KO6 Manny Pacquiao.

One should take into account that, just like many pound-for-pound lists, annual awards in boxing are often as much about popularity as they are about elite opposition and entertainment. In 2003, was Arturo Gatti's second win over Micky Ward much better, if better at all, than Lennox Lewis vs. Vitali Klitshcko, Michael Gomez vs. Alex Arthur, Leonard Dorin vs. Paul Spadafora, James Toney vs. Vassily Jirov and others? In the minds of many, even at the time, no. But Gatti vs. Ward III is what took home the award with smeared mascara on its cheeks, courtesy of boxing's "Academy."

There have also been times where Ring has gotten it very right, though. In 2006, for example, it probably would've been more popular to assign Fight of the Year honors to Siarhei Liakhovich vs. Lamon Brewster, or the rematch of Tomasz Adamek vs. Paul Briggs, or Israel Vazquez vs. Johnny Gonzalez -- even Manny Pacquiao vs. Erik Morales II. Instead, the publication went with two fighters, virtually unknown to American fans, who shed every drop of adrenaline they had in Somsak Sithchatchawal vs. Mahyar Monshipour. 

But Mayweather vs. Canelo is particularly significant in that it's a huge fight before the men even enter the ring. Suitcases of money are rocketing toward the sports books, even if the odds are quite tilted in Floyd's direction. $50+ million is all but stuffed into the wallets of the main event combatants, and that's the visible money. Who knows how much green is sailing about below the surface? Answer: likely more than anyone would expect from a sport getting lowered into its final resting place

Certainly Ring Magazine, as a publication, would have a U.S. bias over the years, considering the operation is based in the States, and that it has traditionally been where the palpable money is at. But there have been 17 Fights of the Year in Las Vegas, 10 in New York City -- 11 in state of New York in general. It would seem that both the timing and location are just right for the fistic stork to deliver us a healthy, bouncing baby slugfest.  

And what of the knockout? Nine of 24 recorded Knockouts of the Year have taken place in Las Vegas. The lesson here is, "Don't try your luck on the Strip." The question, though, is who has the better chance at winning by knockout? Would Alvarez' greater mass add up to more punching power? Or does Mayweather's precision combine with Alvarez' less-polished defense to create a stoppage? 

Any way you slice it, a Saul Alvarez win of any kind would be a shock to most. That said, once again revisiting the tea leaves, Las Vegas has proven especially dangerous for betting favorites, as nine of 31 Upsets of the Year unfolded in Sin City. And seven of 31 Upsets of the Year happened in September; 14 of 31 happened in last third of the year. 

A significant fraction of the pre-fight talk centers around Canelo's weight, and whether or not a catchweight of 152 pounds will affect the outcome. It might, and it might not, but it was intended to be a factor, or else it wouldn't be in place. The integer witchcraft isn't helping matters in this case. By division, you're statistically far more likely to be in a Fight of the Year if you're a heavyweight or middleweight, as they've comprised 33 of the total 68. There have been no junior middleweight Fights of the Year, even if Felix Trinidad vs. Fernando Vargas came extremely close. Junior middleweights haven't factored into the Knockout of the Year discussion significantly either, though four Upsets of the Year have been pulled in the 154 pound class -- better news for "Canelo" Alvarez fans. 

There's no question the popularity and landscape of boxing has transformed through generations, as has how these intangible blue ribbons are given out. As Sithchatchawal-Monshipour demonstrated, grading with awards and the process of arriving at a decision has become slightly more inclusive, as the internet paves new pathways to access more obscure bouts for fight fans. But unchanging is that a fight must be at least slightly meaningful for it to be considered award-worthy, and there likely aren't any fights more meaningful than Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul Alvarez right now. 

At the end of the day, numbers are only numbers. Creating equations to determine winners, the likelihood of crimson canvas and jaw wiring is mental philandering. As we're reminded every so often, anything can and will happen when two world class fighters escort leather all over the ring. And there are quite a few anythings than would be good for the sport. 


Follow Patrick on Twitter: @Integrital

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