Updated: Oct 31, 2019
by Ewan Breeze
After starting his career as a welterweight Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez moves up this weekend to try and capture the WBO light heavyweight title, a staggering weight jump of 28lbs in just 6 years and 11 fights.
He takes on a once indestructible but resurging Sergey Kovalev, at the new epicenter of championship boxing, the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, to try and achieve what would have been thought impossible just a few short years ago.
Canelo has dominated all but one man as a professional and if he were to beat Kovalev this weekend, not only it would be an immense statement, it would echo through boxing history. If he manages to become the Lineal Light heavyweight champion, he will join a club where he is in illustrious company. Those who manage to outgrow their initial weight class and clear it of contenders before moving up in weight to find new pugilistic challenges are an elite few. Canelo must, therefore, be mindful of those who have gone before him and learn from their successes in order to create success of his own.
The first man he will need to consider was born in 1863 and whose journey, via Australia and New Zealand, eventually led him to his first world title shot in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1891. Bob Fitzsimmons won his first title, the world Middleweight title, in 1891 with a vicious beating of Jack "Nonpareil" Dempsey, the man from whom the Heavyweight Champion Jack Demepsy would later take his name.
He fought 30 times as the middleweight champion, going 27-0-3, knocking out almost every man he stepped into the ring with, before he made the drastic leap to fight at heavyweight. Although he remained moderately small, his opponents now dwarfed him in size.
He first took on Tom Sharkey, in a bout refereed by famous sheriff Wyatt Erp, still wearing his colt 45. The fight was dominated by Fitzimmons but ultimately ended with him losing by DQ for hitting Shakrey while he was down. Both the crowd and Fitzimmons were outraged by the ending of the fight. However, off the strength of this performance, despite the loss, he got a shot at the heavyweight champion, Gentleman Jim Corbett.
Like Canelo Alvarez will be at the weekend, Fitzimmons was the favourite despite the size disparity as he took on his first serious test at heavyweight. Corbett had dethroned the long time champion John L Sullivan with a 21st round knockout but was no match for the power and boxing ability of Fitzimmons. He became Heavyweight champion of the world with a, by all accounts stunning, knockout of Corbett in the 14th round.
"He was the greatest strategist in the ring's history, a man of wonderful vitality, and the most accurate and deadliest hitter of the class." described Ring magazine's Nat Flischer
"To reach Jim Corbett in the pit of the stomach with knockout force was a feat for a magician, and Fitz was a magician. Where others failed, Fitz succeeded through strategic feinting to induce Corbett to raise his guard and open the way for a left shift and a crushing blow to the solar plexus.”
With this he became the lightest man ever to hold the heavyweight title weighing only 170lbs. Fitzimmons would lose the title to the 220lbs behemoth Jim Jefferies but would later out point George Gardener over 20 rounds for the light heavyweight title, making him boxing's first ever three division world champion, at a time when there were only three recognised weight classes.
Fitzimmons competed in an era of boxing so different to our own it could be that some people think there is no lesson for Canelo to draw from the lesson of Fitzimmons. I disagree. I think the most obvious one is body punching, both Canelo and Fitzimmons will go down in history as two of the sports best ever liver snatchers.
This is pertinent, as when you give up weight your advantage is often speed, to exploit that advantage you want your opponent to slow, and the best way to slow your opponent is with shots to the body. Canelo used this explosively against Rocky Fielding and I think it will be a key tactic against Kovalev, as it was for Fitzimmons against Corbett.
The next lesson is to do with the weight itself. As Fitzsimmons went up through the divisions he never bulked out. He never got overly muscular to try and get into a physical battle with his opponent, instead he used the natural speed and honed ability to overcome them with technique. This will be vital to Canelo’s success at 175lbs. He will always be the smaller man and if he, in an effort to ‘out man’ Kovalev beefs up too much he could lose the very advantages he brings up with him as the smaller man; speed, accuracy and skill.
Fitzimmons was the first three division champion but he held them all at different points of his career, the first man to bag three at once, in a jump more akin to what Canelo will try and do on Saturday, was ‘Homicide Hank’ himself, the great Henry Armstrong. With a more modern style not dissimilar to that or Mr Alvarez, Henry Armstrong bagged the Lineal Featherweight title in 1937 with a blistering knockout of Petey Sarron before he set his sights on heavier weights and bigger pay-checks. He decimated all comers before winni