Canelo Alvarez lands a right to the head of Josesito Lopez on his way to claiming… (Josh Hedges / Getty Images )
LAS VEGAS — They kept setting off cherry bombs inside MGM's Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night, but as loud and jolting as that was for a sellout crowd of 14,275, nothing had a bigger impact than the incredible punches of boxing's new superstar, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez of Mexico.
If other boxers punch like big Fords, Alvarez hits like Hummers. His nickname, which means cinnamon in Spanish, should be changed to “Tank.” He both takes punches and hits like one.
And, boy, did he hit Josesito Lopez.
Alvarez won when referee Joe Cortez, an angel of mercy for the Lopez corner, stopped the fight late in the fifth round amid more of Alvarez's bombardments.
It was both a good exit for Lopez, who was able to walk out of the ring with all limbs still attached, and for Cortez, a longtime referee of excellence who will now retire. He wanted to retire after he worked the fight a year ago between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Victor Ortiz. But when that ended in controversy, with Mayweather legally sucker-punching and knocking out Ortiz, Cortez wanted to stay for one more and do it right.
Which he did.
By the time Alvarez finished Lopez with another flurry, Lopez had been down three times.
In the second round, he took a right to the jaw and a huge left to the body and fell. In the third, Alvarez unloaded a left to the body and Lopez went down again. There are few better gauges of punching power than a body shot that puts another fighter down.
In the fourth, Lopez took a right to the jaw and dropped.
Lopez, who deserves some sort of medal for bravery for hanging in there as long as he did, despite likely being outweighed and certainly overmatched by Alvarez — they fought at 154 pounds and Alvarez has a tendency to gain between 10 and 15 pounds between the weigh-in and fight — called Alvarez “the total package.” He also called him a “bad ass,” and meant it as a compliment.
Alvarez, whose record is 41-0-1 and is only 22, returned the kind words with great accuracy and compassion.
“Josesito has a big heart and is very brave,” he said. “I'm not always looking for a knockout, but it was perfect tonight.”
Alvarez said he will be looking for more knockouts on bigger stages.
“I still need to put together better combinations, but I feel I'm improving every fight,” he said. “Now I want the big fights, the Mayweathers and Cottos.”
He didn't say he wanted Manny Pacquiao, even though that would be in the same category as Mayweather and Miguel Cotto, because he is aware that his promoter, Golden Boy, is as likely to do business with Pacquiao's promoter, Top Rank, as the U.S. is to ship uranium to Iran.
Alvarez entered the ring a stunning 12-1 favorite, and that turned out to be conservative. He came in smiling, confident and looking relaxed. Lopez, who has moved up in three consecutive fights from 140 pounds to 147 to 154, made his entrance without a smile. He had gotten this title shot when he upset the heir apparent to the next shot at Alvarez, Ortiz, who sat ringside Saturday night. Lopez had broken Ortiz's jaw late in their fight three months ago, and that gave some the impression that he was ready for the likes of Alvarez.
From the look on Lopez's face as he made his dead-man-walking entrance, he knew better than anybody that he wasn't.
“Canelo is a way better fighter than Ortiz,” Lopez said.
In this Mexican Independence weekend fight, which went head to head with the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.–Sergio Martinez fight down the street, Alvarez emerged as the next likely boxing hero south of the border.
He fights with poise. Lopez's trainer, Henry Ramirez, said earlier in the week that they would need to “push the action.” Lopez tried, and even connected with several flurries. But he might just as well have been punching a brick wall. Alvarez's reaction was usually a shrug, or a nod of recognition, followed by an answering barrage. He hit Lopez so hard, so often, with shots to the ribs that the 28-year-old from Riverside might spend some time with an X-ray camera soon.
In addition to the punching power of a jackhammer, Alvarez has a brand built-in for fame. He is a redheaded Mexican, not unheard of, but certainly not common. If you had just parachuted into the arena without knowing anything and taken a look at the red hair and white skin, you might have assumed he did his training in Cork and his name was O'Leary.
After the fight, they inexplicably fired off four more cherry bombs. The ring was still full, but Lopez didn't appear to even flinch. No surprise. What more could faze him?