Smith v Saunders: Álvarez’ Optimal Opponent
With Billy Joe Saunders and Callum Smith both under his umbrella, Eddie Hearn represents some truly coveted names in boxing.
It stands to reason that he went into the final quarter of 2020 reluctant to pit Saunders and Smith against one another in a super-middleweight unification bout, even with a vast array of fight fans who would buy the PPV for it in an instant.
With that in mind, Hearn has suggested that Canelo Álvarez should be in the mix to face either of his A-listers, but with the famously red-headed Mexican entering October out of commission, it is an alternative suggestion that fails to excite as much as he ordinarily would.
Naturally, that would change quickly if Alvarez became available, and he is a guaranteed draw, but picking the right opponent is vital. As such, which of Saunders and Smith would make for a better opponent?
Negotiating the odds
The first consideration is the backstory to any battle between Álvarez and a Matchroom champion, and how that determines the plotline. The most attractive fights are those that have no middle ground, where a favourite is likeliest to go the distance against a defensive underdog, with anything more drastically unlikely.
In all of the major wagering markets found within the sportsbooks for combat events, there is a clear underdog and favourite months in advance, making this one of the earliest considerations as part of the selling process.
Successfully selling a bout between Alvarez and a Matchroom champion requires an evenly-matched feel beforehand. Alternatively, it should at least exaggerate one fighter’s standing as the moneyline favourite, to heighten anticipation of a shock result with a greater than usual likelihood of it happening.
Route to Alvarez
After determining whether the bout should present itself as even money or a ‘David vs Goliath’ affair, it must be packaged effectively to enhance buy rates. In this case, the optimal method would be to create the image of a ‘path’, to a watershed bout with a worldwide favourite. That could well prove the differential factor here, and the respective form of the two fighters is the obvious foundation to a deeper backstory.
Going into October, both fighters hold a perfect, undefeated record, further deepening the desire amongst fans to see Saunders and Smith fight. Any match where one fighter must lose a clean record is guaranteed to prove popular amongst a paying audience. In terms of ‘form’, the question then reverts to how they are winning, and with Smith’s record not short of a 2 of how to destroy an opponent, he shades this argument.
With 19 knockouts from 27 wins, Smith has a better KO record than Saunders (with 14 KOs from 29 wins) in that regard. By the start of October, he had won three of his previous six bouts by knockout or TKO. By contrast, Saunders ended a four-year wait for a knockout only last November, but it was a hard-earned 11th round affair against Marcelo Esteban Coceres.
Who would fare better vs Alvarez?
Simply picking the fighter with the best record – or the best KO ratio – achieves little, especially as many bouts also rely on a clash of styles to sell. For instance, Álvarez has a distinct style which is easy to use as a point of contrast between himself and his opponent. There are a number of guides to his technique across the internet, but one in particular catches the eye for its explanation of his ‘creativity’, stating:
“Álvarez tends to double up with his lead hand such as hooking to the head and then immediately hooking for the body (liver shot). He also likes to intelligently interchange his shots with different depth to gain influence over his opponent’s guard to create openings.”
Ultimately, Smith’s higher knockout rate, coupled with his advantageous size difference – always suggestive of an aggressive fighter – makes him the better option from an entertainment perspective, if paired with Álvarez’ measured approach. Even so, it should be noted that Smith has made efforts to become more of a ‘complete’ fighter in recent times. This goes some way to ensuring that he could approach Álvarez with an attacking mind, without unduly running the risk of a quickfire defeat, or reverting to a conservative style that reduces the entertainment factor.