Boxing Tonight: Rocky Fielding flies under the radar onto the biggest stage against unstoppable Canelo Alvarez
One of the most unlikely fights of the year takes place this weekend at Madison Square Garden where Liverpool’s WBA super middleweight champion Rocky Fielding gets the Christmas present of his life against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
This time last year, Fielding was operating strictly at British title level, as his domestic contemporaries cleaned up on the world stage. As the likes of George Groves, Callum Smith and James DeGale were battling for international honours, Fielding was biding his time and waiting for the perfect opportunity to break onto the world scene.
In July, he found it. An unexpected world title challenge against German Tyron Zeuge materialised, though few expected Fielding to impress, especially considering the fight was taking place in Offenburg, Germany. Undeterred, Fielding fought the fight of his life and overwhelmed the champion en route to a fifth-round stoppage victory.
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It was a victory as thrilling as it was surprising, but though it signified a new British star on the world scene, few paid attention once the fight was over. Despite his Hollywood name, Rocky has never been one of the golden boys of British boxing, instead, floating on a peripheral level somewhere between solid fighter and contender. At 31, and with just one loss against 27 professional victories, Fielding will never have a better chance to make a name for himself and he has the perfect opponent to do so in Canelo Alvarez.
At just 28 years old, Alvarez has 50 victories inside a professional fight, with his most significant – and contentious – coming earlier this year against Gennady Golovkin in a fiercely contested rematch. The first Alvarez/Golovkin fight was easily the most hyped boxing event of 2017 and while the overall action didn’t quite live up to the unmanageable hype, there was still plenty to enjoy in the bout. Alvarez started and ended the fight well, but the metronome pressure of Golovkin dominated the middle stages of the fight. When the final result was announced, and the farcical scorecards were revealed, both men shook their heads in disbelief believing they had won.
Initially, it didn’t seem that it would be long until a rematch took place. Indeed, a return bout was scheduled, until the sensational news was revealed that Alvarez had failed two tests for performance enhancing drugs. The boxing world was stunned, as drug test failures at the highest levels are extremely rare, especially for a well looked after star like Canelo Alvarez. He blamed the test results on contaminated meat, but the damage had been done.
In truth, the Alvarez news was perhaps the most interesting tidbit to have been revealed about the Mexican, who outside the ring has been well regarded as one of the dullest fighters around. Like a middle-aged man buying a sports car or a new emo dying their hair black, suddenly Alvarez was a bad boy, making the feud with Golovkin even more enticing.
The Mexican star took that reputation into the second fight, and once again the result was contentious. This time however, Alvarez was chosen as the winner on two scorecards, with the third judge scoring the bout a draw. The boxing world was furious with many believing that Golovkin had done enough to get the nod, but the relentlessness of Alvarez and his infuriatingly clever yet subtle shots to the body led some to be assured that the right man had prevailed.
Despite the ferociousness and physicality of the fight-of-the-year contender, Alvarez is returning to the ring just three months later and is moving up a weight class to challenge Fielding. In truth, he’s chosen the weakest belt-holder at super middleweight in an attempt to claim gold at yet another weight, but he will be giving up size, height and reach against the taller Fielding, who comes into the bout with zero expectations and with plenty of reward win or lose.
While Alvarez has by far the superior skills, this lack of belief in Fielding may be a blessing for the Liverpudlian. Before his lone loss to Callum Smith in 2015, many boxing fans could not split the two fighters, with predictions verging either way. Less than one round into their eagerly-awaited clash, Fielding had been knocked down multiple times after a slow start and was stopped before the first three minutes had been completed.
Then, in April 2017, Fielding struggled to a split decision victory over John Ryder in a fight he was expected to win, and yet arguably lost. Pressure hasn’t been Fielding’s friend, instead his best performances have come with zero expectations. Beating Zeuge in Germany, winning Prizefighter in 2011 as a legitimate unknown, and then dismantling David Brophy last year after his Scottish opponent came into the bout after a career-best win.
In New York, the lights will be on Fielding but the eyes of the crowd won’t be. Instead, they’ll be turned to the cinnamon-haired Mexican who is approaching his prime and has rarely looked ruffled, let alone flustered inside the ring. The Floyd Mayweather defeat of 2013 feels like a lifetime ago. This isn’t a kid anymore, or a could-be-great, it’s a natural superstar whose lack of swagger outside the ring is more than made up by a compelling persona inside it.
Fielding might make it interesting for a couple of rounds due to his size, but he’s not a concussive puncher, and Alvarez has an excellent chin. Expect the Mexican to go to work on Fielding’s long torso, before bringing out the hooks and uppercuts as the fight progresses past the first two rounds. If Fielding has a chance, it’s early, and he has finished fights in the opening stages before, but never at the highest level and never at Madison Square Garden.
It’s been warming to see Fielding enjoy the build-up ahead of the fight, but you get the feeling that his ringing of the bell at the New York Stock Exchange may be the last time the sound of that ring is a pleasurable one. On Saturday night, he’ll lock eyes and exchange fists with a man scared of nothing, and no level of pride or likeability will be able to help him.