During the years of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao’s dominating runs, there have been very few boxers who have had the same amount of hype and analysis that they do. However, as both men approached their twilight years retired. It was Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez to take reigns and become the new face of boxing.
Canelo’s boxing style is without a doubt one of the best and most exciting to watch in the sport today. But for me, it is his evolution as a fighter, tricks, and change in style that has made him so captivating to watch over the years.
In this blog I’m going to analyze his evolution as a fighter, starting as an aggressive counter-puncher before developing into a top-grade pressure fighter. While giving you a complete overview of Canelo Alvarez’s Style.
You can see my video version below or continue reading below this.
Who is Canelo Alvarez?
But first up let’s take a look at his background. Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is originally from the outskirts of Guadalajara. Started his boxing career at a very young age after being bullied for his red hair. However, it was Canelo’s brother who would inspire him to take up boxing after seeing his professional debut not only that 7 of his other brothers were also professional boxers.
It was here in a local gym he would be spotted by Chepo Reynoso, who spotted his talent right from the beginning. Saul Alvarez would prove his talent by winning the junior Mexican National Boxing Championship in 2015.
Álvarez would turn professional at 15, shortly after his winning Junior Mexican National Boxing Champion championship in 2015. The father-and-son team Chepo and Eddy Reynoso were unable to find suitable junior opponents for him. And here would start the legend of Canelo Alvarez as he would go on to knockout men who were twice his age in his teens.
Since starting his pro career, he quickly went on to become the youngest light middleweight champion of all time in 2011.
From here it’s been non-stop for Canelo as he has amassed victories over many world champions and pound-for-pound greats in his career. He has so far picked up world title belts in 4 weight divisions so far. Light middleweight, middleweight, super middleweight, and light heavyweight. This has included fighters such as Shane Mosely, Erislandy Lara, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, Daniel Jacobs, Caleb Plant Sergey Kovalev, Billy Joe Saunders, and his biggest rival to date Gennady Golovkin. His only defeats have come at the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2013 and Bivol in 2022.
Although there has been controversy in his victories over Golovkin in their first two fights. Many consider him pound for pound one of the best and most exciting fighters to watch in this era of boxing. Especially after becoming an undisputed super-middleweight champion in 2021.
Alvarez has picked up an impressive 14 world titles in 4 weight divisions including The Ring magazine and Lineal titles to date.
What is Canelo’s Boxing Style?
It’s important to go back to the beginning when Canelo was coming up in the ranks before his world title run.
The Mexican had a mixed style where he primarily looked to counter-punch or use smart combination punching to create openings for head and body shots. It wasn’t your traditional ‘Mexican Boxing Style’. And that is what I believe made Canelo stand out so much. In my opinion, I would probably label him as an aggressive counterpuncher.
There was probably in my opinion a sense of Canelo finding himself in the ring, especially as a young fighter coming up trying to prove a point. Sometimes he would be the aggressor applying pressure, but other times he would lie on the ropes or look to use defense with waist and head movement before countering.
Evolving his style
However, in more recent years his style has without a doubt evolved and developed to create more calculating pressure on his competitors, especially ever since his second fight against Golovkin.
Since this fight GGG, he moved up in weight and is also not the tallest for the divisions he fights in currently, standing at only 5 ft 8. Many fighters would consider this a disadvantage and reason not to move up, but Canelo has used this flaw as an advantage. The Mexican now mainly lures opponents in with a high guard defense before using quick head or waist movement to dodge shots and counter-punch.
But the main aim of Canelo is to get you on the ropes so he can unleash his creative combinations to hurt or try to take you out. And is now a much more typical Mexican Style of fighting.
It will be interesting to see if he will change this once again as he gets older and has to adapt to bigger and younger opponents eventually.
His style is something he has perfected and evolved over many years of hard work in the gym. But there are many tricks, techniques, and methods you can learn from his boxing style that I believe many can apply to your own.
An Offense First Style
Bruce Lee’s ‘Jeet Kune Do’, is a book I often go back to when I create analysis breakdowns. Translated as “The way of the intercepting fist”. Which were Lee’s combat philosophy and system that believes the best defense is a strong offense. Read my article on Jeet Kune Do
While reading this again, I couldn’t help but apply many of Bruce Lee’s ideas to the way Canelo has approached fights from the very beginning of his career to where he is currently.
Now if you have been following me for a while, you will know I have quoted and used Lee’s philosophy in other videos. But I can’t help but apply some of these methods to Canelo’s style and approach.
To summarise Bruce Lee’s principle and theory behind JKD, the premise is you must be able to adapt to any scenario thrown at you while being able to react accordingly. It teaches you to know when to attack or go on the back foot. While it’s about being effective with your energy and movements so you are not limiting yourself.
Now, this analysis is obviously about Canelo, but I will use some of Lee’s ideas to help you better understand why Canelo uses specific techniques and methods. While I’ll explain why he has evolved his style over time.
Direct attacks using the Jab
Now, let’s start off with the most important punch in boxing. As a younger fighter, I feel this was a punch Canelo would use often. Another aspect to consider was Alvarez was fighting from 147-160 lbs during his young years. At this point in Canelo’s career, he was able to employ and land this punch much more often and effectively due to the size of his opponents.
Canelo would use powerful single direct attacks with a jab to push back opponents or he would simply use it to occupy or manipulate the guard so he could start off his beautiful combination of punches and create openings. Thus helping him land some beautiful crisp shots in his younger days.
However, opponents have stepped up quality and in height compared to him. The Mexican has had to be more creative with jabs to create new opportunities. One way is by using his high guard defense. He does this by leaning forward with his upper body so he can conceal his jab and keep opponents unsure of what his intentions are.
The other way he lands on competitors is by using feints and lowering his lead hand. There is a great clip of him demonstrating this technique to Ryan Garica in the gym. This is something Canelo uses often against bigger men and more often than not catches them off guard as he snaps back their heads.
Another great technique is using the jab, not necessarily with the intention to land. But to help push back or set up his right hand. A brilliant example of Canelo setting up this punch was against Kirkland where he threw to the body of Kirkland to drop his guard before immediately going up with his right. Knocking him out in devastating fashion.
See Canelo putting all the above into action below.
Attacking with creative combinations
The Mexican is also renowned for his highly effective ‘creative’ combination punching which can be breath-taking to watch as a boxing fan! Combination punches are used to break down and find gaps in opponents’ defense, especially when they are in a stationary position or tight guard.
Punches also need to flow in a natural sequence with each other in a way for your body to maneuver effectively while also minimizing exposing yourself to punches. Alvarez in my opinion is one of the very best.
A combination Alvarez has loved to throw from his younger years to this day. Is by doubling up or tripling 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 power, to gain influence over his opponent’s guard to create openings. Sometimes he will make a slight pause with a combination to see how his competitor will react, before changing the trajectory of his punch due to the opening he sees in front of him.
E.g. going from a right uppercut to a left hook to the head, followed up with a left hook to the body.
The other brilliant bit I love about his combinations is his change of entry. He will very rarely throw the same combinations again. He is always looking for ways to confuse or make his opponent hesitant. Leaving them with only two options – get out of the way or cover up.
However, better opponents have known not to stand trade with Canelo in most cases and will look to move and counter him. Which Floyd Mayweather and Bivol evidently showed us when he lost.
Nevertheless, Saul has developed his game so he can continue his offense in some shape or form.
Feints for Setups
Now ever since the second fight in 2018 vs Golovkin, Canelo has evolved into using more one-punch tactics in some fights.
The way Canelo has had much success is through the art of feinting. Bruce Lee coined this type of attack as a ‘progressive indirect attack’ which in boxing could be considered throwing a feint or an uncommitted punch to create an opening.
Canelo uses feints mainly for setups as it is a great way of measuring out your competitor’s reactions, so you can strike them more cleanly.
Using feints can be very useful against someone with a good defense. If you are struggling to get your punches through, feints can manipulate and cause uncertainty when a punch is thrown at the opposition.
In terms of Canelo using them. He will do this by changing the level of his lead hand while also using foot feints. Many times this can look like he is going to throw a left hook to the liver. Saul will use these feints to see how they react before setting up this punch.
A couple of the best examples of him using this were against Golovkin in their second fight. While he also had much success vs Saunders with his lead hand and foot feints.
Another feint trick Alvarez uses is his famous elaborate right-hand feint to set up a power left hook or uppercut! This move definitely causes hesitation in his opponent, as the right-hand feint creates a pause in the opponent to anticipate the punch. Thus giving Canelo enough time to land the punch with his left hand. It is a move he used throughout most of his career to create an opening for this punch.
Now, this is a quote I’ve used many times on the channel as Bruce Lee said:
“The counter-attack is an advance phase of offense…it is the greatest art of fighting, the art of champion”Bruce Lee – Jeet Kune Do
In Canelo’s younger years, I felt he was one of the very best counterpunchers out there at one point.
Watching him come through the ranks his counterpunching skillset was definitely one of my favorite parts of what I love about Canelo Alvarez’s skill set. Particularly because he is so devastated at it!
One of the best punches he uses is a very basic boxing technique that you will learn at any boxing gym you walk into. Slipping the jab and countering with a (powerful) right hand. As I just mentioned before, the Mexican likes to lure his opponent to jab by leaning forward. Therefore giving a tempting target to the opponent results in a right-hand counter. Sometimes he will slip on the inside of the lead hand and throw overhand right which we saw against GGG. See this action below.
He has used this time throughout his career against some of the best fighters in the world, including Golovkin, and Cotto.
Another counter Canelo likes to use is a pull counter or waist movement with a right uppercut counter which is a very high risk-for-reward tactic, as if not timed correctly you can get caught on the chin.
Canelo, therefore, trains for specific punch sequences which keeps him one step ahead of his opponent making sure to use a defensive move after each counter. See all these actions below.
Footwork & Defence
In terms of his footwork overall, Alvarez has a very strong base and balance when moving around the ring.
In his 147-160lbs years, I’d actually say he was a lot more fluid with his movement, especially on the back foot or to give a more boxing analogy – float like a butterfly in some respect
When using defensive movement up close, Alvarez likes to use a lot of waste and roll movement before quickly pivoting to get back to a better position or using which works extremely well to get out of his competitor’s reach. Sometimes if the opportunity was available he would counterpunch after using these movements.
You only need to watch other all-time defensive greats use such movements as Floyd Mayweather, Pernell Whitaker, or Lochee use these time and time again. And Canelo at times is right up there with them.
However, what I like about Canelo after using such defensive moves he always looks to return to his solid base footwork making sure to not put his feet in position to lose balance when he’s a range of being hit. This is something he has made sure to adapt into his whole new way of fighting.
In more recent years, Alvarez has lived up to a more ‘Mexican Style’ of Boxing ever since his second fight with Golovkin. Canelo has become a first-class operator at applying pressure on his opponent, by slowly walking them down. Despite being a smaller man at 5ft 8.
Alvarez has applied this pressure by walking them down with small steps, a tight high guard, and moving his upper body over his front foot as he creeps forward into attacking range.
He keeps his front foot directed at his opposition as he waits for an opening, while this also gives the illusion to the opponent that Canelo is within punching range. Canelo will then usually wait to throw single shots such as a left hook or counter right hand after using waist movement.
Alvarez is also someone who can up the tempo and start to close the ring off quickly when he has to. This creates much panic but also forces the opponent to rush their work to get out of position to stop Canelo from setting up his powerful shots.
Canelo’s use of high guard defense also makes it difficult to stop his pressure as he is very good at blocking or catching shots with the glove. It really is incredible stuff!
Probably the best example of this is his 11th-round KO over Kovalev in the championship rounds. The constant pressure eventually fatigued Kovalev, which saw him make mistakes with his own defense leading Canelo to win in spectacular fashion! (See below) Another great example of this intense pressure was Caleb Plant.
Ring IQ & Traps
As you can tell from everything I’ve discussed so far. Canelo’s ring IQ is something truly incredible. But what I like most about Alvarez is that he lives and breathes boxing, he is a student of pugilism and something many young or inspiring boxers can take note of. He said the following about his Chep Reyenso when he first started boxing under him. And is something I think we can all take as students of the sweet science:
“I gave it all I had, Chepo saw that, so he also gave me all his attention. The same measure of effort I gave corresponded with the same measure of attention he gave. I’ve always told the kids that are starting and want to learn something key when I was starting (was) I’d Leave the gym walking to the bus stop I was thinking of what Chepo taught me. I’d fall asleep thinking about that. It was like homework. I would keep reviewing it a thousand times at home”Canelo interview with DAZN
The best fighters in history are very much like the greatest chess players. They are always thinking of many steps ahead before the strike. They are always studying how to get better, but also how to defeat their opponent. To give you some examples of this.
Canelo vs Amir Khan
In his fight against Amir Khan, Alvarez plotted a devastating KO over many rounds.
Canelo was up against a much faster fighter. So the Mexican targeted the left side of the body with a right straight or hook to the body. As the rounds progressed, Khan was conditioned and expected the Mexican to continue with this shot.
Alvarez would drop his guard to block it over time. This led to a devastating finish by Alvarez as he switched to the head.
Another similar example of this was against Billy Joe Saunders, as a tricky southpaw who would move often Canelo would have to be patient for opening.
Canelo vs Plant
Against Caleb Plant, he was coming up against a big super middleweight who likes to move counter punch and use the Philly shell/shoulder roll stance. Something he had an absolute nightmare against when facing Floyd Mayweather in his younger years.
Alvarez has no doubt relived that defeat many times in his head in terms of what he would do differently. This fight was the perfect style to right those wrongs. Just like in the Mayweather fight, Plant was countering Canelo with the right hand as he was coming into range.
Alvarez adjusted to this very intelligently when after throwing his left hook or jab he would immediately use it to control the body or head of Plant. Which would stop Plant from being able to counterpunch himself.
Therefore, Canelo was able to throw the right hand over the shoulder roll which Plant uses so well. Or also using it as an opportunity to throw the right hand to the body to wear down Plant. Which he used very well over the rounds and eventually led to knocking out his competitor.
Extra Tricks and Techniques
Attacking the arm
Now one of the moves Canelo has used in more recent years is attacking the left arm of opponents with heavy right-hand punches over many rounds.
He most famously used this against Callum Smith who was known to throw a lethal left hook. But what is the point of this? Well, it is to simply dismantle or fatigue the arm so they do not throw it. We have all seen Canelo hit the heavy bag with force and you can only imagine receiving those punches to the arm for 12 rounds.
In turn, this helps Alvarez then able to throw other creative combinations as discussed earlier. He did try to apply this in the fight vs. Bivol, no doubt to try to stop him from throwing his jab. But was unable to do the damage he did to Smith.
Another thing Canelo likes to do is lie on ropes and encourage his opponent to attack him. Defensively he knows he has the ability to block and parry shots away or uses defensive upper body movement for the most part.
Canelo uses this as an opportunity to save energy while also using it as an opportunity to counter of use explosive combinations off the ropes. Many opponents have caught on to this throughout the years. But it still shows another dimension of Canelo to lure opponents in.
Although Canelo creates mixed opinions in boxing circles for his past actions. He is still an elite world-level boxer I would recommend to anyone to watch and learn from. There are so many tricks and techniques you can learn from Canelo, including his counter and combination punching techniques. These are probably up there with the top 5 in the world. In more recent years his intelligent pressure fighting is something all fighters can learn from.
Hope you enjoyed this post and make sure to check out more boxing-style features.
Check out my Canelo training breakdown article here.
Thanks for reading!
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