Canelo vs. Plant: The Art of War

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The bad blood outside of the ring could spill inside the ring when Canelo Álvarez and Caleb Plant throw down Saturday night in a historic showdown live on SHOWTIME pay-per-view.

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Canelo vs Plant: The War of Words Before the Battle of Wills on November 6

Those who have become accustomed to the increased personal hostility displayed by fighters at press conferences and weigh-ins are apt to remember the familiar catch phrase of an old television commercial.

Is it live or is it Memorex? 

Or, to put it another way, is the publicly expressed nastiness genuine, or is it a ploy, a mind game, employed by one participant or another, and maybe both, for the purpose of throwing his opponent off his game, to make him so angry he is apt to not execute his trainer’s carefully mapped out fight plan and instead give vent to high emotions?

The apparent conclusion, from what has transpired to dated, is that Saturday night’s unification showdown of reigning 168-pound world champions Canelo Álvarez (56-1-2, 38 KOs) and Caleb Plant (21-0, 12 KOs) is taking on the trappings of a blood feud, a pugilistic Hatfields vs. McCoys. 

What already has been said and done might even have raised the stakes beyond the significant reality that the winner will emerge as the division’s first undisputed ruler in the four-belt era. Álvarez, the Mexican national hero who is widely considered to be the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, enters the SHOWTIME Pay-Per-View (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand as the holder of the WBC, WBA and WBO championships, while Plant, a native of Nashville, Tenn., is the IBF champion.

The mutual animosity, which seemingly had been building for some time, reached a flashpoint at a Sept. 21 press conference to formally announce the fight when a scuffle broke out during the obligatory stare-down photo op. 

Álvarez gave a hard, two-handed shove to Plant’s chest, with the native of Davy Crockett’s home state reacting as if what was happening was a reenactment of the Battle of the Alamo. Plant responded by throwing a left hook and, although security personnel quickly moved in to separate the two men, several of their respective team members added to the tension by angrily exchanging words. 

Plant came away with a cut below his right eye, which his co-manager, Luis DeCubas Jr., said was the result of his sunglasses scratching his face and not from a direct blow from Alvarez.

“I was surprised by what happened at the press conference,” said Justin Gamber, Plant’s co-trainer. “If anything, it made it more personal.”

Said Álvarez: “He swung first. And I did what I do.”

The passage of another month, if anything, has done little or nothing to calm the waters as fight night draws ever nearer. 

“This is new for me,” Álvarez said. “I’ve never had as much bad blood with an opponent as this one. Yes, this is the most animosity that I’ve had heading into a big prize fight. I’ve never been involved in anything like what happened at the first press conference between me and Caleb. Whether it sells the fight or not, the most important thing for me is to become undisputed on November 6.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but everything’s real on my end. Undefeated IBF World Super Middleweight Champion - Caleb Plant

Asked if the two-way taunting, posturing and shoving incident might constitute “mind games,” the kind of psychological strategy so successfully employed by the likes of Muhammad Ali and Bernard Hopkins, Plant said that isn’t the case, at least not from his perspective.

“I can’t speak for anyone else, but everything’s real on my end,” Plant declared. “I’m not here to play mind games. I’m not here to play any games. I’m here to be the first undisputed super middleweight champion in boxing.”

As much as anyone, Bernard Hopkins understands the potential value of so ticking off an opponent that he allows rage to make him fight exactly the way that B-Hop wanted him to. It happened for the signature victory of Hopkins’ career, the 12th-round stoppage of Felix Trinidad on Sept. 29, 2001, after the Philadelphian had twice thrown down the Puerto Rican flag at press conferences in New York and San Juan.

“If you were to ask me from 1-to-10, how high is it that you can affect your opponent, your adversary, I would say it’s a nine,” Hopkins said. “Early in your career it’s iffy, but when you get to that type of level, the mental aspect is very important. If you are so angry and frustrated going in that you want to kill your opponent, it can mess you up and throw you off your game. I was a master at getting into an opponent’s mind. I understand it because I got it from (Muhammad) Ali.

“Boxing is not about bang-bang shootouts. There is a mental aspect that must be won first. The physical part is a separate war. The danger is that if you say too much to the wrong opponent it can make him fight you even better than he would if you had kept your mouth shut. So it’s a Catch-22 situation.”

Just such a situation might have evolved following the New York press conference to announce the much-anticipated 2002 fight pitting heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and former champ Mike Tyson.  That photo op stare-down also veered into craziness, with the two men grappling on the floor and Tyson biting Lewis on the thigh.

“We heard that something might happen at the press conference,” Lewis recalled years later. “I got introduced, Mike got introduced. Then I seen Mike walking over to me. I didn’t know what was happening. I think my security stopped him and he took a swipe at them. To me, that was, like, a declaration of war.”

The fracas led to the fight being relocated from New York to Memphis, Tenn.  Whether it inspired Lewis to fight harder is a matter of conjecture, but he pummeled Tyson throughout the bout, which ended with him winning via eighth-round knockout.

As always, how much the antagonistic feelings between Álvarez and Plant might affect what takes place inside the ropes remains to be seen.

For a closer look at Canelo vs Plant, check out our fight night page. 

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