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Column: Canelo Alvarez’s footwork and evolution as a fighter will be tested by Daniel Jacobs

Canelo Alvarez, left , lands a punch against Gennady Golovkin during a middleweight title boxing mat
Canelo Alvarez lands a punch against Gennady Golovkin during his middleweight title victory on Sept. 15 in Las Vegas.
(Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)

The videos are there for everyone to see.

Of Canelo Alvarez’s head snapped back by a jab. Of Alvarez catching a power punch flush on the face. Of Alvarez desperately lunging forward and punching the air.

The record is clear: Win or lose, Alvarez has looked vulnerable against the kind of moving target Daniel Jacobs figures to present Saturday night during their middleweight championship fight at T-Mobile Arena.

“Uneducated,” Jacobs said of Alvarez’s footwork.

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Alvarez was troubled by Austin Trout in 2013. The only official loss of his career came later that year to Floyd Mayweather Jr. Even though the judges claimed otherwise, he probably lost to Erislandy Lara as well.

His showdown against Jacobs will give him the chance to show how much he has evolved over the five years since his disputed split-decision victory over Lara — or expose how much he hasn’t.

“We’re a winning team,” Alvarez said in Spanish. “We continue learning and advancing. That’s why we’re the winning team that we are.”

Alvarez should win this fight, in large part because the weakness pointed out by Jacobs has become significantly less pronounced in recent years.

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Whereas most fighters lose mobility as they move up in weight, the opposite has been the true of Alvarez. As a 154-pounder who tried to stalk Trout, Mayweather and Lara, he was flat-footed and slow. Now six pounds heavier as a full-fledged middleweight, Alvarez fights more on the ball of his front foot, increasing his ability to move forward and back, as well as shift direction laterally.

A disclaimer has to be made here about how Alvarez flunked a pre-fight drug screening around this time last year. Make of that what you will.

Forcing Jacobs into exchanges shouldn’t be nearly as difficult as it was with Trout, Mayweather or Lara, who prioritized defense to the point it compromised their offense. Jacobs circles his opponents, but at a considerably more measured pace, which makes it easier for him to set his feet to unleash his own power punches.

Jacobs also isn’t a classic counterpuncher in the mold of Mayweather or Lara — or even Alvarez — who were particularly adept at slipping punches and using the forward momentum of their opponents to magnify the effects of their own shots. Instead, Jacobs often covers up and waits until his opponent has finished punching to retaliate.

This tendency of the Brooklyn fighter to block punches with his arms could be dangerous against Alvarez. Jacobs is susceptible to punches up the middle, which could give Alvarez the opening necessary to land his particularly violent uppercut. Alvarez is also one of the best combination punchers in boxing. Allowing him to unload four or five thudding punches in succession could cost Jacobs rounds on the judges’ scorecards.

Jacobs is aware of this. Asked what he learned in his 2017 loss by decision to Gennady Golovkin, he replied, “Maybe letting my hands go a little bit more, even though in the Golovkin fight we did let our hands go a lot. And landing the more significant punches. Sometimes Canelo has the crowd and even when you block certain punches or combinations, the crowd oohs and ahhs and that can be somewhat of an influence to the judges.”

Jacobs withstood 12 rounds of punishment from the sport’s premier destroyer in Golovkin — an argument could be made Jacobs deserved to win — but was dropped by the Kazakh. His only other loss, to Dmitry Pirog, was by knockout. Jacobs also was knocked down by the relatively light-hitting Sergio Mora, raising questions about his ability to take a punch.

Alvarez doesn’t have single-punch knockout power, but he unquestionably hits harder than Mora.

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Although Jacobs isn’t as defensively capable as some of Alvarez’s previous opponents, he presents a unique set of the obstacles, starting with his power. Of his 35 victories, 29 were by knockout. Alvarez has displayed a remarkable durability, as he never appeared to be seriously hurt in two fights against Golovkin. But Alvarez also has never faced a fighter with Jacobs’ combination of power, speed and length.

“I have so many things I can do inside that ring,” Jacobs said.

At 6 feet, Jacobs will have a 3½-inch height advantage. The assumption is that Alvarez will be the fighter advancing, looking to slip past Jacobs’ jab and move inside to where he can launch a body attack. Jacobs isn’t certain that will be the case.

“When he looks into my eyes and he’s standing next to me, I’m not sure if he’s gauging the same type of game plan because I’m a big force,” Jacobs said. “I’m a big guy with skills, with speed and with ring IQ, so we’re not going to be expecting Canelo Alvarez to go in there and back us up.”

Any view of Alvarez as a one-dimensional fighter sells him short. Over his two fights against Golovkin, Alvarez demonstrated his versatility by playing the role of the boxer in the first encounter and the aggressor in the second.

“I’m a fighter who knows how to adapt to all circumstances,” Alvarez said. “I can fight different ways, too.”

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Golovkin moved forward against Jacobs behind his jab. Alvarez’s jab isn’t as long or as powerful as Golovkin’s, but is quicker. Jacobs neutralized the punch against Golovkin by switching into a southpaw stance and is expected to attempt something similar against Alvarez, especially considering Alvarez’s previous troubles against the left-handed Trout and Lara. Of course, fighting out of a southpaw stance would remove one of Jacobs’ own weapons — his overhand right.

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“We know he’s going to change guards,” Alvarez said. “But we’re conscious of it and we prepared for that kind of a fighter.”

A clear victory here would demonstrate Alvarez has improved as much as he claims. A loss would point to something else, that what changed wasn’t the fighter but how he went about selecting his opponents.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez


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