At just 22, Saul Alvarez has already fought 43 professional bouts, winning 42 (30 by KO) and drawing just once, early in his career. His win over Austin Trout last April established him as the unquestionable champion at junior middleweight.
He is also the leading candidate to be chosen as the opponent for Floyd Mayweather's next pay-per-view spectacular. With a significant size advantage and the hunger of youth, he is much more likely to push Mayweather than any of the top welterweights.
Beyond that, the exciting redhead has star appeal. Canelo has been among the most popular boxing stars in Mexico since his teens and has become nearly as popular in the US in the last two years. A fight between Alvarez and Mayweather would have the potential to approach the buy numbers Mayweather did when he fought Oscar De La Hoya in 2007.
Canelo Alvarez already has superstar popularity. But the shelf life on that popularity might be incredibly short if he doesn't continue to demonstrate the skills against increasingly difficult opponents.
So far, Alvarez has passed every test put in front of him, continuing to look better each time out. And for a fighter his age, the tests have been pitched on a steep curve.
In November of 2011, Alvarez dismantled Kermit Cintron in eye-opening fashion, by Round 5 TKO. In May of 2012, he handed the legendary Shane Mosley a one-sided, unanimous decision beatdown on the Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto undercard.
The version of Shane Mosley who Canelo Alvarez beat last year is a far cry from a prime Sugar Shane, but beating him like that was an accomplishment anyway, and one only a rare few fighters would be capable of. It took very good timing to consistently beat a fighter as experienced and skilled as Mosley to the punch.
In his fight against Trout, Alvarez showed vastly improved defensive skills. His head and shoulder movement were impressive, and when he had trouble cutting off the ring against Trout, he was able to shift gears and score off counterpunching.
At the same time, Trout gave Alvarez plenty of problems, and he exposed some holes that Alvarez is definitely going to need to fix. For the first time in his career, Trout was confronted with an opponent who was able to use movement to largely neutralize his normally dangerous body attack. In the second half of the fight, Alvarez's conditioning looked suspect.
But Canelo deserved the win.
It was the biggest of his career, and it makes him a legitimate world champion, at just 22. For those who wanted to view it as a coronation of Canelo into the company of the elite, it closely enough resembled one to justify treating it as such.
But for the portion of boxing fans who continue to reserve judgment on Alvarez, enough questions remained to prevent a widespread conversion to his bandwagon.
The most popular fighters always polarize the fans, and this is particularly the case with Canelo. I've seen commentators online arguing that he deserves top-five pound-for-pound consideration, and others arguing that he's still just a fraud waiting to be exposed.
Amid this kind of hyperbolic chatter, a very tough, exciting fighter tends to get overlooked.
Alvarez is a strong, athletic pressure fighter with respectable power that he can deliver with both hands, to both the body and the head. His defensive skills and footwork are perfectly designed to compliment his aggressive style.
His consistent improvement from fight to fight indicates that he is a young fighter who puts in serious time in the gym, always improving on his craft. If he does fight Floyd Mayweather in September, expect him to look better than he has before. That means it will not be an easy fight for Mayweather.
Alvarez has already demonstrated that he has enough skill to become a superstar right now. He's continued to win the fights he has needed to win to keep building his tremendous popularity.
And while I know some wannabe critics have been quick to claim Alvarez has been handled gently, it's not really accurate to say that Golden Boy has hesitated to match him up with the toughest fighters available. They were planning to have him fight Paul Williams last year, before Williams' tragic motorcycle accident.
That's not a fight Golden Boy would have scheduled if it had any doubts about Alvarez's skill set.
The real question about Alvarez is whether or not he has the skills to establish his place among the all-time greats. Will he be able to seriously challenge a legend like Mayweather? Will he be able to move up in weight and capture titles at 160 and above?
Those kinds of questions can only be answered in time. Until they are, Alvarez has more than enough talent and hunger to remain among the sport's most popular stars.
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