For five years, two men have stood together atop the sport of boxing. They've earned record pay, fascinated fans and walked parallel paths, two equally dynamic wrecking balls cutting a swath through anyone foolish enough to stand in their way.
Manny and Floyd.
Floyd and Manny.
Depending on whom you talked to, and when, either Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao has been the top dog in boxing for the entire decade. Both are proven commodities in the ring and at the box office. To fans who watch the sport once or twice a year, they are boxing.
And both men should be clearing room at the pinnacle for a new star to join them. Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is coming.
At 22, Alvarez is just beginning what appears to be a surefire Hall of Fame career. Among Mexican fans, he's already a huge presence, by far the most popular fighter in his homeland. It's a level of fame that has followed him to America through the power of Televisa and Univision television, Spanish-language networks that focus on Mexican and Mexican-American stars.
In 2011, he packed the Honda Center in Anaheim for a fight with Matthew Hatton, announcing his presence as a money-maker. Last month, he upped the ante, drawing nearly 40,000 fans for a fight with Austin Trout in San Antonio. Mexican fans, already considered a rabid bunch, are particularly taken with the young redhead from Guadalajara. The atmosphere, wherever he fights, is electric.
"'Canelo' has the charisma to connect with people like no fighter I've seen," his promoter, president of Golden Boy Promotions Oscar De La Hoya, told the press after that 2011 fight. "...And, now that he's a world champion, he'll get his chance to fight all the big names and make history."
Alvarez has been on the cusp for a long time. And though his name isn't on the tip of the casual fan's tongue, it will be soon. That's the power Floyd Mayweather has to make careers in his industry.
The truth is, in boxing it often takes a superstar to make a superstar. There are exceptions, of course. Mike Tyson, for example, earned his place among the box-office elite despite a lack of elite competition by running through what opposition there was in particularly impressive fashion. But guys like Tyson are the exception—normally, a star is born by snuffing out someone else's flame.
Both Pacquiao and Mayweather are perfect examples of this phenomenon. Both were known presences for years, highly regarded fighters and stars. Neither, however, were box-office difference-makers, superstars capable of headlining million-buy pay-per-views.
Until, that is, they crossed paths with De La Hoya. The "Golden Boy" was the fighter America knew and loved. He was the record-setting draw, capable of creating magic at the box office. It was only after beating Oscar into retirement that Floyd and Manny could usurp his position at the top.
As brutal as that sounds, it's the nature of the beast in boxing. Besides Rocky Marciano, who famously retired on top, every other major fighter in the sport's history has been pushed off the mountaintop by force. The old doesn't make way for the new in boxing. No one leaves the limelight gracefully. The newcomer has to earn his position with fists and fire.
Now, it's Canelo's turn to reenact the "Circle of Life." Mayweather has provided the opportunity. He opened up his own Pandora's Box. It's Alvarez's job to make him regret it.
The great thing about a fighter like Mayweather is the sheer volume of media attention he brings to every endeavor. Canelo is currently a huge player among Mexican fans and boxing hardcores. By fight night, those demographics will have shifted dramatically. All of America will know Canelo Alvarez's story.
Because Floyd is a man many love to hate, a significant portion of the country will also be cheering the young Mexican on. If he becomes the first man to beat Mayweather, consider his ticket punched. He will automatically join the pantheon and be elevated to rarefied air. He has all the intangibles to be a superstar. A win against the biggest name in the sport will push him to the next level without question.
Even a losing effort can be a star-maker for Canelo. If he fights valiantly, honorably and without fear, win or lose, he will vault to a new level of celebrity—and drawing power. Thomas Hearns fell short against both Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler. The ferocity of his performances, however, made him a superstar even in defeat.
That could be the path Canelo walks as well. Boxing has never needed a new superstar quite this badly. The sport needs a Canelo. The yearning for something new is practically palpable.
Mayweather and Pacquiao have carried the sport so long that some have forgotten it's even possible for other names and faces to capture the hearts and minds of sports fans. But that's not true. If he plays his cards right on Sept. 14, boxing will finally have some much-needed new blood at the top of the sport. Win or lose, it's Canelo Alvarez's time to shine