Fighting an undefeated pound-for-pound king isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. Sure, you can show up and assume the role of punching bag while they cut your check; in fact, that's what seems to happen more often than not.
But for a fighter with flaws, to step in against one of the best in the world and honestly fight to win…well, that is a rare thing.
Many view the upcoming bout between Floyd Mayweather and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez as nothing more than a formality. They see Canelo as just another young, capable fighter who is taking his turn in line as the next guy to lose to Mayweather.
In the 1950s, fighters like Joe Lewis would do a string of bouts in order to keep active; considering that some of those men were not the best the sport had to offer, these runs were considered the Bum-of-the-Month tour.
Ever since Mayweather cemented his status as pound-for-pound king, he’s utilized his defensive genius and counter-punching skills to render nearly all of his opposition helpless. Now, when a new fight is announced, it seems like just another name waiting to cash a check; it’s not a Bum-of-the-Month tour, but it does seem formulaic.
Mayweather engages in incredible amounts of trash talk to promote the bout, going so far as to say he’s going to go toe-to-toe or give the opposition a serious beating. He’s so good at it that we almost talk ourselves into thinking we’ll see a replay of the last time Mayweather was actually pretty and fierce at the same time—against the late Arturo Gatti.
Of course, in the best traditions of P.T. Barnum, we tune in with the hopes of seeing one species of greatness, and instead, we are given another. Mayweather goes into the ring, uses his defensive skills—never going toe-to-toe—and ends up making his opponent look toothless and woefully out of his depth.
Considering the names he’s conquered with this style, people can't really say that Mayweather isn’t great, nor can they say he should change anything. This is still the business of hitting and not getting hit, so why should Mayweather play any role other than that of salesman first and tenured professor second?
On the other side of the coin, we have Canelo, who’s a young lion with quite a few pelts lying around the floor of his den—42 of them, to be exact. It’s a shocking number for a man who has yet to turn 23, and of those 43 victories, 31 have come via KO/TKO.
Canelo is young, fierce and undefeated. As such, he sees himself as having no limitations other than the width and breadth of his largest dreams.
That’s not unlike another young man who, at around the same age as Canelo, defeated the then undefeated pound-for-pound king, Wilfredo Gomez.
Of course, we are talking about none other than Salvador Sanchez.
Gomez was a monster in the ring—not a defensive wizard like Mayweather, but a KO machine who had never failed to run over anyone put in his path.
Before his fight with Sanchez, Gomez was a fighter who had defeated all his opposition via KO—a true perfect record—save for his first ever fight, which was ruled a draw. He was the most frightening kind of opponent in boxing: the man who was going to knock you out and leave you blinking into the overhead lighting, all pride crushed.
In addition, Gomez could take one hell of a beating; a year after his first ever defeat at the hands of Sanchez, Gomez endured a brutal trial in his fight against Lupe Pintor—one of the greatest fights I have ever seen.
Going into the fight, most thought Sanchez would give a spirited performance before Gomez blasted him off his feet.
Instead, Sanchez went after Gomez, unconcerned with all those previous opponents who had come before him and failed. He was fighting an undefeated pound-for-pound king, and he did it like it was his last night on earth.
He dropped Gomez in the first round and proceeded to take him apart, stopping him after eight rounds in an upset that no one really saw coming.
Now, Canelo is stepping into the ring with the same opportunity before him. Mayweather has a vastly different style and skill set than Gomez, but he’s also a great deal older than Canelo and not as large or powerful.
Of course, styles have always made fights, and they always will.
But Canelo has never had such an opportunity before him, so we don’t know what he’s going to do. The past is only a median indicator when considering how a fighter like Canelo may rise or cower to the enormity of the moment.
But he’s got a great chance ahead of him and an entire country behind him. If he’s willing to seize the moment and fight like it’s his last night on earth, we might just be in for a very special night at the fights.