Every few years a fight comes along that is bigger than the sport of boxing. A fight so massive, its appeal so wide, that it even transcends the sport itself, becoming part of the mainstream cultural zeitgeist.
To make this leap, you don't necessarily have to have a good fight—though in Floyd "Money" Mayweather Jr. versus Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime have a compelling one. More important, however, is the presence of an icon.
Muhammad Ali. "Sugar" Ray Leonard. Mike Tyson. Oscar De La Hoya.
With the right opponent, at the right time, a mere fight could turn into an event. Mayweather has joined this elite club, wearing the black hat as boxing's premier villain and laughing all the way to the bank.
But though Mayweather has made magic at the box office several times in his long and illustrious career, only with the right opponent has he truly struck gold. In Alvarez, the ingredients seem to be in place once again for a record-setting night.
Young, handsome and charismatic, Alvarez also happens to pack a powerful punch. In his native Mexico, he's giving soap-opera stars and teen idols a run for their money. His televised fights have drawn upward of 15 million viewers.
For Mayweather, all of this makes "Canelo" the perfect foil. Young versus old. Humility versus arrogance. Power versus speed. It's the contrasts that make the fight interesting.
On Saturday, the biggest fight of the decade goes down at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. If you're like many sports fans, you'll find yourself sucked into the fight one way or another—at a party, a bar or after an impulse purchase at home.
Here's what you need to know to really make the most out of the night.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (44-0)
What more needs to be said about the pound-for-pound king of boxing?
A five-division world champion, Mayweather has stepped into the ring 44 times as a professional. And, 44 times, he's had his hand raised at the end of the evening.
Along the way, Mayweather has transformed from "Pretty Boy" Floyd to "Money." It's been the difference between a successful career and a legendary one.
"Pretty Boy" was a generic Olympian in the mold of every other boxer who ever wore the white hat. It wasn't a good fit—for the bulk of his career, Mayweather was a stylish technician who couldn't find the big fights.
As "Money," Mayweather has polarized the boxing and mainstream sports worlds alike. Love him or hate him, there's no one left feeling indifferent as he flaunts his wealth and skill.
At 36, there are serious questions about how much Mayweather has left in the tank. Since 2007, he's fought just a single time every calendar year. Against Alvarez, he will be in the ring for the second time in just a little bit more than four months.
That's a schedule that makes sense for a younger man. But could it wear on an older Mayweather?
His lead trainers, uncle Roger Mayweather and father Floyd Mayweather Sr., seem confident their progeny is still at the peak of his powers. But if Mayweather struggles, age will be the main culprit—at least in the eyes of the finger-pointing media hordes who will be quick to place blame.
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (42-0-1)
Canelo Alvarez has an impressive record that belies his 23 years.
Of course, it's easy to rack up fights and wins when you start competing as a professional at the tender age of 15. To put his record in perspective, Alvarez had 21 wins before setting foot on American soil for a fight in 2008. He was still only 18 years old.
There is a difference between quantity and quality. And, as his legend grew in Mexico, doubts remained about Canelo's ability to compete with the best in boxing.
Wins over former world champions Carlos Baldomir and Kermit Cintron answered many questions about Alvarez's skill, but it was a 2012 decision victory against Shane Mosley that erased any doubts for good.
In April, Alvarez scored the biggest triumph of his career, both in the ring and out. He not only beat the previously undefeated Austin Trout in a close fight to win the WBC and The Ring magazine light middleweight championship, but he did so in front of 40,000 fans at the Alamodome.
Alvarez had arrived, as a fighter and a drawing card, making him Mayweather's most compelling opponent since Oscar De La Hoya in 2007.
"I know what Floyd Mayweather doesn't want to hear. In boxing, no one stays undefeated. He's not 25 anymore. He's not 30 anymore. He's 37 years old."
Oscar De La Hoya may have been wrong about the details (Mayweather is 36) when explaining to the Showtime camera crew why he wanted to see "Money" lose so badly, but other than that, his comments were right on.
No fighter is invulnerable forever. In the last two decades, Roy Jones, Pernell Whitaker and Julio Cesar Chavez faded with time. Of the greats, only Rocky Marciano went out on top.
For many longtime boxing fans, the question isn't if Floyd Mayweather eventually falls from the throne; the question is when.
And yet, if the Showtime preview show All Access is any indication, Mayweather isn't feeling particularly old.
Yes, he's slowing down a little bit, mixing in a regular massage and carefully prepared meals between hardcore bouts of training and partying. But if he's slowed down any in the ring, you couldn't tell by his quotes.
"I don't take no fighter serious," he told the All Access cameras. "All of them is a joke to me. It's damn near 20 years, and they don't have a game plan yet. It's obvious there is no game plan."
For Alvarez, the game plan seems simple, despite Mayweather's assertions to the contrary. The key is constant pressure, cutting off the ring and mercilessly attacking the body. Alvarez will need to use his size to overwhelm, pressure and wear down Floyd with punches until the smaller man's defense wavers. That's when, he hopes, youth and strength can triumph over speed and technique.
It's a game plan many others have attempted, including De La Hoya himself. As yet, none have succeeded.
It's a plan that sounds workable on paper or in the ring with sparring partners. But once in the ring with Mayweather, whose physical and mental gifts are unmatched in this era, what seemed easy when you were sending sparring partners fleeing from camp is suddenly impossible.
Even Alvarez concedes he won't really know until he gets in the ring with the best fighter in the world.
"We're going to be smart and fight intelligently," he said on All Access. "But you can't have a specific strategy until you go in and realize what's in front of you in the ring."
Odds: Mayweather (-225), Alvarez (+175)
There's no doubt about it: Mayweather is a significant favorite. But there hasn't been a fight this close, in the minds of the betting public and oddsmakers at least, since his 2007 bout with Oscar De La Hoya.
Everything I know about the history of fighting screams at me to pick Canelo. In many ways, it seems 36-year-old fighters were put on this Earth expressly for 23-year-old rising stars to feast upon.
But Floyd Mayweather is different. He's shown no signs of age or wear, and he's too smart, too skilled and too fast for Alvarez at this point in the young fighter's career. I expect him to waltz to a lopsided decision.
Floyd Mayweather by unanimous decision.
Note: Odds provided by Vegas Insider.com and are correct as of 9/13/2013 at 6 p.m. ET; subject to change.
Co-Main Event: Danny Garcia (26-0, 16 KO) vs. Lucas Matthysse (34-2, 32 KO) for Garcia's WBA/WBC junior welterweight titles.
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
When: Sept. 14, 2013
TV: Showtime PPV
In the pay-per-view era, economics has dictated a certain formula for a mega-event like this. Instead of a balanced night of entertainment, all of the money is devoted to the main event, where the fighters take home buckets of cash so large they need wheelbarrows just to heft it.
The rest of the card?
It's generally a mishmash of fading relics and prospects still looking to make a name. It's bad enough that many fans, despite paying big money for an event, tune in exclusively for the main fight.
On Sept. 14, that would be a very bad mistake.
"We don't want to just offer a great main course, we want stellar appetizers, too," Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer said during a press conference announcing the bout. "As the leading promoters, we want to take on the responsibility to show new fans, non-boxing fans, great fights."
The bout supporting Mayweather-Canelo, when it comes to fireworks at least, may end up being the most compelling fight of the year. It's certainly one of the biggest fights not to headline a card in recent memory.
Not familiar with The Ring magazine junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia and his hard-hitting challenger Lucas Matthysse? There's still plenty of time to rectify that.
Danny Garcia (26-0)
Garcia shocked Amir Khan last year to win the WBC and The Ring magazine championship at light welterweight. He's been busy since, defending the titles against two shopworn legends of a previous era, Erik Morales and Zab Judah.
Garcia is a swarming puncher. He uses his quickness to set up combination punching. Though he lacks one-punch knockout power, he often overwhelms his foes with a quick succession of shots.
Lucas Matthysse (34-2)
"Hard-hitting" precedes Matthysse so often in articles that I thought it was his Christian name. Of course, hard-hitting also fits the bill. Matthysse has finished 32 fights by way of knockout, including high-profile bouts with Humberto Soto and Lamont Peterson.
The Argentine is well on his way to being a superhero in his home country. His popularity in Argentina and exciting ring style have led Schaefer to compare Matthysse to Manny Pacquiao.
Garcia is the real thing, but Matthysse is a killer. He's arguably the hardest puncher, pound-for-pound, in all of boxing. When your style requires you to get hit in order to hit, as Garcia's does, Matthysse is a terrifying opponent.
At some point the two will start trading heavy leather. And, at some point, Garcia will realize he's made a huge mistake.
Matthysse by knockout
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 9 p.m. ET
Events During the Week (All Times Pacific)
Grand Arrivals (Tuesday)
Open to the public!
Location: MGM Grand Hotel Lobby
- 2 p.m. Ashley Theophane and Mayweather Promotions Rising Stars
- 2:10 p.m. Pablo Cesar Cano and Carlos Molina
- 2:20 p.m. Ishe Smith
- 2:30 p.m. Lucas Matthysse
- 2:45 p.m. Danny Garcia
- 3 p.m. Canelo Alvarez
- 3:30 p.m. Floyd Mayweather
View live on Sports.SHO.com/live
Undercard Fighter Workouts and Autograph Signings (Wednesday)
Open to the public!
- Location: MGM Grand Hotel Lobby
- 5 p.m. Carlos Molina and Pablo Cesar Cano Workouts and Autograph Signings
- 5:30 p.m. Danny Garcia and Ashley Theophane Workouts and Autograph Signings
- 6 p.m. Lucas Matthysse and Ishe Smith Workouts and Autograph Signings
- 6:30 p.m. Mayweather Promotions Rising Stars* Workouts and Autograph Signings
Shawn Porter vs. Julio Diaz II Fight Night (Thursday)
- Location: MGM Grand Conference Center, Premier Ballroom (Third Floor)
- 5 p.m. Doors Open
- 5:15 p.m. First Fight Begins
- 7 p.m. Fox Sports 2/Fox Deportes Telecast begins
Open to the public!
- Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena
View live on Sports.SHO.com/live