Meet Canelo Alvarez: Mexico's No. 1 Sporting Superstar

Lyle FitzsimmonsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2013

Canelo Alvarez has gotten more accomplished and gotten more attention than most 23-year-old fighters.
Canelo Alvarez has gotten more accomplished and gotten more attention than most 23-year-old fighters.Alexis Cuarezma/Getty Images

Golden Boy Promotions executive Richard Schaefer spent nine days in late June and early July telling anyone who would listen that Canelo Alvarez is boxing’s next leading man.

“He’s the Mexican James Dean,” Schaefer insisted, at each of the 10 press tour stops promoting Alvarez’s fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., which arrives this Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “He’s the bigger one. He’s the stronger one. He’s the younger one. He’s the better-looking one.”

If crowd zeal along the way—even a near 50/50 split in Mayweather’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich.—is indicative, Schaefer and his colleagues at Golden Boy might just be on to something.

Among the sweat-soaked masses who toughed it out at the Atlanta stop was Terri Moss, a local gym owner and former women’s pro boxer who came with a half-dozen colleagues in support of Canelo.

She held a sign that read “Canelo!! Call Me!” along with the gym’s phone number. By the end of her stay a few hours later, she said the gym had received dozens of calls from as far away as Mexico City.

“We’ve got a bunch of boxing chicks, and they all love him because they think he’s so cute,” Moss said. “So we came up with the idea of putting the phone number on there. Just a little touch of marketing genius, I guess. But it would have been better if he’d have called himself.”

The 23-year-old has fought 43 times to incrementally increasing attention since turning professional as a 139-pound teenager.

He had his 33rd pro fight on the Mayweather-Shane Mosley undercard in Las Vegas in May 2010 and has since moved on to headline his own premium cable shows, including a defeat of Austin Trout in April that drew more than 39,000 fans to the Alamodome in San Antonio.

One fight earlier, his match with Josesito Lopez was a ratings record-breaker for Showtime (which will broadcast this weekend’s fight on its pay-per-view arm), which reported new watermarks for overall live viewers, largest Hispanic audience for an individual bout and average viewership.

When the tour’s itinerary brought it to his home country, Alvarez was greeted by 30,000 fans at a sprawling park in the heart of Mexico City. Among the others out to greet him was World Boxing Council president Jose Sulaiman, who claimed his home country’s torch had officially been passed.

“Since the retirement of Chavez Sr., the fans have been waiting for another one to come along,” he said. I don’t think there’s any question that he’s the one now. They respect Mayweather as a great champion, but they adore Alvarez, and they’re very passionate for him.”

The adoration for Alvarez, and the absence of hesitation from Golden Boy personnel in declaring his status as a boxing kingpin, has shown signs of getting under the skin of Mayweather, who’d already had a rivalry with Golden Boy founder Oscar De La Hoya stretching back to their 2007 fight.

De La Hoya took the stage in Los Angeles and introduced Alvarez—a veteran of seven title fights in one weight class—as “boxing’s biggest star.”

It prompted a petulant response from Mayweather, a winner of 21 title fights across five weight classes, in which he pointed out that Alvarez had never been on a pay-per-view show until he fought on the aforementioned Mayweather-Mosley show.

“I don't think (Mayweather has) had an opponent like that since Oscar De La Hoya,” said Showtime executive Stephen Espinoza. “Oscar, at that point, had been an icon in the sport for a very long time. This is a (23-year-old) kid. The amount of fan support and hysteria he created did take Floyd by surprise. Floyd didn't expect it.”

And, Espinoza conceded, neither did he nor Schaefer. Not when it came to the kid’s ability to move the needle at such a young age.

“We’re a little bit surprised, only because it seems to be growing so quickly,” he said. “We know he’s got an incredibly passionate, enthusiastic fanbase, but what’s been a little surprising is that it seems to be growing, literally, by the day.”

*Unless otherwise cited, quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.