Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, just about 30 minutes removed from being the hope of the adoring pro-Mexican throngs who had packed the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, stood dejected in his corner, his head down, awaiting scorecards that would confirm what over 16,000 people in the arena—and millions on pay-per-view—already knew.
After months of hype and hope, he had been thoroughly dominated—embarrassed really—by the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.
Watching Floyd Mayweather duck, dodge and potshot him with such ease from start to finish, you'd have been justified in wondering how Canelo could ever have been hyped as the future, not just of Mexican boxing, but of the entire sport.
After that hugely disappointing result, the Mexican heartthrob will return to that same ring at the MGM on Saturday night, facing Alfredo "El Perro" Angulo in a fight that can only be viewed as must-win.
This fight isn't just important for Canelo, it's important for the people at Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime, who have invested countless hours and millions of dollars in building his brand.
A brand that's in danger of collapsing into itself, if he turns in a second straight subpar performance.
Angulo is no Mayweather, and while nothing can match the immense pressure of that event, Canelo enters this fight with a whole new world of expectations and demands on his back.
Fundamentally, he needs to show that he's capable of rising and responding to adversity. And he needs to show that he can bounce back from a huge letdown, not only for him, but for all the fans who supported his cause last time around.
It wasn't just that he lost the fight, but how he lost it, and the feeling from many fans that they had been duped, letdown or bought into hype not backed by reality.
Heading into the Mayweather fight, there was a real sense that boxing fans were on the verge of witnessing something special. The birth of not just a new star, but a transcending superstar capable of carrying the torch into a new era.
Canelo came into the fight undefeated, a young baby faced champion with an entire boxing-crazed nation behind him. By toppling Mayweather, he'd have become—at the time just 22 years old—the new face of boxing, with an entire career still in front of him.
His importance could not be underestimated, and fans—particularly in the Hispanic market—bought into him, largely, without reservation.
Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, summed up the phenomenon perfectly:
In Mexico City, we were staying very close proximity to where the press conference was. To realize that not only were there going to be 20-30,000 people there, but the vast majority of those people were there four, five, six hours ahead of time. Houston there were 1,000 to 2,000 people lined up outside who couldn’t get in. It’s not just the crowd, it’s their commitment to being there
The craze was dubbed "Canelomania" by Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, and it truly did sweep the nation. Hundreds of thousands of fans turned out, Mexican flags and memorabilia in tow, for the 10-city press tour designed to hype the fight.
Sure, some were there to see Mayweather, but the vast majority were there for Canelo, and this was acknowledged by the pound-for-pound king's team, headed by Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe:
For Floyd Mayweather to be on top for as long as he has been, to be the biggest star in the sport and to go to these different cities, and to see there were more Hispanics, Mexicans than there were Floyd fans. I’m totally being honest, that’s to me, a great indicator of why this is 'The One
A fighter, particularly one as young as Canelo, faces a tremendous amount of pressure to meet that type of hype. It can be subsuming, and it takes a special breed to survive and emerge unscathed on the other side.
It's hard to place too much fault on the Mexican's shoulders for losing to Mayweather. In all, 44 men have now stepped through those ropes—all exuding the confidence of victory—and each has gone down in ignominious defeat.
Mayweather has made a career out of making good and great fighters look ordinary, and in fairness to Canelo, it's quite possible that everyone involved—fans, media, promoters, etc.—placed him in an impossible situation.
Sure, a win would've been a tremendous accomplishment, but the expectations were perhaps unfairly heaped on the shoulders of a young fighter still cutting his teeth on a world-class level and facing an opponent known for being the best at doing exactly what he did on fight night.
In essence, consider this a call to cut him a little slack for going out and doing what 43 men had done before him against the best fighter of this era.
Look at it as an appeal for a second chance.
But also consider it a warning.
There will be no excuses against Angulo, but Canelo seems to be in good spirits and ready to dispense with the talking and start the fighting.
The 31-year-old Angulo is tough, rugged and very powerful. He might be physically stronger than Canelo, and he showcased all of those traits in an exciting fight against the avoided, and terribly awkward, Erislandy Lara last June.
"El Perro" dropped Lara hard in Rounds 4 and 9—impressive given how notoriously difficult the Cuban is to hit—and was in the fight on the cards when it was stopped in Round 10 due to a grotesque injury above his left eye.
He's not Mayweather or Austin Trout—each of Canelo's last two foes preferred to box at distance—and he'll be an easy target to find.
Angulo is a straight slugger. He comes forward all night, throws bombs and receives them in return. His strategy is nothing more or less than attempting to hit you harder than you can hit him.
But he's not nearly as refined as Canelo.
Alvarez is a superior technical and defensive fighter. Angulo doesn't have a ton of technique, and he doesn't possess an iota of defensive prowess.
This fight is built to give the fans a controlled level of excitement.
Angulo is going to bring it. You can bet on that.
He'll attack early and often, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him give Canelo some uncomfortable moments. After all, we still don't know how the cinnamon-haired former champion will handle the best shot from a legitimate 154-pound puncher.
For all their other strengths, neither Mayweather nor Trout are known for the pop on their punches, but Angulo certainly is, and you can't sleep on him.
If you do, he'll put you to sleep. And that would be an epic disaster for Canelo, even more so than the Mayweather debacle.
But no, that's not what's supposed to happen here.
Angulo was carefully chosen for a comeback fight. They don't like each other. He's a fellow Mexican, a tad crude yes, but just exciting enough to make an entertaining fight and then lose.
Canelo's skill should allow him to survive an early onslaught, and pick apart his stronger, but much less refined foe. The smart money says that Angulo will fight and lose a war of attrition, but both guys will emerge with exactly what they need to return to their stations in the sport.
For Angulo, that means continuing to be a tough, dangerous junior middleweight contender who is an easy out for nobody, but just a step below championship level.
But for Canelo, the stakes are far higher.
It means a return to the budding superstar status he enjoyed less than a year ago, and it means redemption from the disappointment of getting shut out in the biggest boxing event in years.
At least that's the plan.
The funny thing about plans is that they often don't work out.
Fans are fickle, and stardom is demanding. The former are more forgiving than you'd think, and the latter less so.
Canelo needs a win to placate his legions of fans who are feeling understandably burned from the disappointment of last September.
And even more than that, he needs a win to prove he can be a superstar and not just the product of a well-oiled hype machine.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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