Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, at the age of 20, is one of the biggest stars in boxing in Mexico. He gets rock-star treatment throughout the country, dates a Miss Mexico winner and his fights are "must see TV" in his native land.
Considering the passion for boxing in Mexico, it is truly remarkable that someone so young has reached such lofty heights of popularity at such a young age. The real question, though, is: can he stay there? Is Canelo the "real deal"?
This much we know - the kid can hit. He KO'd Carlos Baldomir last September. While Baldomir is clearly past his prime, it is nonetheless impressive to KO a man who had never been knocked out before.
Baldomir had previous bouts with men like Clottey, Mayweather, Forrest and Gatti so he represented a legitimate early test for Alvarez, but a knockout win was a bonus for Canelo.
In a post-fight interview, Ryan Rhodes, a 34-year old veteran, commented on the power behind Canelo's body shots, lending credence to the idea that Alvarez brings power to the ring.
One of the more impressive aspects of the win over Rhodes was the poise and control that Alvarez displayed. He was methodical in taking Rhodes apart and didn't get carried away by emotion or a misplaced drive for an early knockout.
Younger fighters are especially prone to falling into a trap of believing they must do something spectacular and leave themselves vulnerable as a result. Older fighters tend to recognize that the spectacular is best when it comes in the natural flow of the fight. Canelo was a young man with an old soul's poise in the Rhodes fight.
Cus D'Amato was a famous proponent of head movement as an effective form of defense in boxing. Mike Tyson, in his younger days, was deceptively effective at using head movement to avoid punishing blows.
In the Rhodes fight, it was clear that significant training time went into getting Canelo to move his head. Compared to previous fights, he made a huge step forward defensively simply from constant head movement. If he continues in this vein, it will help to shore up a defense that has appeared shaky.
Alvarez will never be mistaken for a young Ali floating across the ring. He's slow-footed and probably just a fraction better than plodding in the ring. That's not going to change significantly over time, and he can probably get away with it since he is going to campaign at 154 and above.
What he won't get away with, though, is footwork that occasionally leaves him off balance. He's susceptible to knockdowns not because he is hurt, but simply because he can be caught off balance.
To be sure, his footwork is improving but it has to continue to improve if the young Mexican is going to fulfill his promise.
What is Canelo's Future?
While Alvarez throws hard, his hand speed is average, at best, for his weight class. To date, he hasn't been matched against fighters with good-to-great hand speed but it has to happen eventually.
When it does, it is going to be a real test for Alvarez to see if he can land the thudding body shots that will slow down an opponent or if he will be effectively paralyzed by an opponent who can get his punches off quicker.
While the head movement improved his defense, Canelo still has some fairly major defensive holes. Most notably, he is not consistently quick to get his hands back to a defensive position, especially after throwing hooks. There are times when his left hand lingers at his waist after throwing and he is vulnerable to an overhand right at that point.
If he doesn't learn to consistently get the left back up, some canny fighter will willingly absorb the body blow to land the right to Canelo's exposed chin.
At this point, we really do not have a sense of Alvarez's chin or his heart. Inevitably, he is going to end up in a war where both will be tested and these factors will play a huge role in determining whether Alvarez has true greatness inside of him.
Until then, though, we are seeing a high-quality fighter who appears to be making strides towards improvement with every fight. The pieces appear to be in place for a special fighter and, until he proves otherwise, the hype around Saul Alvarez appears justified.