Where one star falls, another one is sure to rise.
But if there was ever a case in boxing where it absolutely seemed as if the sport could use a young star rising up to (and even past) his full potential, it is so now with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
No phonies please. Boxing needs Alvarez to be the real deal.
At age 24 from Mexico, Alvarez is the type of fighter who could take the torch from this era’s premier superstar, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and boldly carry it into the future. The flame might not burn quite as bright when he does, but he sure seems like the type to climb higher up the mountain with it than his predecessor did.
Alvarez’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, would know a thing or two about boxing superstardom. Before Mayweather ruled the world, De La Hoya was the biggest and brightest star in the sport, the torchbearer for boxing.
The retired fighter-turned-promoter told Bleacher Report he sees a lot of himself in Alvarez, particularly the young star’s old-school mentality when it comes to selecting opponents.
Like De La Hoya, Alvarez wants to fight the very best.
“People respect that,” said De La Hoya. “People admire that.”
Say what you will about De La Hoya outside of the ring or even as a promoter, but the man was a tremendous fighter who pushed himself against the best competition of his time. Long before Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao was all the world could talk about, there was De La Hoya’s superfight against Felix Trinidad in 1999.
The difference? De La Hoya, the A-side back then—the one Mayweather seems so diligent in proving to people he is today—chose to fight Trinidad when both men were undefeated and in their prime. After dominating the action early, a tactical error by De La Hoya let Trinidad back in the fight.
Trinidad defeated De La Hoya by majority decision. But he does not regret fighting Trinidad, or any of the other great boxers he faced over his long career.
“When I was fighting, I understood that I was fighting and might possibly lose to a great fighter. I understood that, and I accepted that. In today’s era, and I call it the Mayweather era...he would rather protect the undefeated record and think about the business first instead of thinking about the legacy, instead of thinking about pride and being the best and going up against the best.”
De La Hoya said Alvarez was more like himself than he is Mayweather. Boxing could use a guy like that about now.
“It’s exciting and it’s fun because it makes the job that much easier. You really need no promotion for Canelo. He sells himself, and the fact that he wants to fight the very best makes my job even easier. I sometimes have to hold him back from himself.”
After losing a majority decision to Mayweather in 2013, a fight he took against the best boxer in the world when he was just 23 years old, Alvarez rebounded by dominating and stopping slugger Alfredo Angulo in 10 rounds.
He then jumped into the ring with crafty southpaw Erislandy Lara, a sharp-fisted mover who is the exact type of difficult challenge a young fighter is usually steered by handlers to avoid. But Alvarez demanded the fight.
“It was a dangerous opponent, one that no one else wanted to fight. He’s never going to make you look good. But that’s what makes Canelo so great. He was up for the challenge.”
Alvarez took the lessons he learned from the Mayweather loss, particularly that one should not try to outbox a great boxer, and applied them to the tune of winning a hard-earned split decision over Lara. He’s now set to face dangerous puncher and all-action mauler James Kirkland on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston. HBO will televise the fight live.
De La Hoya said his fighter chose Kirkland after a proposed bout against middleweight champion Miguel Cotto fell through precisely because, unlike Mayweather, Alvarez wants to make the fights that boxing fans want to see.
If a Pacquiao-type ever comes along for Alvarez, fans will not have to go through six long years of shenanigans before the fight is actually made. If anything, history suggests Alvarez would try to make the fight too soon.
“Canelo wants to go out there and entertain his fans. He wants to give the fans bang for their buck. I mean it’s fighting. People call it boxing, but people want to see fights. They want to see action. They want to see knockouts.”
And that’s why boxing could really use a fighter like Alvarez right about now. As Mayweather is set to ride off into the sunset with a pristine record and mounds of money, Alvarez seems the type to bring boxing back from Mayweather’s self-centered exhibitionism to good, old-fashioned entertainment.
The best versus the best. That’s what Alvarez seems to be about, and De La Hoya thinks it, too.
“I think once Pacquiao and Mayweather are behind us, we go into a new era with Canelo, and I think a lot of people are really excited because boxing will go back to its roots and people will be able to watch the best fight the best.”
That’s right, boxing fans. You don’t have to cheer for someone because he's good at bilking you out of your hard-earned money. You don’t have to buy shirts and hats that tell people the fighter you like is really, really rich. You don't have to pretend you like the defensive style of a fighter just because he's rich and famous and has lots of followers on Instagram.
No, you can just like fighters for the fights—that they beat the best, that they lose to the best and that they fight the best and don’t make you wait six years to see it.
“But that’s what's so great about Canelo,” said De La Hoya. “And the fact that he just turned 24 years old. You know? May 2 we saw the past, but May 9 we will see the future.”
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.