By Jake Donovan
It’s not difficult for a red-headed Mexican to stand out in a crowd in Mexico. Still, it takes more than an identifiable hairdo to become a boxing superstar.
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez has long ago established celebrity status in his native Mexico. The sold-out crowd of 38,000 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas for tonight’s 154 lb. unification bout with unbeaten Austin Trout suggests he’s well on his way to crossover appeal in the United States as well.
“Right now at the age of 22 he's obviously Mexico's champion and current boxing superstar,” suggests Golden Boy Promotions President Oscar de la Hoya, who knows a thing or two about stardom. The boxer-turned-promoter still serves as the highest grossing box office star in the history of the sport, including its highest selling pay-per-view event and largest live gate.
Still, he can’t help but gush over the thought of having in his stable the sport’s next big thing.
“He's going to put boxing back on the map in San Antonio with the event,” de la Hoya insists. “I mean we're well over 35,000 tickets sold (the show has since sold out).”
There is concern that Alvarez is in well over his head against the supremely talented Trout (26-0, 14KO), by far the best opponent the 22-year old has ever faced to this point in his eight year career.
Still, it’s a fight that Alvarez (41-0-1, 30KO) not only agreed to but demanded that his promoters deliver. It wasn’t his first choice for an opponent, but reached a point where it was his only choice once it was agreed upon that he would be fighting on this particular date.
“The team, after the fight with Cotto (when Trout won a unanimous decision in New York City), we had decided that's the fight we wanted,” Alvarez insists. “And yes, we sat down and talked to our promoter, Golden Boy, made the decision that was who we wanted. They got to work and that's where we're at now and we're all happy that we're all in agreement.
“It was brought up that there are other fights and let's take other avenues but I wanted this fight and that's why we're here on this call today and with the fight coming up on the 20th.”
Given the date (4/20, unofficially known as “Weed Day”), there’s a joke to be made that Alvarez must be high to want to take on the unbeaten southpaw boxer who is still very much in the heart of his prime. More so, Trout is battle tested against hostile crowds, including his own title win on the road in Mexico against Rigoberto Alvarez.
Younger brother Saul sat at ringside and watched his sibling get thoroughly outboxed. Such a revenge win was on his mind for two years, though only now allowed to grab the chance to restore family honor.
“]I]t's a blood revenge that I'm looking at,” Alvarez admits. “I'm very motivated for it. I was there at the fight when he beat Rigoberto, my brother. And I felt such an inability to do something but now it's here and I'm very motivated and that is a big factor.”
The fight also represents a chance for Alvarez to silence his critics, most of whom insist his rise to stardom has been aided by carefully selected opposition. The 154 lb. title reign began with an intended catchweight bout against fringe welterweight Matthew Hatton. The 150 lb. catchweight went out the window when Alvarez instead came in at the super welterweight limit for the vacant title fight.
The four pounds would’ve hardly mattered, as the gulf in talent was way too much for Hatton to overcome. This much was proven in knockout wins over Ryan Rhodes, Alfonso Gomez and Kermit Cintron in a breakout 2011 campaign.
His hint at stardom came even before that, when his Dec. 2010 bout with Lovemore N’Dou came with enough demand to convince HBO to air the bout on its Latino feed (via slight delay). Ever since then, his handlers have been selling him as boxing’s next big thing.
Now less than a day away from his sixth overall title defense, Alvarez remains even more humbled than the first time he heard such high praise from the Golden Boy brass.
“It’s an honor,” Alvarez states. “I'm very, very honored to hear someone like Oscar mention me in those words. I love it. It does thrill me but I'd rather the people say it and me continue to do my job inside the ring.”
With that came the motivation to face Trout in this weekend’s main event. It’s one thing to say a fighter looks like the goods. It’s another to prove it.
To Alvarez’ credit, he’s fully prepared to silence the mouths of his critics. Given his age, the fight he’s enduring exceeds even that of the ambitious matchmaking experienced by his boxing mentor.
“It speaks volumes of such a young man,” de la Hoya says of this weekend’s Showtime-televised headliner. “At the age of 22 already wanting to fight the very best. Austin Trout is a very dangerous opponent. Just like every other opponent, yes it's dangerous, but Austin Trout is an undefeated fighter, the WBA champion.”
The bout is his first unification bout, but more importantly one that will help establish true monarchy in a 154 lb. division that has remained largely faceless in the past few years. Pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. constantly teases with a willingness to take on all comers in and around the weight. Instead, he takes on a dangerous welterweight challenge in Robert Guerrero on May 4.
The aforementioned date was also supposed to include Alvarez, in hopes of building momentum towards an eventual future collision with Mayweather, Alvarez instead grew wise to the game, refusing to serve as box office support for the unbeaten welterweight and branching off to his own show.
The box office success for this weekend’s show proves a wise move was made. Now the only question remains whether the right opponent was selected for the occasion.
“This fight is the defining fight for Canelo Alvarez,” de la Hoya insists. “This fight, if everything goes well, him winning this fight will take him over the top and will get the respect from the critics who don't believe. So it's a very important fight, but it's a fight that the people are going to enjoy and I think both fighters are going to really, really fight their hearts out come April 20th.”
Alvarez is fully prepared to come out on top and then – and only then – will he entertain the idea of focusing on the future. For now, his focus is on Trout, proving his detractors wrong and doing all of this in front of packed house for his first ever fight in Texas after a career largely spent on the other side of the border.
“There's always going to be critics but criticism is also constructive and in this particular case it's always your next fight that they're going to criticize or talk about and that's your toughest fight. This particular fight, yes, the one in turn, it is the toughest and we'll silence the critics after,” Alvarez promises.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox