by David P. Greisman
Canelo Alvarez cannot lose — well, he can lose and probably will lose, so long as Floyd Mayweather’s tremendous advantages in speed, skill, and experience against top-notch opposition remain enough to overcome the fact that Alvarez is heavier and much younger.
A victory over Mayweather would be incredible, of course.
He would have topped the best boxer in the sport today and one of the best of this generation to lace up a pair of gloves.
He would add onto his already substantial stardom, increasing his stature in the United States and transforming from celebrity to legend in his native Mexico.
He would earn millions of dollars more for a presumptive immediate rematch.
That is why Alvarez has signed for a Sept. 14 fight against Mayweather, sharing a main event with a man who by far will be the toughest challenge yet for a titleholder who is just 22 years old, soon to be 23. Alvarez has fought 43 times, which is one less pro bout than the 36-year-old Mayweather, and he has become an attraction on both sides of the border.
It is this fight, though, that could mean everything to Alvarez’s career, that could do all of the above should he come out triumphant.
This fight will mean little to his career, however, should he be defeated.
That might be seen as a strange conclusion to reach — one we will come back to later — in this era in which fight fans wait with glee for the moment in which a hyped prospect is undone, when a touted contender has his momentum screech to a halt, or when a paper titleholder finally meets his match.
Alvarez, after all, was fed a steady stream of undersized, over-the-hill or simply outclassed challengers as he was being presented to American boxing viewers via premium cable broadcasts and pay-per-view undercards.
He beat former lightweight title challenger Jose Miguel Cotto; knocked out 39-year-old former welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir; outpointed Matthew Hatton; stopped Ryan Rhodes, who was nearly 35 and had fought as a pro for more than 16 years; took out Alfonso Gomez and Kermit Cintron; and then punished 40-year-old Shane Mosley.
It was only last September that he was supposed to step up against better opposition. A fight with Paul Williams was called off after Williams crashed his motorcycle, his injuries leading to paralysis and the end of his career. A bout with James Kirkland didn’t happen due to — depending on what you believe — Kirkland either still needing to recover from a prior injury or him wanting more money than he should reasonably demand. A match with Victor Ortiz fell through when Ortiz had his jaw broken in an upset loss against Josesito Lopez. And so Canelo fought the much-smaller Lopez, winning easily.
There wasn’t much more to his résumé beyond the above when Alvarez had his name floated for a fight with Mayweather. He is an attraction, though, and he is a junior middleweight titleholder who tends to be closer to the light heavyweight limit just 30 or so hours after he steps on the scales. This was enough to make him a possible foe for Floyd. That alone meant Alvarez didn’t need to face fellow beltholder Austin Trout this past April. He could have settled for lesser opposition, settled for less money, appeared on the undercard of Mayweather’s May 4 pay-per-view, and helped set up their September showdown.
But Mayweather didn’t want to give Alvarez any guarantees. And Alvarez didn’t want to make any sacrifices without those guarantees, not when he could bring in tens of thousands of fans, earn millions of dollars and headline a card on his own. Instead, Alvarez did go on to meet Trout, beat him and earn a spot at the top of his division.
It is easy to question just how meaningful that ranking is. Trout, despite his world title, also had not beaten anyone of note until he won a decision over Miguel Cotto last December. Alvarez is in a division where there are many young contenders jockeying for position. It is difficult to declare a man as truly being at the head of his class until he has either dethroned the reigning king or fended off the others seeking that same stature.
Nevertheless, Alvarez’s accomplishments do allow him to come into this Mayweather fight with legitimate esteem. He is ranked No. 1 by Cliff Rold of BoxingScene.com, No. 1 by Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, and No. 1 by a group of writers calling themselves the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. “The Ring” Magazine has labeled Canelo as its champion.
He seems ripe for a monumental deflation, for Mayweather to exploit his limitations and expose him in a manner that many have anticipated — and that some have even desired.
Yet even if he loses, and loses badly, the only consequences beyond physical punishment will be the recording of his first defeat, and the realization that he is not as great as Floyd Mayweather.
There are times in which a fighter will lose to someone far better than him and subsequently be cast aside. The heavyweight division, in particular, has seen a cast of anonymous and ignominious challengers last 12 rounds or less and then never be heard from again.
This will not be the case if (and perhaps when) Canelo Alvarez loses to Floyd Mayweather.
Mayweather will have no more than four fights left before the end of his deal with Showtime and his expected retirement. He will likely go on to face others at welterweight, be they foes ranked at 147 pounds or rising up from 140. Perhaps he will take on another junior middleweight.
Alvarez will not have his world titles anymore, but it will not be long before he is back fighting for a belt, back on a major network in the United States, back pulling in significant ratings in Mexico, back to earning millions, and back to being groomed to take over as the next major pay-per-view headliner after Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao leave the sport.
If he wants an excuse, he can point to the 152-pound catch-weight that he has agreed to, claiming that losing an additional two pounds weakened him.
He won’t need any excuses. There is no shame in losing, not when he will be just 23, not when he is still improving despite the number of fights on his record, not when he will have a chance to prove himself against others in the 154-pound weight class — and not when that loss comes against this particular future Hall of Fame inductee
Nearly every boxer loses eventually. That loss usually marks a turning point, signifying that a fighter has grown too old or still has growing to do, that a fighter has either reached his limit or is approaching the end.
The only thing that a loss to Mayweather would mean for Alvarez is that he is like the rest who have faced Floyd.
It is a can’t-lose scenario for Canelo Alvarez, even if he does lose.
Even if he’s defeated, he should not be deflated.
The 10 Count will return next week.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]