By Corey Erdman
LAS VEGAS, NV—When Floyd Mayweather defeated Canelo Alvarez in 2013, it seemed for a moment that the throne Mayweather was set to relinquish as the Face of Boxing would have to be inherited by someone other than Canelo.
From the moment Canelo appeared in an episode of HBO’s 24/7 during one of Mayweather’s fight build-ups, it was clear that the powers that be in boxing, whomever that may constitute, had tabbed the red-headed Mexican as the next transcendent star in the sport. So when the two men eventually fought one another, and Canelo was humbled, pot-shotted and countered in a one-sided route, it was natural to think everyone was wrong.
But as has been documented many times since, the loss to Mayweather was an educational moment for Canelo, and perhaps a more valuable experience than any other in his fighting life.
In the weeks and days leading up to Canelo’s unanimous decision victory over Daniel Jacobs on Saturday night in Las Vegas, and in the 36 minutes during it, it was more apparent than ever just how much he learned from that night, and from Mayweather himself.
As the richest active fighter, and one of the wealthiest athletes on the planet, Canelo can now engage in the ostentatious displays of wealth that only people like he and Floyd, folks with $400+ million to their names can take part in. Whether that’s spending $20,000 on sneakers in a segment for Complex, or flying in a private jet while wearing a Fendi panda-printed jumper that only someone both unfathomably rich and tougher than most everyone alive would dare put on.
He can also leverage demands like the $250,000 per pound rehydration clause which kept Jacobs from ballooning to cruiserweight uninhibited, and ultimately netted him an extra $800,000 or so (on top of his $35 million purse) in fines for the 3.6 pounds over the 170-pound limit Jacobs weighed on Saturday morning.
These days, the MGM Grand, once a virtual department store for The Money Team, is like one giant Canelo tribute on fight week. The gift shops are filled with “No Boxing, No Life” merchandise, outnumbering even the ever-present kitschy Vegas tourist garb. In the three days leading up to Saturday’s bout, it was hard to go anywhere without seeing someone wearing or carrying something or other that netted royalties for Canelo, everything from headbands to beach towels.
Few, if any fighters prior to Mayweather managed to merchandise themselves successfully. Resale sites such as Ebay and Etsy have old boxing apparel listed at astronomical prices, partly because it’s in vogue fashion-wise, but also because of its rarity—there just hasn’t been that much of it made, and most of what has been made through the years has been little more than a silkscreen of the fight poster onto a black Gildan tee.
Canelo has taken the Money Team apparel blueprint to another level, partly because unlike Mayweather, he isn’t playing the role of the heel. Canelo is flashy with his wealth, and he can even be nasty towards his opponents (one source reported that upon being asked about the shoving that occurred between he and Jacobs at the weigh-in, Canelo responded, “he can go f--- his mother”), but his behavior is sold as being rooted in determination and intensity rather than obnoxious rudeness. Wearing a TMT hat can be construed as a tacit or deliberate endorsement of Mayweather and his faults, while a No Boxing, No Life hat doesn’t come with the same negative connotations.
When he steps in the ring, the 2019 version of Canelo has the caliber and diversity of skills required of one wanting to maintain Mayweatheresque heights and dominance. In Jacobs, he encountered a crafty, smooth boxer that five or six years ago was his antidote. But whereas he was ponderous and frozen offensively against Mayweather, and to a lesser extent, Erislandy Lara, Canelo is now capable of not just barreling through with raw aggression, but actually outboxing the boxer.
Canelo managed to do something only a handful of elite fighters in the world can do—apply pressure and also make his opponent miss. The luxury of not having to negotiate between power and speed, aggression and defense is one only the sublimely skilled in the boxing world have.
“He keeps getting better. I went back and watched and there was a sequence where Jacobs through ten punches, and he slipped all of them,” said Bernard Hopkins. “He’s slick. Real slick.”
The fight was far from the barnburners Canelo had with Gennady Golovkin—rather, it was a tactical affair, a tremendous exhibition of boxing skill from both sides. Both fighters’ defensive acumen gave the impression that little was happening, but final punch stats show that it was far from Easter-Barthelemy, it was two fighters throwing punches, but also knowing how to not get hit clean very often.
The ability to win those types of closely-contested chess match-type fights is necessary to be the very best, something Canelo has learned through the years. Skillful boxers like Jacobs have spelled the end of the line for many a hype train through the years. In his past four fights, we’ve seen him do everything from go toe-to-toe with a fearsome puncher, physically dominate a fighter a weight division above him, and out-slick a boxer from the incubator of slick boxers that is Brooklyn.
“Do you really know your ABCs? That’s what fights like this show you. Why do you think GGG is in the position he’s in now? He couldn’t adapt,” said Hopkins.
The armchair prognostications of Canelo’s future bouts are telling in terms of how much he has evolved as a fighter. A few years ago, there was still the impression that Canelo was there to be “exposed,” and was, if not a mirage, not as good as he was famous. Now, a third bout with Golovkin—still a top 5 pound for pound fighter in most people’s eyes—is talked about as a win already in the bank for Canelo, who is likely to open as a solid favorite on Vegas lines. And aside from GGG, likely no middleweight other than Demetrius Andrade presents even an interesting style clash for him.
In the opening stanzas of Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Overstory, he writes: “A good answer must be reinvented many times, from scratch.” The same can be said about the greatest of boxers—constantly finding the answers to the competition and marketplace alike--a task Canelo has accomplished to a degree we seldom have seen before.