By Mitch Abramson
Now is a convenient time to pile on Floyd Mayweather Jr.
From getting humbled by a woman in a London barber shop to being ridiculed for his safety-first style, Mayweather has taken more hits outside the ring than inside in recent weeks.
His decision victory against Marcos Maidana last month was met with a shrug of the shoulders from the public, since most saw it coming.
His comments in support of Ray Rice were eviscerated; his history of domestic violence against women was held up for public consumption before he fought Maidana, further sullying his reputation.
So perhaps sensing weakness, the immensely popular Mexican boxer Saul (Canelo) Alvarez chose to pounce on Mayweather this week, saying he was getting ready to go head-to-head with him.
No, Canelo doesn’t want to fight Mayweather again.
Instead, he wants to replace him as the sport’s go-to-guy and top attraction.
And he has a systematic process to do so that involves making use of HBO’s star-churning apparatus and taking over dates that Mayweather usually boxes on and that other stars usually stay clear of.
Making the claim that a Mexican should be fighting on Mexican holidays, Alvarez said he intends to fight on the first weekend in May on Cinco De Mayo weekend and on the Saturday of Mexican Independence Weekend in September- dates usually reserved for Mayweather.
But Alvarez doesn’t care.
Alvarez, with his squeaky-clean image, and his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, are talking as if it’s entirely possible the end of Mayweather’s reign over the sport could be near.
(And it has nothing to do with Mayweather’s claim that he’s retiring when his six-fight deal with Showtime is over next year.)
So while he may not have been able to overcome Mayweather in the ring when they met in 2013 in the most profitable Pay-Per-View fight of all time, losing a majority decision that really wasn’t that close.
Alvarez, 24, has plans to take him down outside the ring.
“Saul Alvarez is the present and the future,” De La Hoya said on Tuesday at a luncheon at HBO’s Manhattan offices to celebrate Alvarez’s recent decision to leave Showtime and sign a long-term deal with HBO.
At the same luncheon, HBO Sports President Ken Hershman took the opportunity to praise Alvarez while also pouring a little dirt on Mayweather’s legacy, continuing a theme that would hold true for the entire meeting.
“At 24 years old, Canelo Alvarez has established himself as the future superstar of the sport,” Hershman said. “He’s come back to HBO because he wants to make history. For us it was not only refreshing, but also compelling to hear a fighter talk about not just making money but making history.”
De La Hoya said that fans were starting to tire of the idea of Mayweather ever facing Manny Pacquiao and were now looking forward to seeing Alvarez facing some of the biggest names in the sport instead, such as Miguel Cotto, a possible reality next year.
“All his fights he doesn’t take a risk,” Alvarez said of Mayweather. “He fights 10 percent of every round and then uses his experience to survive. He’s not exciting.”
Of facing Mayweather again, Alvarez dismissed the idea, saying, “It’s not important to me.”
Besides, Alvarez has a better way to beat Mayweather that doesn’t involve getting hit by him.
The first phase in assuming Mayweather’s place atop the sport took place last week when Alvarez left Showtime.
Alvarez (44-1-1, 31 knockouts) had grown tired of playing second banana to Mayweather Jr. at Showtime, where Mayweather, 37, is in the final leg of a lucrative six-fight deal and holds considerable sway.
With De La Hoya taking control of Golden Boy Promotions after former CEO Richard Schaefer resigned in June, Alvarez felt compelled to move across the street, signing a long-term deal last week with HBO and escaping Mayweather's shadow in the process.
“Nothing personal,” Alvarez said through a translator of why he left Showtime. “I didn’t want to be second to nobody and I think that [HBO] offered that. And they’re going to focus on me. My goal in boxing is to be No. 1.”
Schaefer had a good relationship with Showtime boxing head Stephen Espinoza and steered his fighters there, forming one of the basis for the Cold War with Top Rank that prevented a number of intriguing fights from happening, including Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao.
Now with Schaefer stepping down and De La Hoya taking over, Golden Boy is open to doing business with Top Rank.
But first, Alvarez will face shopworn Joshua Clottey, 36, on Dec.6 on regular HBO in a fight that will be announced next week and then perhaps Cotto in May of 2015 on HBO Pay-Per-View in perhaps the biggest fight of the year. Cotto is promoted by Top Rank.
De La Hoya is suing Schaefer for $50 million in damages in a case that is being held before an arbitrator that has recently “hit a wall,” De La Hoya said on Tuesday, without going into detail.
Alvarez, a junior middleweight, fought his last five fights on Showtime, including the bout with Mayweather.
Before then, Alvarez fought on HBO seven times.
Showtime declined comment for the story when reached.
“I think what’s happening now is that people are now starting to talk about not Pacquiao-Mayweather,” De La Hoya said of the public’s growing impatience with that fight. “They’re starting to talk about Cotto-Canelo. It’s not the second best fight to be made. Now it’s becoming the best fight to be made. So something’s happening. People are getting tired of asking and asking [for Mayweather to fight Pacquiao]. Whereas here with Cotto and Canelo- if you ask you’re going to get because both fighters want it.”
The next phase of the plan is to drive Mayweather from his comfort zone.
Alvaraz said he intends to fight on dates usually reserved for Mayweather on Showtime- on the first weekend in May on Cinco De Mayo weekend and on the Saturday of Mexican Independence Weekend in September- both Mexican holidays.
“That’s the plan we have,” Alvarez said. “They’re Mexican dates and we want to recoup them and take over those dates. Those are important dates. The Mexicans want to see a Mexican fight. It’s a Mexican party.”
If Mayweather sticks to those dates as well, it would set up a high-stakes game of Chicken in which the networks wait to see who blinks first in an effort to make the other reschedule.
It would be pure madness for both networks to put their top fighters in dueling PPV dates on the same day.
Yet, HBO seemed open to it, if only to accommodate Alvarez.
“We have an agreement with Golden Boy Promotions, so if they put a fight together on a date, it’s now our job to apply all of our resources to getting the fight distributed on the date they choose,” said HBO PPV czar Mark Taffet. “So we would go forward into the industry. I think what Oscar and Canelo realize is that if you want to put a PPV fight on a particular date, you bring a fight that the industry and the fans without a doubt are interested in and they’re talking about the right fight to put on that date.”
A publicist for Mayweather did not immediately return an email for comment.
De La Hoya sounded as if he doesn’t care if he gets to work with Mayweather again as a promoter, since the clash over dates is likely to upset Mayweather. Golden Boy Promotions has promoted his 10 previous fights.
“It’s no secret that Golden Boy has been promoting his last nine, 10 fights for a reason because we know how to promote,” De La Hoya said. “We have a machine there that knows how to promote. My focus is Saul 100%. So whatever he asks I have to do. Whatever relationship if it’s ruined or not- I have the tunnel vision right now with Saul. He’s a Golden Boy fighter and I’m going to do whatever he says.”
De La Hoya also said that he and Showtime head Stephen Espinoza were not at odds and had mended their rift, despite a public perception to the opposite.
Espinoza has lashed out at De La Hoya in public comments for saying that De La Hoya reneged on a deal he claimed was in place to have Alvarez sign with Showtime.
“I don’t know if you’ve read but Stephen is now saying it’s nothing personal, it’s just business,” De La Hoya said of the so-called rift. “So I’m hoping that we can move on because we have some business to do. Like I said, we have fighters who have been fighting with Stephen [on Showtime] and I’m not going to let Golden Boy fighters be on the shelf for a long time. They have to fight so we have to have to start having discussions on possible dates in the near future [with Showtime].”
The only Golden Boy fighter signed exclusively to Showtime is Amir Khan, De La Hoya said.
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.