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Sunday, June 19, 2011
'Canelo' gives fans something to dream on

By Jason Langendorf

For just a moment, let's go ahead and allow ourselves to get carried away.

In Mexico, and specifically Guadalajara, they haven't bothered to wait for indisputable proof that recently crowned junior middleweight titlist Saul Alvarez is the real deal. At home, they adore "Canelo" unconditionally.

Saul Alvarez
Have we already seen the best of Saul Alvarez, or was Saturday night just a hint of even bigger things to come?
It's not hard to see why. He has a look and style that are unique among Mexican fighters. He's poised and punches like a jackhammer. He comes from a boxing family and is precociously talented, yet has earned his current station by turning pro at age 15 and logging 36 fights before taking a decision over Matthew Hatton to win a vacant WBC belt in March.

Still, you don't have to search high and low for skeptics. Before Saturday night's title defense against the credible and game Brit Ryan Rhodes in Guadalajara, Alvarez's most notable career victory came last year in a knockout of faded former welterweight champ Carlos Baldomir. Even the most rabid supporters of the 20-year-old champ would have to admit that his resume was a tad thin.

And even after Alvarez scored a 12th-round TKO against Rhodes to run his professional record to 37-0-1, questions remain about who Canelo is -- and more importantly, the level of fighter he can be.

A fight staged in Alvarez's hometown, in front of a Mexican boxing crowd that may have no peer, against a challenger 14 years his senior -- that obviously had its benefits. And after Alvarez took control early, landed some power shots that seemingly gave Rhodes pause, then pounded the fight out of him with wilting body shots, we were again left to wonder how Canelo might respond to legitimate adversity. The only thing shorter than poor Harold Lederman's long-awaited stint as a ringside announcer in the undercard bout was the brief moment Rhodes had a shot in this fight.

But let's dream on the kid for a minute. Alvarez was in control from wire to wire. He never got impatient or emotional. He took a few shots from Rhodes -- not many -- but was utterly unfazed. He never blinked when the challenger switched stances, a tactic many believed would give the young champion trouble. Alvarez's approach -- stunning combinations sprinkled with just the right amount of body work -- all but idled Rhodes for roughly half the fight.

Was Canelo tested? Not exactly. But Rhodes (now 45-4, 31 knockouts) was no patsy. Alvarez may not be the most agile or quick-footed fighter you'll see, but his power, accuracy and ring smarts were more than enough to discourage a legitimate contender from mounting any offense of his own Saturday. Will that be enough for the Miguel Cottos, Floyd Mayweathers and Manny Pacquiaos that seem to be in his future?

We'll have to wait to find out. But for now, with Canelo having captured the boxing world's collective attention, why not imagine the possibilities?