It has been almost 15 years since he closed the book on his four-fight rivalry with Azumah Nelson by scoring a unanimous decision win at the very venue where Canelo Alvarez and Austin Trout will face off on Saturday. But San Antonio's own Jesse James Leija still looked pretty close to being in fighting shape as he surveyed the crowd that gathered on Alamo Square on Wednesday to watch several of Saturday's fighters go through their paces in a public workout.
The former world champion now trains a stable of boxers -- including Raul Martinez (29-2, 17 KOs), a former Nonito Donaire victim and two-time title challenger, who will face off against Shawn Nichol in a four-rounder on Saturday and who worked up a swift sweat in the humid air while Leija watched carefully. And he is one half of Leija-Battah Promotions, which has staged some local cards over the past year and is co-promoting Saturday's showdown at the Alamodome.
At this particular moment, though, Leija was primarily an admirer of his fellow San Antonio fight fans.
"I am so proud of the fans," he said as he scanned the faces -- by this reporter's guesstimation, a couple hundred of them -- who watched and cheered the workouts, as a microphone-wielding Paulie Malignaggi kept them animated. "You see this crowd? This is just an open workout, on a Wednesday morning when people are at work and at school. You can't do this in Vegas. But here you can do it, and I'm so proud of San Antonio."
Such crowds are reminiscent of the heyday of Oscar De La Hoya, and there was little question which of the main event fighters the throng was most keen to see.
"Alvarez is the next De La Hoya," Leija said. "He's been the next Oscar De La Hoya for the past two years. He just has that superstar quality to him. He has the looks, he has the charisma, he has the talent."
But all of that counts for little when the bell rings, and Leija is one of many who believe that in Trout, the young Mexican has selected an exceptionally dangerous opponent.
"He's in a really, really, really tough fight Saturday," Leija said. "If you asked me to pick a winner, I couldn't tell you right now."
He did, however, offer some unsolicited advice, from one champion to another: "He has to slow Trout down. How do you slow down a fighter who moves around a lot? Body shots. Don't worry about the head. Chop down the body and the head will fall."