- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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LAS VEGAS -- In September, Canelo Alvarez was an undefeated champion. Just a few months earlier he had scored the biggest victory of his career in a title unification match with Austin Trout in front of some 40,000 at the sold-out Alamodome in San Antonio.
Some in Alvarez's camp opposed his pressing for the fight with Trout, but he made them eat their words with a big victory. Those were good times.
Alvarez was as hot as any fighter in boxing. He was an undefeated, unified champion getting the job done inside the ring, and as Mexico's most popular active fighter, he had a massive fan base who cheered his every move.
At 23, Alvarez was on top and his future was very, very bright. Now it is at least mildly cloudy.
He is no longer undefeated, no longer the owner of two world title belts and, regardless of what he says, most likely filled with doubts.
Floyd Mayweather Jr., the pound-for-pound king, took the youngster to school. He stripped Alvarez of his unbeaten status and his belts in a one-sided clinic Sept. 14 in what was the biggest money fight in boxing history.
The fight broke all kinds of records, including biggest pay-per-view gross ($150 million) and biggest live gate ($20 million). The fight also sold 2.2 million pay-per-view units, second-most in history behind Mayweather's showdown with Oscar De La Hoya in 2007.
Now Alvarez (42-1-1, 30 KOs) finds himself in a precarious position -- the comeback fight against a dangerous puncher, 31-year-old Mexican countryman Alfredo Angulo (22-3, 18 KOs), knowing that a second consecutive loss would be debilitating. It would set Alvarez back immensely in terms of his future title aspirations and marketability. In other words, the Canelo brand would be badly wounded.
That is the kind of pressure Alvarez finds himself under as he prepares to face Angulo -- himself also looking to rebound from a 10th-round TKO loss to Erislandy Lara in June -- when they meet in a scheduled 12-round bout that headlines Golden Boy's "Toe To Toe" card Saturday night (Showtime PPV, 9 ET) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., the same site as Alvarez's fight with Mayweather.
"I'm just looking forward to getting back in the ring and getting back on that victory road," Alvarez said.
But what if he loses again?
"This is a very significant fight for Canelo because if he would lose, I think it would be a major step back," Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer said. "It would be more than just a loss. With Mayweather, it was a loss, but in a way it was sort of like, you're 23 years old, you learn, and everybody lost against Mayweather, including his Mexican compatriot Juan Manuel Marquez, who lost every second of every round and still had the biggest fights ahead of him. But this one here, if you go and lose against Angulo, in a way it would be devastating.
"It would be a big setback. A lot of the fans would support him, but it would have implications. He knows he must win."
Publicly, at least, Alvarez seems to be saying all the right things about the Mayweather fight and what went wrong.
"I learned a lot from the Mayweather fight. He's got a style that's very complicated," Alvarez said. "He's got a style that's very intelligent, and he fights intelligently. I think that his whole purpose is just to win, but I learned a lot. I learned a lot about the fight itself inside the ring and outside the ring, as well.
"I consider myself a person with a strong mindset and that's how I moved on from the loss against Mayweather. I always train to win, like everybody else, and unfortunately last September was not the case."
Alvarez said he took solace in the fact that most all-time greats suffered losses and were able to bounce back.
"I'm training to make history and to be one of the best in boxing history. One defeat is not everything," Alvarez said. "The biggest boxers in history have been defeated. For instance, Muhammad Ali was defeated, and he came back and made history. So here I am, making history, moving forward. I fight to make boxing history. That is why I fight."
Said Schaefer, "He really looks at the Floyd fight as a learning experience. He admitted it was frustrating for him. He couldn't fight his style. Somebody else's style was imposed on him, and he couldn't do anything about it. So I think he was frustrated, and he's happy to be here in a fight where he knows he can dictate the fight, and he's gonna be the boss in the ring. He's fired up.
"In a way he felt he let down a lot of people in the Mayweather fight, and he wants to make a point. He is in a must-win situation, and that must-win situation brings additional pressure. He's 23 years young. How is he going to deal with the pressure? He seems to be dealing with it well. That's the surface. Deep down, you don't know what's happening. And then you have Angulo, who has no pressure. If he beats Canelo, it's a big, big win. A Canelo win is expected. A loss would be devastating. For Angulo it's exactly the opposite."
Against Lara, Angulo had great success against the top-notch technical fighter, dropping him twice in an action-packed fight -- not the usual kind of fight Lara is in. However, Angulo suffered a severely swollen orbital area over his eye and a scratched cornea, and retired in the 10th round.
Although some labeled Angulo a quitter, that is seemingly unfair, given how badly his eye was damaged.
"Definitely, he showed tremendous heart," Alvarez said. "He did great. You never know what kind of pain goes through him or went through him and made him decide to stop the fight at that moment. It's unknown. But at that moment, if the fight would've continued or if it would've ended, he was winning and would've won the fight in my eyes."
Said Angulo, "Both fights were very, very different. Canelo is coming off a loss to Floyd Mayweather, the pound-for-pound No. 1 fighter in the world, and in that fight he hardly touched him. My fight, I'm coming off a loss to one of the best fighters in the world, and that is Erislandy Lara, and in a fight that arguably I was winning. It was a very, very entertaining fight, a very exciting fight, and I was possibly winning the fight. So both fights were very, very different."
With Angulo, Alvarez has a much more basic opponent than Mayweather. Angulo is a free swinger who likes to brawl and is easy to hit. He is the antithesis of Mayweather, so it figures to be an exciting fight, and that is what both men are predicting.
"Stylewise, this is a great matchup for the fans and both of us," Angulo said. "Fans are going to get a great fight. I'm ready to chase him or fight him like a true Mexican warrior. I plan to test him like he's never been tested before. I don't think anyone has ever hit Canelo as hard as I'm going to hit him.
"I am happy that I'm facing another Mexican, because as all the fans know, everybody knows when two Mexicans get in the ring, it's a guaranteed show, it's a guaranteed exciting show. And [Saturday], don't expect anything different."
Said Alvarez, "Obviously, he's a fighter that comes forward, that hits hard, that can take a punch, and that's what's going to make the fight live up [to expectations], and that's what the people want to see.
"They want to see action, and that's what they will see [Saturday], a lot of action."
What do you get when you cross a pair of high-octane fighters desperate to get back in the winner's circle? We'll find out Saturday when Canelo Alvarez meets Alfredo Angulo in Las Vegas.