- Dan Rafael, Boxing
- 0 Shares
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez has already achieved so much in his career. The 22-year-old won a vacant junior middleweight world title at age 20, has made five dominant title defenses and became Mexico's most popular active fighter.
But if there has been one thing for critics to pick at like a nasty scab, it's the level of opponents Alvarez has faced. Yes, Canelo has dominated his fights, packed in crowds -- in Mexico and in the United States -- and generated millions of dollars. But none of that obscures the fact that he has yet to face an elite opponent, or even a serious contender.
His title win came against Matthew Hatton, the younger brother of former junior welterweight champ Ricky Hatton. Matthew Hatton is a smaller man and was a massive long shot who really had no business being in a world title fight, especially at 154 pounds.
The opponents Alvarez has defended against haven't exactly been a murderer's row either: faded contenders Ryan Rhodes and Alfonso Gomez, a shot Kermit Cintron, an even more shot 40-year-old Shane Mosley and Josesito Lopez, a junior welterweight.
Some critics have savaged Alvarez for his less-than-stellar opponent selection. He has heard and read the comments.
But if you ask Canelo, he wants to fight everybody. He has been calling out Floyd Mayweather Jr., the pound-for-pound king, for the past year. His team, however, has been very careful with him. Nobody wants to put the golden goose at too much risk, unless it's for the massive money of a Mayweather fight.
But Alvarez has grown tired of the critics. He wants to prove himself. So when his team proposed possible opponents for his next fight, such as easy-to-hit brawler Alfredo Angulo, Alvarez said no.
He wanted a real test. In fact, he insisted on it. And now Alvarez has one in what amounts to his moment of truth.
Alvarez will meet fellow titleholder Austin Trout to unify their 154-pound belts Saturday night (Showtime, 10 ET, with preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme beginning at 8 ET) before an expected sellout crowd approaching 40,000 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
"There's always going to be critics, but criticism is also constructive, and in this particular case, it's always your next fight that they're going to criticize or talk about, and that's your toughest fight," Alvarez said through a translator. "This particular fight, yes, the one in turn, it is the toughest, and we'll silence the critics after."
In the co-feature, lightweight prospects Omar Figueroa Jr. (20-0-1, 16 KOs) of Weslaco, Texas, and Puerto Rico's Abner Cotto (16-0, 7 KOs), Miguel Cotto's cousin, clash in a scheduled 10-round bout as each of them takes a step up in competition.
Alvarez's decision to pursue a fight with Trout came as a surprise, given the difficult, technical southpaw style that Trout possesses. Another superstar fighter discovered the hard way just how tough an out Trout is.
Puerto Rican star and former champion Miguel Cotto, with this spring date on the line to face Alvarez, took on Trout in December and was humbled in a decision loss, and an Alvarez-Cotto fight went by the wayside. Cotto had turned down a rematch with Manny Pacquiao to face Trout for many millions of dollars less, and he paid the price.
Now Alvarez (41-0-1, 30 KOs) finds himself in a similarly precarious position, because he looms as a possible Mayweather opponent as long as they keep winning. But Mayweather be damned, Alvarez wanted this fight with Trout (26-0, 14 KOs), 27, of Las Cruces, N.M., and is willing to take the risk even though Golden Boy Promotions, which promotes Alvarez, didn't want to make the fight.
"The team, after [Trout's fight] with Cotto, we had decided that's the fight we wanted," Alvarez said. "And yes, we sat down and talked to our promoter, Golden Boy, made the decision that was who we wanted. They got to work, and that's where we're at now and we're all happy that we're all in agreement."
Golden Boy made the match with Trout, but it wasn't the fight the promoter wanted to do.
"It was brought up that there are other fights and let's take other avenues," Alvarez said, "but I wanted this fight, and that's why we're here."
Alvarez insisted on the match for two reasons: Along with his great desire to prove that he can beat a top opponent, he is also seeking a measure of family revenge. Trout won a vacant title in 2011 in Mexico by easily outpointing Rigoberto Alvarez, Canelo's older brother.
"Because he beat my brother and took his belt, this fight has more meaning," Alvarez said. "It's personal, because he took something from us. After I win this fight, I'm going to get that belt and I'm going to give it to my brother."
That family dynamic hasn't even entered Trout's mind, he said.
"It's all pretty much a coincidence, to be honest," Trout said. "His brother had a belt. He has a belt. It's not like I'm gunning for the Alvarez family. I'm not trying to be the Alvarez destroyer or anything like that. But if another one of the brothers does catch a belt, well then, he'd be on my hit list too."
Alvarez's will to defy his team and demand the fight with Trout impressed Oscar De La Hoya, Golden Boy's president, who during his fighting career took on all comers.
De La Hoya dared to be great, and he admires that Alvarez is doing the same.
"It speaks volumes of such a young man -- at the age of 22 -- already wanting to fight the very best," De La Hoya said. "Austin Trout is a very dangerous opponent. Just like every other opponent, yes it's dangerous, but Austin Trout is an undefeated fighter."
De La Hoya said that although others involved in the decision-making process of choosing whom Alvarez would fight were against the match with Trout -- including Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, company matchmakers Robert Diaz and Eric Gomez, Alvarez manager Chepo Reynoso and trainer Eddy Reynoso -- he supported it.
"You're right, people were worried, were concerned, but one of those people wasn't me," De La Hoya said. "I know Canelo's abilities. I know his style. I know that he loves fighting southpaws. But it speaks volumes. At the age of 22, if you compare Saul's career to anybody else's, anybody else who's elite, they would never take this chance or this type of fight ever, including myself, including a Floyd Mayweather, including anybody. This is a test that he wanted, and we're obviously hoping for the best."
Alvarez at least has a rematch in his back pocket should he lose. Trout, also an unbeaten titleholder, doesn't have that luxury as the B-side of the fight.
"The rematch clause is only one way," Trout said. "When I win, the clause could be in effect, but if he wins, they go about their business. It shows to me a lack of confidence in their fighter. My team believes in me 100 percent against anybody.
"And I know, as you know, De La Hoya and Richard Schaefer tried to not make this fight happen at every turn. When they changed the fight from Vegas to San Antonio, there was talk of Angulo being their pony, but that's when Canelo put his foot down, like a champ, and said, 'No, I want Trout.' They tried hard not to make a fight, but I wonder how they must feel for him knowing that your team doesn't have the utmost confidence in you. I don't know that feeling. My team believes in me."
Even with a rematch clause to offer Canelo some protection, Trout still gives him his due for not only taking the fight but also for insisting on it.
"Some people don't want to fight Austin Trout," he said. "But when his people didn't want him to fight me, then he made his demands known and, as a hungry, true champion should, he called out for the best. So there's much respect to him for that and for putting his foot down and making that happen.
"And I just thank the fans as well, because I think it was the outcry from the fans that put the pressure to make him make those demands."
Canelo Alvarez, 22, has already built a small boxing empire -- but on the backs of retreads and smaller foes. He decided enough was enough and chose Austin Trout as the fighter against whom he'd make his stand.