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No professional prizefighter can ever truly be said to have had it easy. The adjective simply doesn't belong in a trade that involves athletic human beings pummeling each other on the body and head. But while each and every pugilist must ultimately carry himself or herself along the path to glory, the path that is laid out for some can be more conducive to success than those faced by others.
A Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., for example, by dint of being the son of his near-deified father, might be headlining pay-per-views in his teens, with barely a recognizable name on his résumé. Conversely, an Ishe Smith, having labored to overcome doubters and self-inflicted wounds, might find himself so moved upon finally winning a title belt at age 34 that he is unable to prevent himself from shedding convulsive tears afterward.
For a while, Austin "No Doubt" Trout must have felt his path was destined to be more like that of Smith than Chavez. An accomplished amateur, he fell just short of a shot at Olympic glory, losing to eventual champion Vanes Martirosyan in a box-off to reach the 2004 Games. He turned professional the following year, but his hometown of Las Cruces, N.M., is no boxing hotbed, and his arrival among the paid ranks went relatively unnoticed. He fought in Topeka, Kan., and Auburn, Ind. He traveled to Canada, Panama and Mexico.
|Austin Trout, right, was meant to be just a footprint in Miguel Cotto's path to Canelo Alvarez. Instead, Trout defeated the king of Madison Square Garden and on Saturday will be facing Alvarez himself.|
It was in Mexico where he secured a title shot for a vacant junior middleweight belt, which he won in 2011 by defeating Rigoberto Alvarez -- brother of the man he will face Saturday night in San Antonio. The world, by and large, shrugged. Worse, the following year it collectively winced as he defeated Delvin Rodriguez in a title defense that almost universally was regarded as -- to put it kindly -- underwhelming.
Then, suddenly, it all changed. Miguel Cotto decided he would beat Trout before facing Canelo Alvarez in a mouthwatering Mexico vs. Puerto Rico clash. And he would do it in front of his most loyal fans, in New York's Madison Square Garden, where he had defeated the likes of Zab Judah and Shane Mosley, where he had gained revenge against his arch-nemesis Antonio Margarito, and where he had never lost.
Except that this time, he did. Trout used his superior reach, footwork and boxing skills to out-jab, outmove, outwork, outbox and outfight Cotto, becoming the first Cotto opponent to leave the Garden ring victorious.
This time people noticed. Suddenly, Trout was the one being spoken of as an opponent for Alvarez, except that his performance against Cotto had been so impressive that Alvarez had to ignore the urgings of his advisers not to take the fight. So now, here Trout is, headlining a major card against a rapidly rising star -- even if he is still very much the B-side of the fight.
Alvarez flew to San Antonio on a private jet. Trout flew Southwest. He wasn't even granted a "pay extra and be first on board" ticket. His boarding group, appropriately enough, was B.
The soft-spoken Trout, 27, takes it all in stride, even if he once more finds himself fighting on his opponent's turf.
"It's all the path I had to take for my legacy to be fulfilled," he told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I want to be a legend in this game. I don't want to be a one-hitter quitter. It was meant to be here, and I'm glad to be here."
In a recent conference call with reporters, Trout (26-0, 14 KOs) explained that boxing in his foes' backyards "never affected me before, and I don't plan on it affecting me again. The crowd can't do anything but cheer for him. They can't even give him water. They can't breathe for him. They can't punch for him. So I'm not worried about the crowd."
Initially, of course, he expects that the bulk of the predicted 36,000 in attendance at the Alamodome will be "going to cheer for everything he does. If he sneezes my way, they'll go and get excited for it. But eventually, as the fight goes on, you'll see the crowd getting quieter and quieter or even switch to my side like they've done before."
Trout has the kind of personality that might switch fans' allegiances to his side even before a punch is thrown. On a humid Wednesday San Antonio morning, a couple of hundred fans skipped work to catch a glimpse of Alvarez during a scheduled public workout. Although Alvarez shook plenty of hands, signed autographs and talked with media, he didn't work out -- unlike Trout, who built up a healthy sweat in a makeshift ring in front of the Alamo. He also took to a microphone to thank the fans for their support, offered his best wishes to those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing and even addressed the Hispanic media in halting Spanish.
It is a sign of his newfound status that many observers regard Trout as an even-money shot to do to Alvarez what he did to Cotto. But he professes to be unconcerned about whether he's favored.
"I've been an underdog a lot," he said to ESPN.com. "It doesn't bother me what they say. I think an underdog's more of a mind state. I'm here to win. I'm here to win decisively. What the odds say, what the people say, isn't going to affect what happens in the ring. But what I've prepared for, the way I'm feeling right now, that's what's going to affect the fight."
If things have changed for him in the aftermath of the Cotto win, they will change even more should he indeed beat Alvarez (41-0-1, 30 KOs). But the man from Las Cruces, while acknowledging that it has been a rapid rise, is keeping his feet firmly on the ground, expecting that he will have to continue to work his way forward one step at a time, the way he always has.
"Looking back, you're like, 'Wow, look where we are now,' " Trout said Wednesday. "That's why I like that song [by Drake], 'Started from the bottom, now we're here.' I'm here to stay. The respect, we're still fighting to get it. But as long as we keep being a humble champion and fighting the best -- like any champion should -- the respect will come, sooner or later."