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Monday, September 9, 2013
What if Canelo Alvarez wins?

By Nigel Collins
ESPN.com

"When you lose for the first time, you don't just question your talent, you question yourself." --Middleweight contender Michael Olajide after losing to Frank Tate



Halfway into the third round, the raucous noise inside Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall had been reduced to an uneasy murmur of incredulity. It was as if the gathering of 11,332 had been struck dumb by the spectacle unfolding in front of their eyes.

But there was no denying that a 43-year-old warhorse was literally boxing circles around the 26-year-old middleweight champion, doing pretty much as he pleased and making it look easy. That his foil had entered the fight as a 4-1 favorite meant absolutely nothing.

On that particular night in 2008, Bernard Hopkins was as close to perfection as it gets, while Kelly Pavlik was totally flummoxed, the victim of exquisite displays of textbook boxing delivered by a true master of the art.

The boxing landscape looked entirely different the morning after Hopkins' unexpected triumph. Pavlik was still the middleweight champ, because it was a non-title fight, but everything else had been turned upside down and inside out. Dreams were smashed and plans were scrapped. His undefeated record was gone forever.

How bad was it? It marked the end of Pavlik's career as a potential superstar, and it seemingly broke his fighting spirit. He was never the same.

Not all upsets have such far-reaching consequences, but they typically ruffle the status quo to one extent or another. It all depends on the stature of the fighters, but the stakes couldn't be higher than when the consensus No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world is one of the participants.

What then, should we expect if Canelo Alvarez confounds the pundits and beats Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday? Would the boxing world implode? Would the mainstream media finally be correct when it declared boxing dead for the umpteenth time? The more you think about it, the more intriguing the prospect becomes.

If Alvarez wins a close or contentious decision, the drums would start beating for a money-spinning rematch before the fighters even exited the ring ...

Obviously, a Mayweather flameout would shake things up far more than Hopkins trouncing Pavlik. Still, an Alvarez victory very well could be a positive for the sport, at least in the near future. In the long haul, however, the situation might not be quite so rosy.

An awful lot depends on the manner in which Mayweather suffers his first defeat. There are a number of hypothetical scenarios in play here and even more theoretical outcomes:

If Alvarez wins a close or contentious decision, the drums would start beating for a money-spinning rematch before the fighters even exited the ring, as would the social-media war waged by their faithful minions. The story would dominate boxing's news cycle until "The One" gave way to "The Two" (or some other equally absurd moniker) and the first punch of the rematch was thrown.

A knockout loss, unless some sort of legitimate controversy was involved, would be an entirely different story. Prior to the fight, it would have been the most unthinkable outcome, but also the one with the greatest potential for Mayweather-style melodrama. The mind boggles trying to imagine Uncle Roger's postfight summation.

It wouldn't necessarily mean the end of their rivalry. It's not unusual for a loser's pride and determination to propel him into a rematch, regardless of how badly he'd been beaten.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.
A Mayweather-Alvarez trilogy is not out of the question, but only if Alvarez wins one of the first two.

"It was like I had climbed up a steep flight of stairs and fallen down halfway," Joe Louis said after his unexpected knockout at the hands of Max Schmeling. "I wanted a return match with Schmeling as soon as possible. I could taste the blood."

If, under any circumstances, there's a rematch and Mayweather wins, especially in another tight struggle, a trilogy is not out of the question. If, on the other hand, Alvarez also wins the rematch and Mayweather retires (again), boxing's revenue stream could be in jeopardy.

The hard truth is that Alvarez's rapidly growing popularity has not reached the point where it would compensate for Mayweather's departure. Mayweather is the only black fighter since the downfall of Mike Tyson to attract a large and loyal following among African-Americans. Losing that demographic would be a serious blow to the industry at large.

It would be a similar situation to when Muhammad Ali finally was allowed to go to pasture. He had boasted that boxing would die when he quit, but it didn't. Sugar Ray Leonard was waiting in the wings, ready to pick up the slack and usher in a new era of prosperity. But who among today's African-American boxers could successfully assume such a demanding role?

It's possible that Mayweather copycat Adrian Broner could fill the void, but don't count on it. Broner's shtick is already getting tiresome, and he has yet to prove he's even remotely as good as his idol.

Besides, it takes time to become a star bright enough to attract the attention of the crossover audiences needed to create a monetary bonanza. Mayweather, for example, was a pro for more than 10 years before he rocketed into the PPV stratosphere, thanks to his record-shattering fight with Oscar De La Hoya.

Boxing is fortunate that the fastest growing demographic in the United States is Hispanic, a culture steeped in boxing lore. It was Latino fans who kept boxing chugging along when Don King -- desperate for a meal ticket, with Tyson incarcerated -- rescued Julio Cesar Chavez from undercard limbo and made him the star he always deserved to be.

The importance of the Latino market has grown tremendously since then and will continue to do so, but nothing is gained by trading one group of fans for another. The sport would be much healthier if both Hispanic and black fans have fighters they are passionate about and eager to support.

The ramification of an Alvarez victory also would have far-reaching effects beyond the business side of boxing. For instance, refiguring the pound-for-pound rankings certainly would be a perplexing conundrum. Who would replace Mayweather at the top? Alvarez? Andre Ward? Juan Manuel Marquez?

It's also fascinating to ponder how Mayweather would react to defeat. Would he take it like a man or throw a hissy fit? And how would he soothe his sorrows? Hang out at strip clubs and betting windows, or stay home and chill with his family?

More significantly, from a boxing point of view, is whether Little Floyd's monumental ego could survive intact. There's a chance his confidence would be so shaken that he'd never again be the extraordinary fighter we have been fortunate enough to follow since he emerged from the 1996 Olympic Games with a bronze medal around his neck.

After all, Pavlik is far from the only boxer to come unraveled following his first loss. Gerry Cooney is a prime example, as are Jermain Taylor, Jeff Lacy and Michael Grant. But the good ones, especially the really good ones, always bounce back.

"All the great ones lose, including Ray Robinson," said Bobby McQuiller, a wise old trainer who worked with headliners from Sandy Saddler to Barry McGuigan. "That's what a champion's heart is all about. You've gotta say, 'I'm gonna get him the next time.' "

It would be fitting if Mayweather finally faced boxing's ultimate challenge in the twilight of his incredible career. And if he comes out a winner, maybe then he will understand how overcoming adversity lifts a fighter's legacy to even greater heights than an undefeated record and a stack of hundred-dollar bills as tall as the MGM Grand.

Ironically, it is an opportunity that only an Alvarez victory could provide.