Mayweather-Alvarez, a must-see fight

Without Manny Pacquiao, this is the next biggest fight in boxing

Originally Published: September 11, 2013
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- When Floyd Mayweather Jr. defeated Oscar De La Hoya in the 2007 megafight that set every box-office record in boxing history -- including a massive, record-shattering 2.44 million pay-per-view buys for some $136 million in gross revenue -- some thought it was the end of an era.

What would possibly be the next superfight that could transfix the nation, as well as much of the world?

Two years later it was sitting right there, so close to being made that fight fans could feel it: Mayweather against Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino icon who sent De La Hoya into retirement with a resounding knockout at the end of 2008.

Mayweather and Pacquiao were universally considered the two best fighters in the world -- in whichever order you wanted to put them -- they were both welterweights and they had been steamrollering one common opponent after another. A fight between them, experts predicted, would destroy the records set by Mayweather-De La Hoya. In boxing, money almost always rules. When there is that much dough to be made, fights get made.

But then this one, to the shock of almost everyone, didn't. Pacquiao and Mayweather were oh-so-close to a deal in late 2009 before it fell apart over the particulars of the drug-testing protocol. A second negotiation in mid-2010, one the Mayweather camp has never acknowledged even took place, also failed and the sports world was left without the superfight it craved.

Once again we asked the question: What will be the next superfight?

While Mayweather and Pacquiao both had a number of major fights since their failed talks, none has had the feeling of what a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight might have been.

Until now.

That is how big many believe the junior middleweight title unification bout between Mayweather, the eight-time champion in five weight classes and reigning pound-for-pound king, and 23-year-old Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez will be when they meet on Saturday night (Showtime PPV, 9 ET) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena for a fight that sold out in hours and generated an all-time record gate of more than $19 million, taking down the first of perhaps many Mayweather-De La Hoya records.

"When we did Mayweather and De La Hoya we sort of knew it was a big fight, but we were a bit surprised how huge it really became and I have that same feeling I had back then with this fight here," said Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer, Alvarez's promoter who has also worked with Mayweather on a fight-by-fight basis since 2007.

But why has "The One" -- the ubiquitous name promoters dubbed the fight, as in who will be the singular star of boxing, who will be the one to keep his undefeated record and who will take his first loss -- exploded the way it has?

[+] EnlargeMayweather-Canelo fans
Esther Lin/ShowtimeBoxing fans are finally getting a fight they want to see in a pay-per-view card.

"I believe it's because of the fans, because of the people," Alvarez said through an interpreter. "They're the ones that are very, very interested in this fight. It's the fight that they wanted to see. It's the fight that they asked for. It's a fight that they wanted. There's euphoria with the fans, with the people. I think that's the reason."

Said Mayweather, "He's a good, strong, solid boxer and I mean, it's a very intriguing matchup. I would want to see two undefeated fighters at the top against one another."

So do many others. When Mayweather and Alvarez hit the road for a 10-city media tour in late June, they drew huge crowds wherever they went, drawing more than 100,000 people overall just to see them have a news conference filled with bells and whistles.

Alvarez, who will be facing Mayweather on Mexican Independence Day weekend -- a traditional date for a major fight involving a Mexican star -- carries the hopes of his people. A win over Mayweather would go down as perhaps the biggest victory in Mexican boxing history.

But even those who weren't believers had to have seen something in Alvarez when he dropped and outpointed the well-respected Austin Trout to take his title in April at the Alamodome in San Antonio, where Alvarez was responsible for the sellout crowd of nearly 40,000.

"I really think Canelo connected with the people in a way which I think surprised all of us," Schaefer said. "In the Alamodome, where we sold 40,000 tickets, we could have sold 70,000 if we had 70,000 tickets." Not only had Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KOs) showed he was worthy of fighting Mayweather (44-0, 26 KOs), 36, of Las Vegas, because of his performance against Trout, he also showed it with his drawing power.

What helped build Saturday's fight into the monster many think it will be is the fact that while Mayweather was beating Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz and Miguel Cotto in his annual fights from 2010 to 2012 -- all of which sold more than 1 million pay-per-view units -- Alvarez, already a star in Mexico, was fighting on the pay-per-view undercards and being groomed for an eventual fight with Mayweather, the fight Alvarez targeted several years ago.

"This is not a fight, this is what we call an event," Mayweather said. "I think it was just a smart game plan from [advisers] Al Haymon, Leonard [Ellerbe] and Richard to continue to put this guy on my undercards. That was a smart thing. What they did was try to put Canelo in the best position."

Mayweather, however, was unwilling to give Alvarez any credit for bringing so much to the table to help make their showdown such a massive fight, given his enormous Latino fan base.

"I give Canelo credit for showing up Sept. 14," a dismissive Mayweather said.

Whatever Mayweather's opinion is, Alvarez said now is the right time for the fight.

"It's a progression and I feel I am ready," Alvarez said. "The Trout fight made you guys [in the media] believers, but it was a progression of my fights and I just believe now it's time and I am ready. I think a rival like Floyd will bring out even better things in me.

"I think it's timing and it's the right time, and I think the fans asked for this fight and I think that everything aligned perfectly to make it such a big fight. This fight is the one I have waited for so long."

Another reason Saturday's fight may have caught such fire is because Mayweather, boxing's biggest attraction, surprised many by electing to fight for a second time this year after easily defeating Robert Guerrero in May. He has not fought twice in a calendar year since 2007. But not only is Mayweather fighting again, he is facing the guy many consider to be the toughest available opponent, especially since Mayweather is moving up to meet him at a catchweight of 152 pounds. For boxing, it is akin to there being two Super Bowls in the same year.

"Floyd has a huge fan base, bigger than ever, and when you combine that with the Canelo fan base and you have somebody that can threaten Mayweather's pound-for-pound throne and there are still a lot of people who want to see Mayweather lose, you have a big fight," Schaefer said. "Some of those people who want to see him lose have given up hope over the past few years.

"They said the guy will never lose, but now that group who wants to see him lose are seeing in Canelo somebody who can give Mayweather his first loss, so they feel they have to see the fight."

One other reason Schaefer says he believes the fight will be huge is the female factor. Alvarez is a heartthrob to many Mexican women, Schaefer says.

"Canelo has a big female following," he said. "It's the first I've seen that since the De La Hoya days. When we were on the press tour I saw women holding up signs saying, 'Canelo, I want to have your baby.' They will buy pay-per-view and that's all well and good, but Canelo is also the most dangerous opponent Floyd has faced in a long time."

The MGM Grand, which has hosted dozens of major fights, including Mayweather's previous seven, normally does not begin to buzz during fight week until Thursday. For this fight, the casino has been electric since the fighters made their grand arrivals on Tuesday and Schaefer has enjoyed rattling off the benchmarks this fight has already achieved.

For example, besides the record gate, he said it has already broken the pay-per-view record in Australia. It will be available in more than 550 movie theaters -- also a record -- across the U.S. He said more than 17,000 of the roughly 27,000 available closed-circuit tickets (at $100 a pop) in Las Vegas had already been sold as of Thursday.

"Closed circuit in Las Vegas is a last-minute ticket and we have sold [17,000] tickets already. It's unheard of. Unheard of," Schaefer said.

Reports from revenue stream after revenue stream are making everyone involved in the fight smile.

"I feel very good that we're going to break 2 million homes and, therefore, making it from a gross point of view, the single biggest pay-per-view fight in the history of boxing," Schaefer said.

Schaefer, a former Swiss banker, says he has crunched the numbers and that the fight needs to generate 1.982 million pay-per-view buys in the United States to break the PPV money record set by Mayweather-De La Hoya, the reason being because the cost to buy the fight today is significantly more than it was in 2007, especially with so many people paying a $10 premium to buy it in high definition.

He said all indications are making it look like he has a record-breaker on his hands.

"It's the way it feels and the early indications we are getting," he said. "Everything is consistent from the closed-circuit sales to the movie theater sales to the T-shirt sales to the foreign [TV] sales to the gate sales.

"I think the Canelo mania has taken a life of its own and then you mix into that Mayweather, and there you go."

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