LAS VEGAS – Just as Floyd Mayweather has never tasted defeat in his professional career, he's also never been beaten at mind games.
Yet in front of a remarkable crowd of 12,200 that packed into the MGM Grand Garden Arena – for nothing more than a weigh-in – boxing's pound-for-pound king may have finally met his match.
Mayweather remains the favorite to extend his record to 45-0 and collect yet another 'W' on Saturday night, but his opponent Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is already in a far better spot than most of Money's hapless foes.
Mayweather's gamesmanship is the stuff of legend, and he usually gets so far into the head of his opponents that they can barely think, let alone punch. Alvarez, however, at 23 years old and in front of a massive crowd, wasn't taking Mayweather's bait on Friday. When the pound-for-pound king jokingly offered Alvarez his belt to hold for a photo op, the Mexican phenom simply shrugged it off and played to the crowd. Moments later, the 36-year-old yapped his typical barrage of verbal jabs when the pair faced off, but the habitual clowning didn't faze Alvarez.
No form of entertainment mixes showbiz with sports quite like boxing, and even without a punch thrown, glove laced or nose bloodied, this was drama well worth watching.
This is the most anticipated fight in recent memory for a reason: Mayweather is finally fighting somebody who has a realistic chance of putting a blemish on his perfect record.
Alvarez is an underdog, but he is most certainly a live one with a genuine shot at an upset, and he acted like it.
Odds of -270/+220 reflect not only the loyalty of the passionate Mexican fan base that has descended upon Las Vegas, but also the reality that he has fewer of the natural disadvantages that have plagued previous men who have tried and failed against Mayweather.
"That 13-year age gap is significant, and the fact that Canelo has never lost will encourage plenty of money for the underdog," said Jay Rood, vice president of MGM Race and Sports Book. "This is the best price on Mayweather probably since he was Canelo's age. He is the favorite, but there are a lot of people prepared to bet the other way too."
Those thinking of placing a wager on Alvarez have plenty of other intangibles to tempt their hand.
Already a superstar in his homeland and having been anointed as boxing's chosen one since he was 16, Alvarez does not share the inferiority complex that the likes of Victor Ortiz and Robert Guerrero simply could not shake off.
If his chosen path to destiny pans out in the image his advisors predict, Saturday's contest may one day not even be seen as the biggest fight of his career.
Similarly, this venue that has become boxing's modern spiritual home shouldn't intimidate Alvarez. His previous bout took place in front of a crowd of 38,000 at San Antonio's Alamodome, more than double the sold-out attendance that will see him battle Mayweather.
Mayweather has tried to stoke the pressure on Alvarez, pointing out regularly that this is a young man with the hopes of a people resting on his shoulders. Yet those expectations sit comfortably; Alvarez has had plenty of time to get used to them.
At the weigh-in, Mayweather was his usual brash self, chewing gum and swaggering his way to the stage. Meanwhile, Alvarez was a picture of serenity. He had none of that bristle so often seen in Mayweather opponents.
Alvarez enjoyed the exchange, saw it for what it was – a show, and could not resist a smile as Mayweather barked at him. The verbal jabs were flying, but Alvarez simply wasn't listening.
Then, at the end of his post weigh-in interview, Alvarez showed his own mischievous side. When asked if he was ready for fight night he replied, in near-perfect English: "I was born ready."
Maybe it was scripted, maybe not, but Alvarez has not lost this fight in the hours before entering the ring as others have in the past. Robert Guerrero wasn't able to convince anyone, including himself, that he belonged in such elite company. Victor Ortiz seemed even less likely to win post weigh-in, and the same could even be said of Ricky Hatton when he lost his cool at a raucous weigh-in packed with British fans back in the winter of 2007.
Just as Sin City resembled a mini-Manchester back then, it's been transformed into a renegade enclave of Mexico this weekend. Mexican fans are everywhere in this town celebrating their nation's Independence Day weekend and cheering on their red-haired hero.
That is why more than 12,000 came to see a pair of men strip to their skivvies and stand on a scale on a Friday afternoon when Vegas had all kinds of other attractions to tempt them. This is a place where people have paid far more for far less.
As ever, let us hope that the fight lives up to the hype. After so many false dawns, there is a growing sense that this one is the real deal.
- Sports & Recreation
- Floyd Mayweather