Canelo Alvarez isn't Alfredo Angulo's greatest challenge

Kevin Iole
Yahoo SportsMarch 5, 2014

LAS VEGAS – Standing on a platform in front of a small group of fans and photographers, the image of Canelo Alvarez and Alfredo Angulo couldn't be more stark.

The red-headed, freckle-faced Alvarez looked like the kid serving chocolate malts at the local scoop shop. It's in great contrast to Angulo, the former interim WBO champion whose scowl and closely cropped dark hair make him look like a movie villain.

Angulo is a few days away from the biggest fight of his life, or at least the biggest boxing match, when he meets Alvarez in the main event of a Showtime pay-per-view card at the MGM Grand. In Alvarez, he'll face one of the sport's brightest stars, an up-and-coming junior middleweight whose ability, even at 23, to sell tickets and pay-per-views is already documented.

Angulo has largely been a below-the-radar type of fighter, though his matches with James Kirkland and Erislandy Lara were the kind of fights that would give boxing a chance to become one of the big four sports again if they were typical of the sport's regular bouts.

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Images, though, are deceiving, and at perhaps the darkest hour of his life, Angulo showed his character.

He was detained, unfairly many say, for seven months in 2012 by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in El Centro, Calif.

His immigration attorney, Kelly O'Reilly, told Yahoo Sports in 2012 that someone at the El Centro facility did not like Angulo.

"He was treated on a very personal level," O'Reilly said in 2012. "It seems that he had struck a chord with at least one person and was going to be made an example. There was a lot of little silliness, in my opinion, to show who was boss, by denying having tennis shoes, saying no to having books, things like that."

Angulo was unhappy about his plight, and it's hard to blame him. He was held unfairly, perhaps illegally, for months on end and was told he would never get out.

He had been nearing his peak as a boxer when he was imprisoned and had his life stolen from him.

It was a sobering time, and with so much opportunity to think, he contemplated life without boxing.

"There were moments I was serious and was thinking of retiring [as a fighter]," Angulo said. "… There is a lot of frustration when you're in there. It's a completely different lifestyle."

But he showed his character by the way he dealt with his situation. Without his freedom, he didn't turn inward, but rather looked outward. He was in a bad situation, to be sure, but he knew others were worse.

There were children who were afflicted with cancer, fighting for their lives, going through chemotherapy. A side effect of chemotherapy is the loss of one's hair, and for a young child, it's often difficult to cope with.

Angulo read of a charity, Locks for Love, in which people donate their hair to help children undergoing chemotherapy. He grew his hair out to help.

It says much about a man when, in his darkest hour, he reaches out to help someone else.

"Since I was a child, my life was very difficult, and I've been poor most of my life," he said. "A friend of mine once told me, and I've learned also from life, for any situation, in the worst moments, there is always something good you have to bring out of it. You have to find it. You have to find something positive.

"The positive thing is that I didn't have any fights. I didn't have anything to do. So growing my hair was easy. It was the one good thing I could find out of bad. I could grow out my hair and give it to someone who needs it."

Though he is a solid 4-1 underdog, he's not your typical 4-1 no-hoper. Angulo is a major puncher, and in a fight with a willing combatant like Alvarez, it's impossible to rule him out.

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Even Alvarez concedes that.

"All it takes is one punch, and then," Alvarez said, snapping his fingers, "everything changes in an instant."

Alvarez is deservedly the favorite. He enters the bout with a 42-1-1 record, with the only loss a one-sided decision to Floyd Mayweather in September.

Angulo, too, is coming off of a loss, a 10th-round stoppage at the hands of Lara. He was also stopped in the sixth round by Kirkland in one of the great back-and-forth matches of 2011, and lost a clear decision to Kermit Cintron in 2009.

But Angulo is the kind of character fighter who won't quit, and Alvarez, for all of his hype, has only one victory over an elite fighter who was the same weight as he is and was in his prime. That was a 2013 win over Austin Trout.

So, by being determined and hanging in, Angulo has a chance to upset the budding star.

He's hardly intimidated, and that's a good thing.

He's trained with boxers like Andre Ward and Amir Khan and figures to be ready for anything Alvarez can bring.

"My hand will be raised," he said. "I'm ready now and I will give the fans my best performance against Canelo. You will see the best Alfredo Angulo on Saturday."

Some people might say we saw the best of Alfredo Angulo, the man, while he was being detained in California.

If we see the best of Alfredo Angulo in the ring on Saturday, it's indeed going to be a wild night of boxing on the Las Vegas Strip.