Long before he became arguably boxing's second-biggest star, Canelo Alvarez had a love affair with the sport. Not only did the 23-year-old Mexican love to fight, but he also loved to watch others compete.
He turned pro as a 15-year-old, eager to prove himself in one of the world's toughest proving grounds. He trained feverishly, but he didn't simply prepare his body. He worked hard on the mental side of the sport, as well.
Instead of relying on sheer talent and youthful exuberance, Alvarez early on was dedicated to learning what it took to not only compete at the highest level, but to win there.
Eddy Reynoso, one of his trainers, would, from their earliest days together, urge him to study tapes of boxing's greats. Alvarez devoured tapes of fights involving the likes of Muhammad Ali, Jose "Mantequilla" Napoles, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Julio Cesar Chavez and others, not only for enjoyment but to learn their secrets of greatness.
Though he was strong and powerful and athletic, much of his early success came as a result of his ability to think and adjust in the ring and break down his opponent.
And then, for one night, it all imploded when he faced Floyd Mayweather Jr. Alvarez was utterly confident that he would defeat Mayweather on Sept. 14, and said he had a game plan he felt would do the trick.
Mayweather, though, didn't give him what he expected and rolled to a one-sided victory.
That loss tweaked his ego and stung his pride, but as he prepares to face Alfredo Angulo on March 8 on Showtime pay-per-view from Las Vegas, Alvarez isn't so much concerned that he lost but how and why he lost.
He's pored over the tapes, recognized his mistakes, and has gotten on with the task of getting better.
Considering his share of the pay-per-view proceeds, Alvarez hauled in a massive paycheck from the Mayweather fight, but said there is little chance that the money will change him.
A boxing adage says it's hard to awaken at 4 a.m. to do road work when you're sleeping on satin sheets, but Alvarez scoffs at such a notion.
"I never did this for the money," he said. "Money was always second. I'm very hungry. My hunger is to be the best. I'm not satisfied. Just winning a fight is not good enough. I want to learn from it and understand where I can get better, so that I can become the best I can be. The money is nice, and allows me to do certain things, but I don't fight for the money and I never have."
OK, so perhaps he'll never be introduced as Saul "Dinero" Alvarez, but Alvarez is a rich young man and is only going to get richer.
The fight with Mayweather sold 2.2 million pay-per-view units. While Mayweather is the sport's biggest attraction, it would be naïve to think that Alvarez didn't play a large part in that total.
Mayweather's previous fight, with Robert Guerrero, sold slightly more than 1 million on pay-per-view, per Stephen Espinoza, the vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports. A change in opponents resulted in more than double that total, so clearly, Alvarez had a large hand in the success of the top-grossing fight in the sport's colorful history.
A case could be made that Alvarez, and not Manny Pacquiao, is the second-biggest drawing card in boxing.
Like Pacquiao, Alvarez became an idol of millions because of his exciting fighting style. Unlike the Filipino superstar, though, Alvarez also had a bit of a swagger to him.
Against Mayweather, though, Alvarez pressured constantly but lost much of that swagger when he was unable to put his hands on Mayweather.
"I went into that fight with a strategy on how to win, and we all believed the game plan was solid," Alvarez said. "We thought he'd stand and fight more, like he did when he fought Miguel Cotto, but he didn't do that. It surprised us. It was difficult to adjust.
"But the fight gave me a lot of experience. I went into the fight with 40-something fights under my belt and, of course, I thought I was ready and I thought I would win. But it didn't go that way. Floyd has a great deal of experience, too, and he was a champion when I was 8 years old. But you know what? I'm better for having [fought Mayweather]."
He insists he's committed the loss, his first in 44 pro matches, to the history books and only thinks of it when he's asked about it.
He had a tough 24 hours after the fight ended, but by the time he awoke on the Monday after the bout, he was looking ahead.
"It hurt my honor, and it was an emotional time," he said of the hours immediately after the bout. "It hurt my ego. My pride was stung. But I'm a big believer in God and I know God has a reason for everything. It wasn't my time that night, but I know it's going to be my time soon.
"That's why I spend so much time studying boxing. I don't want to leave anything to chance. This is my business, the thing I love the most to do, and I want to learn as much as I can about it."
To that end, he constructed a gym inside his San Diego home. It makes it a bit difficult to get away from work, but this is where Alvarez is different.
He doesn't want to get away from his job. He has everything he needs at home and can hop out of bed and jump into the ring for an early morning workout.
"It was a difficult decision at first to build it, but I like to be comfortable and I feel most comfortable at home," he said. "So with my team, I decided it made sense to do it. I can walk to the gym and work on something or get a workout in any time I want."
He's been training maniacally in preparation for Angulo, whose straight-ahead, attacking style is vastly different from Mayweather's and Austin Trout's, Alvarez's last two opponents.
Both men are coming off losses – Alvarez to Mayweather and Angulo to Erislandy Lara – and Alvarez knows he has to be at the top of his game to avoid another defeat.
"I have watched many of his fights, and he's a strong guy with a great chin, and one punch can make the difference and change things in an instant," Alvarez said. "There are some fights I say are difficult, and then there are some I say are hard. That sounds the same, but it's not. This is a fight that is going to be hard.
"I'm a student of the game. I know what I'm in for, and I know what I have to do. But I love the challenge."
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