LAS VEGAS – It's all about positioning for Canelo Alvarez. After what some would call a flop against Floyd Mayweather in September, Alvarez needed to regroup.
He was still young, still talented and still massively popular.
There were few men in his weight class who would be favored to beat him other than Mayweather, but he was handled so easily once he had his shot he seemed out of place to not belong.
But as he tries to rebound from that difficult loss, Alvarez has something going for him that few others do: He is a massive draw who helped Mayweather set a single-fight record for most pay-per-view revenue at $150 million. The fight sold 2.3 million, making it the second-best selling fight behind Mayweather's 2007 win over Oscar De La Hoya.
So if Alvarez could rebuild himself and convince the public that he is a legitimate threat to Mayweather in a rematch, it's then at least feasible he could get a second shot at the King and the mega-payday that would carry with it.
The second step on that path toward redemption comes Saturday, and it promises to be a much more difficult challenge than his first post-Mayweather bout when he easily thrashed Alfredo Angulo in March.
Alvarez will meet Erislandy Lara at the MGM Grand in a difficult fight he didn't have to take. Lara is a left-hander with a difficult-to-figure style and more punching power than he's given credit for having.
Lara's trainer, Ronnie Shields, couldn't be more confident despite Alvarez being a 2-1 favorite.
"Lara is just a better fighter, period, than Canelo," Shields said. "You can't take anything away from Canelo. He's a really good fighter and you can't take anything away from that, but understand this: Erislandy Lara had a better amateur career and he's having a better pro career. It's just as simple as that.
"And Erislandy Lara is one of the best fighters and [not] anybody and everybody ... will [fight] him, so Lara doesn't have a pick-and-choose career. If you take Canelo's career, his career has been pick-and-choose."
Shields is one of boxing's bright minds, but he's not fully correct on that last point. Alvarez could have chosen whomever he wanted to fight, but he made it a point to accept Lara's challenge because he's such a fierce competitor.
Alvarez is a true fighter at heart, and though he didn't face the best competition as he was on his rise, that's the way promising young boxers are brought up. But now that he's in charge, it's a different story.
A win over Lara is hardly a guarantee. There's a real chance Alvarez could lose, or even look poor in winning. None of that would help him in a quest to get himself back into position for a second crack at Mayweather, who after facing Marcos Maidana on Sept. 13 will then only have two bouts remaining in his legendary career.
The stakes are high for Alvarez against perhaps the most difficult opponent he could have taken.
"Look, I pick the most dangerous, the best fights because at the end of the day, I fight for the fans and I want to give them the best fights out there," Alvarez said. "As far as getting further out in my career and reaching new heights, you know, by fighting the toughest fights, by fighting the best fighters out there, that's how I fulfill myself, taking on the biggest challenges. And time will tell."
Promoter Oscar De La Hoya understands full well the challenge Alvarez will face. There is a risk/reward scenario that exists in every decision one makes in life, but that's particularly true for prominent boxers when choosing opponents.
If Alvarez looks good against Lara, it makes the case as eloquently as any words he might speak that he's progressed in the 10 months since he was drilled by Mayweather.
If he loses, or looks confused and sloppy, it could expose him as a product of great hype and marketing and one who was protected.
De La Hoya urged him to think carefully when Alvarez said he wanted to fight Lara.
"When people say I didn't want this fight for him, obviously it wasn't the first choice," said De La Hoya, who fought all comers during his Hall of Fame career. "As a promoter, you don't want the most difficult fight out there for him. But this is what Canelo's all about. Ultimately, it's his decision and his decision was a very calculated [one].
"He's confident in his abilities, and he wants to fight the very best. That's the bottom line. And me as a promoter and me as an ex-fighter, I look at it in two ways: Here I was as a fighter fighting the very best, just like Canelo's doing, and as a promoter this wasn't my first choice. But you have to go with what the fighter says, with what the fighter feels."
Lara feels a lot differently than Alvarez, and the two had an intense stare down at the arrival ceremony in the MGM Grand lobby on Tuesday.
Lara stormed the dais in March as Alvarez was meeting the media after his win over Alfredo Angulo, and challenged him. Alvarez accepted after thinking it over, but Lara believes he boxed Alvarez in and gave him no choice.
So, he clearly doesn't feel indebted to Alvarez, the vastly bigger star. Alvarez is giving him the opportunity to make a career-high $1 million purse and set himself up for other big fights, but Lara doesn't believe he really wanted to accept the fight.
"Absolutely not," Lara said. "I don't owe him anything other than left hands. I forced this fight. It wasn't because he wanted to take this fight. We've been after this fight for two years and I've been putting pressure on him in social media and during interviews and jumping on stage. That's what pressured him to take this fight.
"I know he didn't want this fight, and on [Saturday], you're going to see why he didn't want [it]."
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