Mexico's Saul Alvarez may indeed become boxing's next superstar. He may one day live up to the predictions of greatness that some in the industry predict for him.
Alvarez fights Matthew Hatton in the main event of an HBO-televised card on Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., in a battle for the World Boxing Council super welterweight championship.
It's almost as if the WBC wants to declare Alvarez, a red-headed 20-year-old, its champion by proclamation. It was typical sanctioning-body chicanery to open the 154-pound belt so that Alvarez and Hatton could fight for it and, more importantly to the Mexico-based WBC, so Alvarez could win it.
Alvarez almost certainly will defeat Hatton on Saturday. Hatton, like his brother, Ricky, is a hard-nosed kid who never quits, but he's far from the most gifted man in the division. Alvarez should have enough to handle him and claim the tainted title.
It would be quite an accomplishment for a guy four months shy of his 21st birthday to win a world championship. But let's take a deep breath before we declare this guy the game's next superstar.
He's only 20 and hasn't faced a single quality fighter who was remotely close to his prime. He's done well against more experienced opponents, and that bodes well, but knocking out a slow, faded, long-over-the-hill Carlos Baldomir doesn't make one a star or, to be honest, anything remotely close to it.
I hope this kid becomes a star. Lord knows, boxing needs it. Boxing needs guys with his kind of charisma who can fight – and sell tickets. Alvarez is a massive star already in Mexico and draws mind-blowing television ratings there. But outside of Mexico and, perhaps, the Southwestern U.S., Alvarez is a virtual unknown. He's had nearly no television exposure here and means nothing to the rank-and-file sports fan who may stop on HBO on Saturday while channel surfing.
Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya has long been one of the most popular boxers in the world and is an iconic figure in Mexico. But De La Hoya, who is usually the biggest star in every room he enters, said his fame in Mexico pales to Alvarez's.
The weigh-in for Alvarez' last fight, on Dec. 4 in Veracruz, Mexico, against Lovemore N'Dou, was outside. De La Hoya, who was promoting the fight, planned to attend but was advised to ride in a separate car from Alvarez.
"I've been through it, and I told them not to worry," De La Hoya said. "I knew fans were going to get all crazy and looking for autographs and pictures. I was ready for that."
De La Hoya, though, wasn't ready for the reception that Alvarez received. Alvarez was swarmed by a humongous mob, while De La Hoya was largely left alone.
"Reality hit me at that moment and I realized, 'Hey, I'm seeing the next big thing right here in front of me,' " De La Hoya said.
Boxing's biggest stars – De La Hoya, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali – all have shared a similar set of attributes: They were undeniably popular, and they were all great in the ring. That combination of talent, charisma and desire made them larger-than-life characters.
Alvarez needs to prove himself in the ring. De La Hoya insists he's the goods – "He does things up in that ring that I couldn't imagine doing as a 19-year-old," the Golden Boy said.
But De La Hoya has a vested interest in that statement.
By the time De La Hoya, Tyson, Leonard and Ali were 36 fights into their careers, they were established superstars who had each had defining fights. Alvarez is 35-0-1, and his defining fight at this stage is a knockout of a never-that-great 39-year-old Baldomir.
By the time Ali had 36 fights, he'd already had four wins over Hall of Famers.
Alvarez dismisses the criticism and insists that time is his ally. He's eager to fight the big names and said he'll prove himself against Hatton.
"Well, I don't get motivated by [proving critics wrong]," he said. "I do it for myself. I go in that ring. I want to win for myself. That's the most important thing. Yes, I'm motivated. It's a little more motivation, fighting for the world title, but I don't care about what they say about me, or the criticism. I just go in there to win."
Give the young man credit. He goes in to win, and he has. While he has wins only over faded veterans or second-rate talents, he still has won. But it's just not fair to anoint him a star just yet. He has a long way to go before he reaches that point.
And while he'll essentially be gifted a title on Saturday if he defeats Hatton, it will at least be the start. Because if Alvarez wins the belt, presumably he'll be forced to fight the top names of the division.
I hope De La Hoya is correct. I hope that Alvarez catches on with the American public the way De La Hoya did nearly two decades earlier. And I hope that Alvarez turns out to be the equal, or the superior, of De La Hoya as a fighter.
But he's a long way from being anywhere near that caliber at this stage.
He's no star yet, no matter what folks say or what belt may be given him. If he becomes a star, he'll have to do it by fighting his way to the top.
In this sport, there's no other way.
- Saul Alvarez
- Oscar De La Hoya
- Matthew Hatton