LAS VEGAS – Canelo Alvarez faced a situation in his last fight that he had never faced before. When he stepped into the ring to meet Floyd Mayweather at the MGM Grand Garden in September, he met the master boxer, a man faster, quicker and smarter in the ring than him.
Mayweather dictated the tempo of the fight, unexpectedly moving forward early and backing his younger opponent up, then using lateral movement later to take advantage of the openings the frustrated Alvarez provided.
On Saturday, in his first fight since the match he called "a great learning experience," Alvarez again will face a situation he's never encountered before.
When he takes on junior middleweight Alfredo Angulo on Saturday in the main event of a pay-per-view card on Showtime at the MGM Grand Garden, Alvarez will face a guy who will willingly brawl and slug with him and who has the ability to pull it off.
Alvarez is no brawler, as the first 44 fights of his career have shown. He's a strong puncher with quick hands, but he's always fought with his head much more than with his heart. He's avoided the crazy slugfests for which so many of his countrymen have been noted.
Part of that, of course, has to do with the fact that until he fought Austin Trout in April, he'd been consistently under-matched in his career.
It was clear early on in Alvarez's career that he not only was a good boxer, but he had massive star potential. Those kinds of fighters are always handled extraordinarily gingerly, and Alvarez is no different.
He either fought veteran fighters who were near the end of the line, or young fighters who weren't nearly as talented. He often met fighters who moved well up in weight for the opportunity to fight him.
That doesn't mean, however, that Alvarez is a fraud. Far from it, because Alvarez clearly has high-end skills. He hits hard, and he's a good boxer who is clever in the way he can maneuver opponents into his punches.
None of that worked against Mayweather, but he's far from the only one who failed to come up with anything that worked against the pound-for-pound kingpin.
He won't have to solve any riddles against Angulo, however. Angulo's style is as subtle as an 18-wheeler going downhill with faulty brakes.
Angulo isn't going to outslick Alvarez, and he's not even going to try. He'll try to turn the match into a slugfest in which the outcome will rest on a couple of perfectly placed hard punches.
That is the kind of fight that Alvarez hasn't had to face yet, despite his eight-plus years in the ring and his 44 professional fights. Angulo will push, push and push some more, until he either hurts and stops Alvarez or Alvarez lands something big and stops him.
It has a chance to be a (very) poor man's version of the 1985 classic battle at Caesars Palace between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns.
That bout remains one of the greatest championship bouts in history and is arguably the best three-rounder to ever take place.
The key for Alvarez is whether he's able to do what Hagler did in the face of Hearns' onslaught. Hagler stood his ground and fought back. He absorbed his share of punishment, but he didn't go crazy and abandon his game plan.
He boxed, though at a fast, furious pace, and slowed Hearns' assault by connecting with several big shots of his own.
Alvarez simply can't allow Angulo to swarm him. Angulo hits hard and is a great finisher, and if he senses he has Alvarez in trouble, he'll work hard to end it.
A wild brawl would not be in Alvarez's best interest, but he needs to remain calm and crack Angulo when the inevitable openings occur.
Alvarez is unquestionably capable of doing exactly that, but it's going to be the first time he's facing this situation. Coming off a loss and finding himself in yet another new situation, the question is how he'll react in the face of the pressure.
This is a fight he could, and perhaps should, win easily. But it's also a fight fraught with danger.
It's going to show the true measure of the fighter he has become.
To paraphrase Dennis Green, if Alvarez is who we think he is, a highly gifted boxer with a harder than average punch, he should get out of this not only with a win but with his reputation enhanced.
But if he's anything less, he could be in trouble.
That's the intrigue in this bout. Alvarez has long been a star. This fight could go a long way toward determining whether he's elite.