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Why we may have already seen the best of Canelo Alvarez

LAS VEGAS – Canelo Alvarez won his first world title when he was just 20 years old, younger than Sugar Ray Robinson, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya were when those boxing legends captured their first world championship belts.

He had 20 wins before he turned 18, 30 wins before he was 20 and 40 wins before he was 22.

He headlines a pay-per-view card Saturday against junior middleweight Alfredo Angulo at the MGM Grand Garden as he comes off the first defeat of his career, a loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Alvarez is 42-1-1 and a heavy favorite to defeat Angulo, but boxing history suggests that though he is still a very young man, we may have seen the best of Alvarez in the ring.

He turned professional on Oct. 29, 2005, when he was 15 and was 4-0-1 before he was 16. He fought twice in 2005, seven times in 2006, 2007 and 2009 and eight times in 2008.

He gained critical experience and moved up rapidly in the world rankings in those early years. But as he started to have more success, and earn more money, he fought less frequently.

He fought five times in 2010, four times in 2011, and twice each in 2012 and 2013. That means he fought 30 times in his first four full years as a pro and just 14 times in the next four-plus years.

Few boxers have ever improved dramatically after they've had 40 or more fights. One who did is Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., who won the world title in his 44th professional bout and didn't lose until his 91st. Chavez didn't really blossom into stardom until his 47th bout, when he knocked out Roger Mayweather in two rounds in the second defense of his world championship.

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Canelo Alvarez, left, insists his loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. made him a better fighter. (AP Photo)

But Chavez Sr., who fought 115 times, is a rarity, particularly among modern boxers.

That will be a challenge that Alvarez has to face, and he believes he'll conquer it.

"I'm always working and I'm always trying to improve and I feel I still am getting better," Alvarez said.

The biggest win of Alvarez's career came in his next-to-last fight, when he won a decision over Austin Trout in San Antonio on April 20, 2013.

But Alvarez hasn't beaten another elite fighter who was in the same weight class as he is and was still in his prime. He beat the highly regarded Shane Mosley, but Mosley fought just two more times before retiring.

So, while history would suggest that we've seen the best that Alvarez has to offer, one expert disagrees.

Eric Gomez, the matchmaker for Golden Boy Promotions, said Alvarez is different from most other boxers in the way he approaches his sport.

Alvarez doesn't drink or party, Gomez said, and loves to train. Because of that, Gomez believes Alvarez still has plenty of upside.

"If you talk to a lot of the old matchmakers who have been around a long time, Don Chargin, Bruce Trampler, guys like that, they'll tell you that some guys need that first loss to understand that this all can be taken from them at any time.

"I believe Canelo still has a lot of room for improvement. He has all the skills you want to see in a top-level fighter. He knows how to fight and this experience of going through the Mayweather fight, where he took on the most skilled guy anybody is going to see, is going to do nothing but help him."

Gomez said he gets the doubts, but said that in a decade, when looking back on Alvarez's career, those who question Alvarez now will feel foolish.

He said he felt Alvarez had only reached a small fraction of his potential.

"In 10 years, we're going to be looking at a guy who was the pound-for-pound best in the world and a guy who cleaned out the division at [154 pounds] and went on to do well at middleweight," Gomez said. "I don't think that is a stretch at all."

Alvarez looked befuddled at times by Mayweather's movement. It was no secret that Mayweather would box and move, but Alvarez said after that fight he expected Mayweather to engage him more.

Even if that is true, he didn't adjust particularly well. He didn't seem to have a clue how to fight Mayweather. He followed Mayweather around the ring and Mayweather comprehensively outboxed him.

Alvarez, though, believes he's a better boxer for having fought Mayweather and says it will show when he faces Angulo on Saturday.

"I learned a lot and that fight gave me a lot of experience," Alvarez said. "I'm very anxious to get back into the ring to maintain that line where I was headed, that path that I was going on. This is what I love to do and I work hard for it."

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