LAS VEGAS – Canelo Alvarez is 23 years old, but already a veteran of 45 professional fights. He'll fight the 46th of his brilliant career on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden when he takes on Erislandy Lara in the main event of a pay-per-view card distributed by Showtime.
Alvarez remains one of the sport's biggest draws and most popular fighters, and he has the kind of earnings potential that would even make Floyd Mayweather Jr. pay attention.
Before it is all done, Alvarez could leave the sport as the richest fighter in history. He may never overtake Mayweather in career earnings, though that can't be discounted as a possibility because of his potential longevity. Mayweather has three fights remaining. It's likely Alvarez has at least 30, and potentially over 40, assuming he fights until he's 38, as many boxers do these days.
He's in a position to join Mayweather, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Manny Pacquiao as the highest career earners in boxing history.
And he is in that position not only because of his many talents inside the ring and a charisma that attracts fans by the droves, but also because of his savvy business sense.
The way he handled a stunt Lara pulled earlier this year is evidence of why Alvarez is going to employ a small army of accountants and financial handlers before he walks away from the sport.
Lara's stunt seemed to backfire on him almost as soon as he tried it. As Alvarez was at the podium at the MGM Grand on March 8 speaking about his victory earlier that evening over Alfredo Angulo, Lara came up to the dais and challenged Alvarez to a bout.
it was incredibly disrespectful by Lara, but Alvarez seemed to turn the tables on him almost instantly. Lara said the world wanted to see him fight Alvarez. Alvarez asked the media and the assorted hangers on who almost always seem to find their way into a post-fight news conference if they were interested in seeing him fight Lara.
There was next to no reaction, and Alvarez called Lara a clown.
But on Saturday in the very same building, Alvarez will be standing across the ring from Lara in the main event of a pay-per-view card on Showtime in another instance of the brilliance with which Alvarez has handled his career.
Unlike his countryman, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., whose fame and notoriety were almost entirely built off his father's success, Alvarez turned himself into one of boxing's biggest stars by working from the bottom up. Alvarez had no special connections when he turned pro as a precocious 15-year-old in 2005.
No one was looking out for him. No one had created a three- or five-year plan to build his career.
But Alvarez was, within five years, a bonafide star and now, nearly nine years later, he's one of the biggest attractions in the sport. Only Mayweather and Pacquiao are clearly ahead of him in terms of pay-per-view sales ability, and few anywhere can generate the kind of television ratings that Alvarez garners in his native Mexico.
Alvarez managed it because he handled his career brilliantly. His handling of the Lara situation is a great example of Alvarez consistently making the right moves.
Alvarez was correct when he said at the post-fight news conference in March that no one wanted to see him fight Lara. Despite calling himself "The American Dream," Lara has very little presence in the U.S. And though he's had several exciting fights on national television, he carries the unfair reputation of being a boring fighter.
But he's certainly a good one, and the type of guy who could give Alvarez a very difficult night.
After beating Angulo in impressive fashion, Alvarez was looking for the biggest possible fight for July. That would have been against Miguel Cotto, and Alvarez authorized then-Golden Boy Promotions CEO RIchard Schaefer to make a big-money offer to him in order to finalize that fight.
But Cotto is extraordinarily close with Top Rank president Todd duBoef and wanted Top Rank to be involved. Because Schaefer was adamant that he would not work with Top Rank, the fight didn't materialize.
And as they scanned the landscape, there weren't a lot of great options available for Alvarez. So Alvarez took a closer look at Lara. And he liked what he saw.
Lara had stopped Angulo himself in one of 2013's best bouts. He'd lost a decision to Paul Williams in 2011 that was so bad the judges who scored the bout were suspended by New Jersey officials for incompetence. He dominated Austin Trout far more thoroughly than Alvarez himself had in their 2013 match.
So, Alvarez accepted Lara's challenge, knowing it would not be easy and he wouldn't get nearly the credit he deserves should he beat Lara.
He would have been better off fighting on Showtime rather than on pay-per-view, given the current difficulties in the market with pay-per-view, but the flip side is that if the fight somehow exceeds expectations, Alvarez will make much more than he would have had the fight been on premium cable.
Because he became a star at such a young age, Alvarez is looking at the very real possibility that he will become one of the richest boxers in history. If he fights even 10 more years, he's going to command purses so large that he'll clear several hundred million in the process.
Though it will be hard for him to surpass Mayweather in career earnings, it's not totally out of the question, particularly if he fights until he's 38 or 40. That could leave him as many as 35 or more fights, many of which could bring him eight-figure paydays.
Alvarez has massive endorsement income potential, particularly in Mexico where he is one of the country's biggest and most recognizable sports stars.
If Alvarez gets past Lara on Saturday, he opens a wide range of possibilities for future fights, including a potential bout with Cotto. Now that Schaefer has resigned, Golden Boy under Oscar De La Hoya's leadership is more willing to face Top Rank fighters, so that fight is far more easy to make than it was earlier this year.
Alvarez, of course, is the one who will benefit from that. He's made all the right moves and when he's through with his career, he'll be remembered for earning the kinds of money that only a precious handful of others could even dream of making.
He's got a tough match ahead of him on Saturday, but it's good to be Canelo Alvarez these days.