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LAS VEGAS – He was a veteran at 19, a champion at 20, a superstar by 22.
Canelo Alvarez has, quite literally, grown up in public unlike nearly any boxer of recent vintage. He’s one of the current generation’s most active fighters. His rematch with Gennady Golovkin on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for the WBA, WBC and linear middleweight titles will be his 53rd. Golovkin, who is a full eight years older, will be fighting his 40th bout.
Alvarez’s activity has made him an open book in the ring. He evades punches with a roll to the left. He favors the uppercut. He uses feints frequently and to great advantage.
But for all that is known about Alvarez the boxer, much is still unknown about Alvarez the human being. He’s known primarily for his mop of red hair and freckle-filled face, which make him look more like the fighting pride of Dublin, Ireland, rather than the latest in a long line of Mexican superstars. His life outside the ring is largely a mystery.
He fiercely guards his privacy and while he’s been cordial with the media, he remains in absolute control. He won’t use two words where one word will do, and he locks down his private life as tightly as a national hero can do.
Canelo Alvarez: ‘The Mexican James Dean’
Richard Schaefer, Alvarez’s former promoter, liked to refer to him as “The Mexican James Dean.” It was a good line and Schaefer got a lot of use out of it, but given that Dean has been dead for nearly 63 years, it’s not clear that a lot of people got the connection between Alvarez and the “Rebel Without a Cause” actor.
They are alike in the sense that Alvarez, like Dean, remains very much an enigma.
That is quite a feat for a guy from a boxing-mad country who has fought some of the most high-profile bouts in the last eight years, including against luminaries such as Golovkin, Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley.
Heading into what has become a heated rematch with Golovkin, Alvarez has been particularly stoic. He tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol in February, with the news becoming public in March. Though Alvarez has continued to insist it was because he ate contaminated meat in Mexico, the planned May 5 rematch was canceled and Alvarez was suspended six months by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
It’s also turned what had once been a respectful rivalry into an intense and heated battle between men who can barely stand the sight of one another. When the rematch was finally rescheduled, Alvarez refused to appear at a news conference next to Golovkin, and so the two appeared from different locations via satellite.
“He’s pissed off, he really is,” said Eric Gomez, Alvarez’s friend and the president of Golden Boy Promotions, the lead promoter of the fight. “[Golovkin] has made a lot of bogus accusations, mostly against Canelo but also about the commission, the judges, and even about the hand wraps. … But you know what? It’s like the perfect storm, and it’s been fueling him and giving him the desire to really do a number on Golovkin.”
Golden Boy Promotions purposely delays first Canelo-GGG fight
Talk of a match with Golovkin had first picked up in 2014, after Golovkin knocked out Marco Antonio Rubio at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. In an arena filled with people who had long been Alvarez’s fans, the Kazakhstani champion was greeted by a hero’s welcome when he made the walk to the ring.
Golovkin eschewed the traditional walk down the aisle and circled the interior perimeter of what is usually used as a tennis facility so fans could get a closer look at him. They roared, like they had so often roared for Alvarez, as Golovkin made his way around the venue.
After the vicious second-round finish, Golovkin, in his broken English, referred to Alvarez as “a good boy,” much to the crowd’s delight.
But despite public and media pressure for Alvarez to face Golovkin, they didn’t meet until 2017. Alvarez believed he was the bigger star and he was going to take the fight when he was ready, on his terms, when he gave the go-ahead.
Gomez, though, said that it was a decision made by Golden Boy officials to delay the fight, not by Alvarez.
“There is a misconception out there that he wasn’t eager to fight Golovkin,” Gomez said. “He always wanted this fight, from the time it was first brought up. It was three years or so back and he talked to us about it. We were the ones that told him to wait, that we’d figure when it made the most sense.”
It is clear, though, that Gomez and other Golden Boy officials work for Alvarez and not the other way around. Alvarez collects all available advice and considers it before making his decision.
Though he’s one of the game’s most exciting fighters, he’s hardly a brawler, as so many of his countrymen had been. He’s a thinking-man’s fighter, and Jose “Chepo” Reynoso, one of his long-time trainers, said that extends to matters outside the ring, as well.
“He’s intelligent and he doesn’t do anything without giving it a lot of thought,” Reynoso said before the first fight against Golovkin.
That is what got the hopes up of so many on May 7, 2016, when Alvarez nearly decapitated Amir Khan and knocked him cold. As the crowd at T-Mobile Arena’s first boxing card celebrated Alvarez’s dramatic finish, he climbed the ropes to soak in the adulation.
As he did, he noticed Golovkin and trainer Abel Sanchez applauding politely at ringside. Alvarez made a show of walking over to the ropes and holding them open, clearly inviting Golovkin into the ring. A few minutes later, as he was being interviewed by HBO’s Max Kellerman, Alvarez was asked why he’d asked Golovkin to enter the ring.
Because he so carefully considers everything he does, inviting Golovkin to the ring seemed to mean a fight was brewing.
“I invited him to the ring,” Alvarez said. “Like we say in Mexico, I don’t [expletive] around.”
The fans were deliriously happy, and promoter Oscar De La Hoya spent much of the post-fight news conference discussing the possibility of an Alvarez-Golovkin fight. De La Hoya went so far as to pretend he was speaking on the phone, calling Golovkin promoter Tom Loeffler.
It seemed this was finally it. The dream fight was being made in front of our eyes.
Except that it was not.
Canelo-GGG feud turns bitter after Alvarez’s failed drug tests
It would be another 16 months before the men would share a ring together. Alvarez would fight Liam Smith the following September, and then took on Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the son of the most popular boxer in Mexican history, on May 6, 2017.
When he finally fought Golovkin, it was on his terms. They fought where he wanted to fight, and he made more than twice what Golovkin earned from the first fight, which, including online sales, did 1.4 million on pay-per-view. Alvarez made $48 million for the controversial split draw with Golovkin, while Golovkin earned a career-high $20 million.
The rematch should have been easy to make, but it was anything but. And given all that has happened since Alvarez’s positive tests, with Golovkin openly wondering if Alvarez intentionally cheated, Sanchez taunting him for running in the first bout and Golovkin’s publicist constantly jabbing Alvarez on social media by calling him “Beef Jerky,” emotions are running high.
“I’ve never seen Canelo this angry,” De La Hoya said.
Promoters have a vested interest in saying their fighter is angry and doesn’t like the opponent. In this case, though, Alvarez admits it.
He’s been angered primarily but not only by Golovkin’s unusually harsh comments on the drug-test failure. He was agitated by Sanchez’s words and upset by the dragged-on negotiations, in which Golovkin wound up increasing his percentage of the gross from the 30 percent he received in the first fight to 45 percent for the rematch.
“This fight is personal because of all that’s been said, and it will be difficult to regain the respect that we once had,” Alvarez said. “The statements that have been made about me have given me more motivation to train harder.”
Alvarez claims to have told the truth about drug-test failures
One of the worst things for an athlete is to be tied to a doping violation. Barry Bonds is the all-time home run leader, but hasn’t come close to getting elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s agitated Alvarez to no end to be questioned about it.
Asked by Yahoo Sports if he felt the test results harmed his otherwise stalwart reputation, Alvarez demurred.
“I don’t feel I have to answer this,” he said. “I know what happened. I explained it. This is done with. If Golovkin wants to talk and say things that aren’t true, that’s his problem. I don’t know what he’s thinking. But I’ve told the truth.”
This is the first real crisis of his young life. A segment of his fan base was unhappy with the way he fought Mayweather when they met in 2013. He wasn’t aggressive and looked confused, but he was a 23-year-old who had never fought anyone as close to as smart and as wily in the ring as Mayweather.
The bout last year with Chavez Jr. was somewhat of a challenge mentally, because Alvarez admitted that Chavez Sr. was his idol as a child, and so much of the fan base in Mexico supported Chavez Jr.
But none of that is anything like what is happening now.
Can Alvarez be the first to stop Golovkin?
Alvarez has been in battles before – he notably refused to fight for the WBC title before as a result of a disagreement with the powerful WBC president, Mauricio Sulaiman – but this is different.
The key for Alvarez will be to channel his anger. Sulaiman, who said he is back on good terms with Alvarez, believes his long run in the spotlight will help him deal with the pressure he’s under.
“He became a huge star, a national figure, at a very young age in Mexico,” Sulaiman said. “He was 19 and he already had a big contract with a major television network, Televisa. He was dating a beautiful, famous sports anchor, Marisol [Gonzalez]. He had the red hair and freckles and was a handsome guy, and he looked different than most Mexicans, and so he just became this huge figure.
“Because he was such an obviously talented boxer, he got a lot of attention. And our media here in Mexico was very difficult, very hard on him. They demanded a lot and he had a lot of detractors. And I think because of that, Canelo had to mature at a young age. He learned to deal with things at a very young age.”
Alvarez said the experience he gained in the first fight with Golovkin will benefit him in the second. He knows now how Golovkin moves, how hard he punches, how quick he is and how he likes to set up his punches.
Alvarez said he wants “to shut him up for good,” and believes on Saturday that he not only will become the first person to defeat Golovkin, but also might stop him.
Gomez said he believes Alvarez figured Golovkin out and points to his performance in the last three rounds of their first fight as proof. He said that while Alvarez is legitimately angry with Golovkin, it won’t impact him once the bell rings Saturday.
“This is a very smart kid and he understands better than just about anyone what it takes to perform at the highest level,” Gomez said. “He’s so determined and so focused. He was pretty good to begin with, but we may just see him take it to another level on [Saturday]. His attitude and the way he’s training, it’s been different than any other fight, including Mayweather.
“He secluded himself and he immersed himself in his work. He’s gone to a deep, dark place within to motivate himself and prepare for a great performance.”
More boxing coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Who’s going to win Canelo-GGG II?
• Gennady Golovkin: ‘The kind of person who is hard not to like’
• Alvarez on Golovkin: ‘For me, it’s personal’
• Boxing experts break down the Alvarez-Golovkin rematch