Is Alvarez Mexico's next great champion?

Kevin Iole

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

Richard Schaefer had heard plenty about Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, but he really had no idea what he had when he signed the 19-year-old to a contract with Golden Boy Promotions.

On Sunday, he saw a glimpse of what the future may hold.

Alvarez, an unbeaten teenager who looks like Howdy Doody come to life, made a promotional appearance in Los Angeles on Sunday at Fiesta Broadway, the largest Hispanic festival in the U.S.

Schaefer, the Golden Boy Promotions CEO, could hardly believe the fresh-faced kid he'd met was having such an impact with the crowd.

"I saw him interacting with the people and I'll be honest with you, it was like he was the Mexican James Dean," Schaefer said. "I've never seen anything like it. The looks, the charisma … My wife is Mexican and she felt it and said you could tell this kid is different.

"It's difficult to describe, but you're drawn to him. He's a captivating personality."

With a shock of fiery red hair and a face dotted with freckles, Alvarez looks like he stumbled out of Mayberry, N.C.

But this kid is different.

He Mexican, with roots in a country where boxing is a national passion and a nation where the populace worships its biggest stars. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is a mediocre fighter, but because his father was perhaps the greatest Mexican-born fighter who ever lived, he's regarded as royalty in Mexico.

But the current generation of great Mexican stars – Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez – are nearing the end of the line of legendary careers.

In their stead may be Alvarez, a wily boxer with surprising pop and even more ring savvy than his 19 years would suggest is possible. He evokes comparisons to the great Cuban welterweight, Hall of Famer Jose "Mantequilla" Napoles, who became one of Mexico's most popular boxers.

He fights Jose Miguel Cotto in the final undercard bout on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena before the main event between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley.

It's a coveted spot on perhaps the year's biggest card, and it went to a kid who's not old enough to drop a nickel in one of the casino's many slot machines.

"It's a big event and I'm very focused and very motivated," said Alvarez, who is 31-0-1 with 27 straight wins since a draw in his fifth pro fight when he was all of 15. "It's a big responsibility, but I'm comfortable that I can deal with it."

His manager, Chapo Reynoso, chuckles at the suggestion that the attention and the hoopla might be too much for a still-learning teenager to handle.

"You don't know Canelo," said Reynoso while grinning.

The question that is unanswered, at least in the U.S., is whether Alvarez really can fight. He's faced the usual collection of misfits in compiling his gaudy record, but until he gets into the ring against a fighter who can actually punch back, he remains a mystery. The Mexican fan base is desperate for someone to follow in the footsteps of Chavez Sr., Morales and Barrera, among others, and become the star the nation has lacked since age has caught up to them.

Clearly, they're enamored with him. On Televisa, his ratings are typically 15-16, astronomically high numbers for any boxer, but particularly for one as young and as untested as Alvarez.

"He can fight," Schaefer said. "The Mexican people are looking for that next big star and they realize Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. won't be it. But they've embraced this kid. The ratings his fights get are similar to the ratings of national soccer games. It's incredible, really, how passionate they are about him already."

There have been reports that women have taken to throwing their underwear at him during the fights. Alvarez said he wasn't aware of it, but the idea that a young woman might do that clearly intrigued him.

"I like it," he said, grinning impishly. "If they're doing it, I don't know about it, but I won't tell them to stop."