Rare is the athlete who becomes one of his sport's biggest attractions without the accompanying accomplishment on the field of play.
Yet, while Canelo Alvarez is one of the four or five biggest draws in boxing, his accomplishments have yet to match his popularity.
Those doubts will be erased on Saturday after he fights Austin Trout in the main event of a sold-out card at the Alamodome in San Antonio in a WBA/WBC super welterweight unification match.
A win over Trout would vault Alvarez into truly elite status. A loss, though, could confirm suspicions that Alvarez has been coddled on the way to a 41-0-1 record with 30 knockouts.
Alvarez has beaten three types of fighters: no-hopers, who had little talent and less chance of winning; smaller fighters, who sacrificed a significant amount of size to face him; or big-name veterans who were long past their primes.
In Trout, Alvarez will face none of those. He'll meet one of the world's slickest boxers, a large super welterweight who has the ability to inflict serious punishment.
Alvarez's advisers questioned his desire to take the Trout fight. Alvarez probably would have drawn 40,000 to the Alamodome even if he'd faced a much safer opponent such as Alfredo Angulo.
Give the 22-year-old Alvarez plenty of credit for wanting to test himself and face Trout.
"At the age of 22 years old, if you compare [Alvarez's] career to anybody else's, anybody else who's elite, they would never take this chance or this type of fight ever," Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya said. "[That's] including myself, including a Floyd Mayweather, including anybody. This is a test that he wanted and we're obviously hoping for the best."
In the long history of boxing, there have been elite 22-year-old fighters who have taken such fights – Muhammad Ali was a month past his 22nd birthday when he took on the then-feared Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title – but De La Hoya's point is well taken.
Not a lot of guys want to take a fight they could lose with as much riding on it as Alvarez has.
Alvarez is one of the leading contenders to face Floyd Mayweather Jr. in September, assuming both men win their upcoming bouts. Mayweather fights Robert Guerrero for the WBC welterweight title on May 4 in Las Vegas.
A Mayweather-Alvarez bout would be one of the most significant pay-per-view matches that could be made in the current environment, but it won't happen – or will be worth far less if it is made – if Alvarez loses.
The conventional wisdom is that Alvarez is a straight-ahead fighter with little nuance who will be baffled by Trout's boxing skill.
Alvarez, though, begs to differ. But unlike many who simply boast of their talent, Alvarez is willing to step into the ring on a very high-profile stage and prove it.
"Many people focus just on my power, but they don't see that I'm very fast and know how to move in the ring, as well," Alvarez said. "So that's something that, yeah, they'll see. And Trout is a strong fighter. He's shown it. He showed it with [Miguel] Cotto and he is a very strong fighter.
"But that's what makes me very happy, motivated, [is] working hard and I'll show it come fight night." Part of the reason for Alvarez's popularity is his style. He understands defense, and he's worked on it, but, at heart, he is an aggressive fighter who looks for the finish.
That, though, is the kind of style that plays right into Trout's hands. Trout is an expert boxer who can use an opponent's aggressiveness against him, and walk fighters into punches.
Alvarez knows he has to toe a fine line. He can't retreat and win the fight, but being too aggressive is likely what Trout wants him to do.
"The key is to not get desperate, not get wild," Alvarez said. "Take it round-by-round. Win round-by-round, see what comes up and counter that during the fight."
Alvarez is already a massive star. Had he fought on the Mayweather undercard, he'd have boosted pay-per-view sales considerably, perhaps by as much as 250,000 buys.
Alvarez, though, wanted to headline his own card rather than play second fiddle to someone else. With a sellout crowd of about 40,000 expected in San Antonio, it's so far worked out perfectly.
Now, all Alvarez needs is prove he can do it in the ring against a known, elite fighter.
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