LAS VEGAS – Outside of the ring, boxers tend to be a sensitive lot. The slightest amount of criticism can send them off in a pique.
Floyd Mayweather Jr., who has sat atop the boxing heap for better than a decade, has had more than his share of critics. But he got to stick it to those critics on Wednesday when Mayweather announced he's going to fight Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 14 for the WBA/WBC super welterweight titles at the MGM Grand Garden on Showtime pay-per-view.
Mayweather isn't facing an old, faded fighter. Alvarez, despite 43 pro fights, won't turn 23 until July and is 13 years younger than Mayweather.
He won't be fighting a guy moving up in weight, like he did when he bested Robert Guerrero on May 4. Alvarez is a natural super welterweight, and the two-pound concession worked into the contract won't have much of an impact on the bout. Though the super welterweight limit is 154 pounds, the fighters agreed that the limit at the weigh-in will be 152. To his credit, Alvarez said the two pounds were no problem and readily agreed.
By taking on Alvarez, Mayweather isn't facing a soft touch. Alvarez is 42-0-1 and, as he showed in an outstanding performance against Austin Trout on April 20, is not only one of the sport's biggest draws, he's one of its best fighters. He's a top 20 pound-for-pound fighter, at worst, and some think he belongs near the bottom of the top 10.
Leonard Ellerbe, the chief executive officer of Mayweather Promotions and Mayweather's biggest cheerleader, was a little over the top Wednesday when he said it is impossible for any active fighter to defeat Mayweather.
Mayweather is the best fighter in the world, though super middleweight Andre Ward is gaining ground quickly. But it is hardly impossible for Mayweather to be beaten.
That he hasn't been defeated in 44 fights is testament to his incredible work ethic and his attention to even the most minute details.
Mayweather said shortly after his win over Guerrero that he motivates himself by imagining what his opponent might be doing. If he thinks the opponent is sleeping, he heads out for a run or drives over to the gym for a workout.
His oversized entourage, nicknamed "The Money Team," often shouts "Hard work; dedication," while he's training as tribute to their boss' insatiable desire to push himself.
Mayweather's never – ever – been out of shape for a fight. The needle on his scale has never jumped near 160 pounds at any point in his life.
The bout with Alvarez is the most significant fight that can be made in boxing because it's a fight that carries risk for Mayweather. Alvarez hasn't fought nearly the level of competition that Mayweather has, but he's knocked out 30 of the 43 men he's fought.
His knockout percentage of 70 percent is better than Mayweather's 59 percent.
Mayweather is only slightly better than a 2-1 favorite at the LVH sports book, a nod toward the bookmakers' belief that Alvarez isn't there only because the rules require two men.
He's far more than a warm body. He's got a legitimate chance to win this bout.
This is a match of speed (Mayweather) versus power (Alvarez). It's one of age and wisdom (Mayweather) versus youthful exuberance (Alvarez). And it's a match between the undisputed best and the guy who believes he deserves to be viewed that way.
There isn't a fighter who poses a bigger threat to Mayweather in or around his normal welterweight class than Alvarez. From the moment his hand was raised after his win over Guerrero, Mayweather has pushed his team to get Alvarez's name on a contract.
"You have to give an awful lot of credit to Floyd for what he's done here," said Golden Boy Promotions president Richard Schaefer, who brokered the deal. "Canelo is a young, strong, undefeated junior middleweight who can punch, who has speed and who can box.
"Floyd said, 'Get me that guy.' There were guys he could have fought that wouldn't have been as dangerous as Canelo, but that's not how he operates."
Schaefer is a promoter and his job is to sell the fight, but he's correct. Mayweather is the man who calls the shots, and he could have taken on someone like Amir Khan had he wanted an easy night; and no one among Golden Boy Promotions, Showtime or Al Haymon Productions would have blinked.
It would have driven the sport's hard-core fans mad, but Mayweather would have cruised to a one-sided victory and gladly stuffed his pockets full of Showtime's money for extremely little risk.
Rather than doing that, he sought his biggest challenge – a fight he could lose.
There aren't a lot of guys who do such things.
For a guy as obsessed with his legacy and his place in history as Mayweather, it was almost essential he take the fight.
That he did says a lot about him, as a man and as a fighter.
By getting Alvarez to sign a deal, Mayweather once again won. This time, it was by knockout over those critics who expected him to take the easiest path. He took the hard road, and he deserves all the praise he gets for doing it.
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