Alvarez faces challenge in Baldomir as his name continues to spread
A female friend of mine who grew up in Mexico City but has lived in Los Angeles for many years and knows nothing about boxing said the other day: “I hear we have a new star in Mexico ÔÇª Canelo.”
The word “star” apparently is accurate even though Saul “Canelo” Alvarez just turned 20 and is still learning his craft, even after 34 professional fights. He seems to have it all. He’s an exciting fighter. He’s well spoken and humble, which is important to Mexicans. He’s good looking. Females between 15 and 45 voted him the best-looking boxer in a recent internet poll.
And, perhaps most important, he has flaming red hair that stands out like a beacon in Mexico. Hence the nickname: Canelo means Cinnamon.
The package apparently has caught the attention of the Mexicans, who, as my friend demonstrated, are spreading the word of the new red-headed kid on the block.
Veteran boxing writer Hesiquio Alejandro Balderas Olivo said Alvarez does tremendous ratings on the Mexican network Televisa, much as Julio Cesar Chavez does on rival TV Azteca. And, in public, he draws crowds the way Julio Cesar Chavez and Ruben Olivares once did. Clearly, he emerging as an important celebrity in his native land.
Alvarez (33-0-1, 25 knockouts) is thinking bigger than that, though.
“I don’t want to be a star just in Mexico. I want to be a star all over,” he said through a translator.
Anyone won saw his fight against Jose Miguel Cotto, the brother of Miguel Cotto, on the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Mosley undercard in May might scoff at that concept.
A solid junior middleweight was taken to the limit by an aging former lightweight contender — Alvarez was staggered in the first round — before Cotto was finally worn down and knocked out by his much bigger adversary. The victor showed the kind of grit he’ll need to succeed but stardom seemed to be a long way off.
Alvarez took the unexpected challenge in stride, saying he tries to learn from each fight and then move on to the next one.
And he said he was nervous because he was fighting for the first time on a big pay-per-view card in the United States, a land he hopes to conquer. Don’t forget: He was still a teen-ager only a few months ago.
“Let me be honest,” he said. “It wasn’t Cotto, the opponent. It was the atmosphere. It was the thoughts in my head. I couldn’t adjust. The fights are coming one by one and I’m still learning. What happened against Cotto was because of the fans.
“I had a lot of pressure.”
Alvarez looked a lot better in his subsequent fight, a sixth-round knockout of fringe contender Luciano Leonel Cuello in July in the more-familiar territory of Guadalajara.
Now, however, he probably faces his biggest challenge back under the spotlight.
The good news is that Baldomir (45-12-6, 14 KOs) is 39 and has lost three of past five fights, although Mayweather and Vernon Forrest were responsible for two of the setbacks. And Baldomir has never been a big puncher.
The bad news is that the former welterweight titleholder from Argentina has a big advantage in terms of experience and is extremely rugged, having been knocked out only once very early in his career. He could give Alvarez trouble if he is in good shape.
Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions, Alvarez’s promoter, said he’s nervous this time.
“I hope that the Alvarez team hasn’t underestimated this guy,” he said. “The guy has an iron chin and an iron will. This is a very dangerous opponent for a young fight like Saul Alvarez. You saw what happened with Danny Jacobs, another young fighter [who was KO’d recently].
“ÔÇª He just seems to be the kind of guy who time after time rises to the occasion. That’s what could make him a superstar one day.”
Alvarez is taking steps outside the ring to become that crossover star.
He already is taking lessons on how to handle fame from the master, Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya. And he had a private tutor teaching him how to speak English, which he knows is necessary to reach the widest audience in the sport’s biggest market.
He also knows that he must continue to win if his dreams are going to materialize. And it starts with Baldomir.
“It doesn’t worry me, it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “These are the type of opponents I have to face. I’m just going little by little. That’s it.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]