Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is an enigma. Okay, the man himself may not be, but his career trajectory certainly seems enigmatic. Don’t believe me? Ponder the following: Alvarez may well be the most notable and famous active boxer in the world who is not legitimately great. When’s the last time that happened? I can’t conclusively think of a single occasion.
Floyd Mayweather, say what you will, is an all-time great. Same for Pacquiao. Same for Oscar De La Hoya before them. And the same goes for all of the most famous boxers: Mike Tyson, Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, John L. Sullivan, et al. But the same just can’t be said for Alvarez.
So, what gives? Why is Canelo so famous? Some argue it’s because he’s Mexican and henceforth carries with him an enormous fan base. Sorry, but I don’t buy that. At least not totally. The fight game is loaded, as it’s been for some time, with terrific Mexican fighters. Could it be the his boyish good looks then? Possibly. Personal appearance is important in all endeavors. There’s got to be more to it than looks, though. Screaming teenage girls are not making up the vast majority of Canelo’s fans, after all.
Let’s step back and look at the situation objectively, then. Just what is it that makes Canelo Alvarez so popular?
First off, he’s good. Very good. Perhaps not great, but one never knows what the future holds. Being a very good fighter is an excellent place to start if one wants to become wildly popular. Even more importantly though, Canelo is exciting. Face it, you make sure you’re near a television every time he fights. Check out the Kirkland bout. The guy’s entertainment value is legit.
Still, entertainment value only gets a fighter so far. If that weren’t so, Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward would have become international celebrities. So what is it about Canelo, then? Why is it that a man who lost his biggest fight and who isn’t a stylistic mover and shaker, stands to be the highest paid and most well known pug in the entire world?
In the end, it comes down to a combination of things, the first and foremost being Floyd Mayweather. That’s right, Floyd Mayweather. For, by picking Canelo as an opponent, Floyd elevated the man’s visibility and placed him in the spotlight the way no one else could. The second factor, though, is Canelo’s own determination.
Why didn’t Canelo Alvarez quietly fade away after losing so handily to Mayweather? It seems like most other Mayweather opponents did. The reason is Canelo wants to be a star, and I mean really wants to be a star. Sure, his appearance and fan base didn’t hurt either, but it was a burning desire to keep plugging along where more would have meekly retired into the proverbial woodwork that is key to the man’s success.
And so here were are, with the possibility of having a fighter who isn’t exactly great (or who has yet to achieve greatness) being boxing’s biggest draw. Make no mistake, the most popular fighters aren’t always the best ones at the time, per se, but they’re usually among the very best in the game. Canelo, frankly, isn’t in the top five if one were to list today’s most talented, accomplished boxers.
Still, the situation is very good for Canelo. What’s more, it may not be all that bad for boxing. It’s not like Canelo’s a joke, after all. Far from it. This is an accomplished, exciting athlete we’re discussing here. He also, until very recently, has had a reputation for being unafraid to take on all comers. That’s been to his credit and, for boxing’s sake, let’s hope it continues to be. People like that sort of thing in the age of Haymon. In fact, Canelo’s perceived fearlessness is a big part of his appeal.
Perhaps more importantly, however, the guy’s appeal may likely diminish if he were to prove himself to be just another contemporary boxer. Truth be told, there’s enough Danny Garcia‘s, Adonis Stevenson‘s, and Billy Joe Saunders to go around. Another one simply isn’t needed. That’s a lesson Canelo will learn the hard way if he starts getting precious with Golovkin or other potential foes.
Provided the man stays on the straight and narrow and remains a true competitor who is willing to put it all on the line, Canelo can remain enormously popular. Unless, of course, he starts to lose regularly in those big matches. That’s the risk one takes when one becomes an A-lister without necessarily having A-list talent.
Again, however, no one knows if or how much Canelo can develop as a boxer. If he grows from where he is, he may end up being at the top of boxing’s heap in more ways than one. — Sean Crose