by Hans Olson
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez could be boxing’s next global franchise…but when will we know for sure? We’re watching his every move, but what have we been seeing? Like Jim Carrey’s character Truman Burbank in Peter Weir’s 1998 film “The Truman Show,” Saul Alvarez may not even understand the level of fame he already has—all the pits, downfalls, and scrutiny included. What will be realized first? His potential, or our realization as boxing fans of the difficulty in having placed such high expectations on a fighter so talented, but so young? In The Truman Show, a stirring scene between Truman Burbank and Christof takes place:
Truman: “Who are you?”
Christof: “I am the creator of a television show that gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions.”
Truman: “Then who am I?”
Christof: “You’re the Star.”
Saul Alvarez, at the age of 21…is a star.
Saturday night in Mexico City, the fighter nicknamed “Canelo” will step up to what is arguably the stiffest test of his young career when he defends his WBC Jr. Middleweight Championship against Kermit Cintron. Alvarez was last seen defeating Alfonso Gomez on September 17, headlining his own show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on the split-site PPV co-feature to Floyd Mayweather vs. Victor Ortiz. Kermit Cintron enters the ring having won a competitive decision over Antwone Smith in August; mere weeks after a disappointing decision loss to Carlos Molina. The fight will headline HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” telecast.
What do we know about Saul Alvarez?
What don’t we know?
What can Kermit Cintron offer in hopes of answering these questions?
This fight will ask much of the young Mexican sensation. Then again, he should be getting used to it. Saul Alvarez is growing up before our very eyes, in and outside of the ring. We know he’s a special talent. We know that along with said talent, he has a uniqueness about him, a certain star quality that cannot be manufactured. Maybe it’s the red hair for which gave him his nickname. Maybe it’s his age. Maybe it’s the style in which he fights.
Maybe it’s all of that and more.
“If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him.”
Santos Saul Alvarez Barragan was born on July 18, 1990, in Guadalajara, Mexico. The youngest of 6 brothers, Saul first laced up the gloves as a 13 year old, turning professional 2 years later at the age of 15 after only a handful of amateur fights. Dropping out of school early on, Saul Alvarez had ambitions as a fighter that which none could stop. Having gone undefeated in 31 professional fights, Alvarez signed with Golden Boy Promotions in January 2010.
Alvarez was only 19 years old.
By May of that year, Alvarez was to face Jose Miguel Cotto in his first fight on American soil. The early moments of the fight were disastrous for Saul, but he recovered and adjusted, eventually coming back to impress with a 9th round stoppage proving at least for that moment—he was a kid to watch out for. After a dominating win over Luciano Leonel Cuello a few months later in Mexico, Alvarez returned stateside for what would be his most impressive showing until that point, a September 2010 knockout of the iron chinned Carlos Baldomir on the undercard of Shane Mosley vs. Sergio Mora. Alvarez stole the show. At that moment, with a roaring crowd of adoring fans in LA, the consensus was unanimous: Saul Alvarez is going to be a star.
That’s if he wasn’t already. He was never to have been prevented from being one.
Stars are like that.
“It’s all true. It’s all real. Nothing here is fake. Nothing you see on this show is fake. It’s merely controlled.”
Shortly after the luster of the Baldomir knockout had worn off, a fight was signed for Saul to take on veteran Lovemore Ndou in December 2010. It was around this time that boxing’s typical cynicism crept in. Shown across the United States through HBO Latino, many fans began to question Golden Boy for soft matchmaking in lieu of a rapidly improving star. That Alvarez didn’t impress in the same fashion as he had in the Baldomir fight didn’t help. Certainly, it was a fine performance…Ndou was only given 1 round by all 3 judges combined. Still, fans were expecting more. The controlled matchmaking garnered further criticism when Alvarez was matched with Matthew Hatton, a much smaller fighter. Worse still, was the fact that the WBC had sanctioned the bout for its vacant 154 lb. title. Cries of paper champ were heard far and wide. Understandably though, it’s hard to blame Golden Boy, Alvarez, or anyone for the manner in which he has been brought up through the ranks. At an age where most boxers are still fighting at the amateur level, Alvarez is in with seasoned pros. In truth, the fight with Ryan Rhodes over the summer was genuinely a fairly dangerous fight to have taken—and Alvarez passed that test with flying colors.
Has the matchmaking been strategic? Absolutely. It’s all true. But like or not, Saul Alvarez is selling more tickets than many fighters years his elder. Alvarez and Golden Boy have the ability in this market, with Saul’s popularity, to match him as they see fit. And he’s not fighting bums—he’s fighting pros. Much like we watched Sidney Crosby and Lebron James compete in worlds many thought they weren’t yet supposed to be in, we’re watching everything Saul Alvarez does—in a world maybe he shouldn’t yet be in himself—hoping to recognize the magnitude of what he yet can be.
Still, this early in his career…he’s damn good.
“We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented, it’s as simple as that.”
There are of course, the downfalls of fame. When fame comes quickly, usually the downfalls come just as quick. Saul Alvarez has begun to experience the reality of the world that which he has been presented; reflected back on the public, and thus-far accepted. What isn’t accepted, could be the fanfare going forward if recent events become a trend. Look down a long line of athletes who got “too much too soon.” What is there to suggest that Saul Alvarez could be different? Does he have the capacity to handle his fame? Does he yet realize the level of his fame? There are conflicting feelings among observers. Look no further than last month’s incident with Jorge Solis. An alleged physical altercation between Alvarez and the 108 lb. fighter was reported, though Alvarez denied having been involved. According to Solis, the fighters became involved in an argument—which was allegedly over a woman—and Alvarez assaulted him, breaking his jaw. Again, Alvarez denied having done so. Still, “Canelo” felt quite a bit of heat in the press when that story hit. Legally, the matter is still pending.
It’s not the first time Saul has received this kind of tabloid fodder—there was a lot of that with former fiance, Marisol Gonzalez, a sports reporter for Televisa Deportes and former Miss Universe.
Alvarez would be wise to heed the words of his promoter Oscar De La Hoya when it comes to handling his celebrity status.
Speaking with Bill Dwyer in a piece for the Los Angeles Times back in March, De La Hoya was quoted saying “outside of the ring I was a party guy. I loved to go drink it up, have a good time. I’d say the partying took four years off my career.”
Alcohol isn’t the issue obviously, but the message can still resonate. As the article continued, De La Hoya assured that Saul Alvarez wouldn’t make the same mistakes he did.
“He’s different, he’s serious. But we talk about it a lot.”
That Alvarez has a role model in De La Hoya could prove to be a good thing. It is worth noting though, that Saul Alvarez will make mistakes. To say he won’t, would be ridiculous. It’s just that in the insulated world of fame, anything he does will be viewed under a microscope. With the benefit of this, Saul can avoid much of it. Because of it, we have to not exaggerate it.
In The Truman Show, Ed Harris’ character Christof said it best:
“It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life.”
So what can we expect to see Saturday night?
We can expect to see one Hell of a young fighter taking another step up. I asked earlier, what could Kermit Cintron offer us as an answer to the many questions we may still have about Saul Alvarez. In the ring, Kermit Cintron will test Saul with his punching power. He’ll test his will. Being in the desperate position that Kermit Cintron finds himself in right now in his own career, we assume he’s going to lay it all on the line. Cintron will have a chip on his shoulder.
Kermit Cintron will test Saul Alvarez.
As far as the reality that Saul Alvarez finds himself in outside of the ring? We’ll find no greater truth serum than his performance inside the ring. We’ll know if a young fighter, on the verge of superstardom, is coping with his star power and recognizing his fame.
We’d hope he’s been honing his craft, sharpening his skills. We hope to see something impressive. I’d be shocked if we don’t. Boxing, is not what Alvarez has ever needed to worry about.
In the ring, is everything that Saul Alvarez is. It’s his world. Beyond that, his life outside the ring can be just as dangerous for him.
Still, it’s his world.
And as Noah Emmerich’s character Marlon said in The Truman Show…
“That’s a whole lot of world for one man.”
Boxing Insider’s Hans Olson can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @hansolson