Canelo Alvarez is the real deal. The 24-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico is poised to carry boxing into the post-Mayweather, post-Pacquiao era as a crossover star with mainstream appeal. He’s a good fighter who is consistently improving. He’s always in shape. He has a large and rabid fan base. He is willing to fight all-comers. He is promoted by one of the top promoters in the sport, and he is perhaps the most intriguing fighter on HBO’s stellar roster.
“It’s undeniable that Canelo Alvarez is a superstar,” said Ken Hershman, president of HBO Sports. “He’s going to carry the sport for a long time.”
Hershman has been with HBO Sports since 2012. After spending 20 years at Showtime, he took over as HBO Sports president from the departing Ross Greenburg. Under his regime, HBO Boxing lost both Alvarez and longtime HBO fighter Floyd Mayweather to rival network Showtime. But after losing Mayweather, the preeminent star in the sport, HBO set about building a new roster of next generation stars. In 2014, HBO pilfered Alvarez back from Showtime to go alongside Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev as HBO’s lead boxing stars.
Hershman said bringing Alvarez back into the fold was a no-brainer.
“He has a great personality. He’s great looking. His fan base is terrific and fanatical. I’ve been to so many boxing events with big crowds and exciting events, but you feel a different energy around his fan base. They’re actually wearing ‘Canelo’ garb. They’re into this kid in big way, and he responded.”
Alvarez’s first fight back on HBO airwaves was a destructive three-round knockout of James Kirkland on May 9 in Houston. Over 30,000 fight fans packed Minute Maid Park to see Alvarez do this thing, many wearing shirts, hats and bandanas adorned with his name. These were not items they bought at the arena that night. They were brought from home and had clearly been worn many times before.
Canelo vs. Kirkland was the most watched live cable TV fight since 2006. “His performance [against Kirkland] was thrilling,” said Hershman. “He wants the biggest challenges out there. He doesn’t say ‘no’ to any fight.”
Alvarez is easy to like. He has consistently fought excellent competition. In 2013, he won a close but unanimous decision over the crafty Austin Trout to set up a lucrative bout with Mayweather. Alvarez wasn’t quite polished enough yet to give the world’s best fighter much trouble. He lost a majority decision that probably should have been much wider. But since then, he’s won three straight, two by knockout. He took care of Alfredo Angulo in March 2014. He risked his future by forcing a fight against Erislandy Lara later that year and won a split decision in a dangerous fight even his promoters didn’t want him to take.
Now coming off his impressive win over Kirkland, it appears Alvarez is set to face WBC and lineal middleweight champion Miguel Cotto later this year.
“He’s going to take on Miguel Cotto hopefully in the fall. It will be the biggest PPV event of the fall. He’s going to carry this sport and be a lead star for HBO for many years to come.”
Hershman said it was a great time to be in the Canelo Alvarez business. He said Alvarez is the total package, and it’s hard to find anything about his assessment to dispute. Moreover, Alvarez has perhaps the biggest and best built-in fan base behind him the sport has to offer.
“The Mexican fan base for boxing is extraordinary, and it’s a fast-growing part of the population here [in the United States]. That’s a great sign for the sport and for Canelo Alvarez.”
With HBO firmly behind him, as well as Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions, it’s hard to see how everyone else in boxing won’t eventually end up loving him, too. Alvarez is a legit talent. He’s hardworking. He wants to fight the best competition available. He is not interested in protecting his record. And with Cotto and Golovkin fights on the horizon, he will have the opportunity to prove himself the elite talent he and his handlers believe him to be.
The best part about Alvarez is simply this: Even if he’s not an elite talent—even if he loses to Cotto, or beats Cotto but loses to Golovkin the next year—Alvarez is the kind of fighter who will not duck top level foes. He seeks the biggest and best fights, and competes in a thrilling style. So the absolute worst case scenario for Alvarez is that he gives us good fights against good opponents to keep us occupied until boxing’s next big superstar comes along the way to sweep us of our feet.
That’s ultimately why HBO loves Alvarez so much, and why you probably should, too.
Kelsey McCarson contributes to Bleacher Report, The Sweet Science and Boxing Channel.