That mop of red hair stands out in a crowd but Saul “Canelo” Alvarez wants more than to be noticed, the Mexican redhead wants to be the eye of the hurricane in the sport of boxing.
Popularity in Mexico and among fans in the Southwest has contributed heavily to Alvarez being a big ticket seller and that’s half of the battle. But to take over the reins of Floyd Mayweather you need a string of victories against elite rivals to be the main guy.
A win over Erislandy Lara (19-1-2, 12 Kos) can be a start for Alvarez (43-1-1, 31 Kos) when they fight tonight, Saturday, July 12, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. But it doesn’t guarantee catching Mayweather at the top of the financial totem pole.
Even if Lara beats Alvarez that wouldn’t guarantee Mayweather-type success for the Cuban. It’s a gradual consistent process that takes a string of impressive wins against top notch competition. Money Mayweather didn’t approach his current status until he defeated Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. That win launched him to superstar status.
From 1996 until 2008, the biggest ticket seller in boxing was De La Hoya, who could sell out an arena faster than any of his contemporary rivals. Selling 30,000 tickets in Texas was no problem. Selling 30,000 tickets at the Home Depot Center soccer stadium was no problem. Had he traveled to Mexico City he easily could have sold more than 30,000 tickets.
So who can follow De La Hoya and now Mayweather?
Canelo has made no secret of his desire to supplant Mayweather as boxing’s biggest draw and reclaim the Mexican holidays in May and September that are traditionally reserved for the biggest cards of the year.
“I want to take back the Mexican holidays and fight on those dates,” said Alvarez, who feels slighted that a non-Mexican has taken the dates.
Alvarez had the opportunity to take them back a year ago and failed miserably against Mayweather. Still, it’s not too late for the Mexican redhead with Mayweather’s career winding down the final stretch. The 23-year-old Mexican junior middleweight has time and the advantage of a large Mexican following that includes female fans. Not since De La Hoya has there been a prizefighter who had women clamoring to buy tickets to a fight. That’s a big plus.
Women boxing fans are particular. It’s a rarity to see females at a boxing arena without a male partner, but not when Alvarez fights.
Lara is a different story altogether. The Cuban southpaw can fight, there’s no doubt about his abilities. But when was the last time a prizefighter from that island nation having the ability to be a huge ticket seller? You have to go back to Kid Gavilan in the 1950s to find a Cuban fighter that could sell out a large fight arena like Madison Square Garden. Lara has a very long road to be a money-making prizefighter.
In the 1940s and 50s Gavilan was selling out arenas and even larger venues, like Chicago Stadium and Philadelphia Municipal Stadium, in 1952, when he fought Gil Turner to capture the welterweight world championship before 39,000 fans. Of course Gavilan had a much different style than Lara and was often engaged in titanic slugfests. But the “Cuban Hawk” was a fan favorite in the early days of boxing on television.
Another Cuban fighter who managed to gather a fan base was Sugar Ramos, who found a backdoor by making Mexico City his home base. Ramos was a Cuban fighter who moved to Mexico after the Fidel Castro’s Cuban takeover and gained a large following among Mexican fans. Ramos was a very strong fighter who won the featherweight world title in the infamous battle with Davey Moore at Dodger Stadium in 1963. In the 10th round Ramos floored Moore, who suffered a fatal injury during the knockdown and died two days later. It was the second time Ramos had been involved with a death in the ring. In 1958, the heavy hitting Ramos knocked out fellow Jose Blanco in Cuba and he died from injuries sustained during the fight.
Lara, unlike Ramos, is not a destroyer in the boxing ring. It’s the slick southpaw’s major flaw. Selling tickets is the name of the game. You can be 100-0 but if no one cares to see your fights then the boxing game will swallow you up. Lara could defeat Alvarez but it simply doesn’t guarantee popularity or the ability to sell tickets. Fans want to see a pleasing style filled with punches and aggressiveness, especially in these days of 100 sports channels all competing against each other for a sports fan's attention.
Of course Alvarez or Lara may not succeed Mayweather at the head of the class. It could easily be another fighter like Keith Thurman or Mikey Garcia. We’ll see in a couple of years... or maybe sooner.