Canelo Alvarez still stuck in Floyd Mayweather's shadow ahead of fight of his life

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

If things had gone the way that promoter Oscar De La Hoya had hoped a few months ago, Canelo Alvarez would be preparing to rake in a massive payday to box UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor; Floyd Mayweather would still be retired; and Gennady Golovkin would still be searching for that ever-elusive career-defining match.

Instead, Mayweather is returning to boxing after a nearly two-year retirement. He was lured back to the game by the prospect of what he sees as easy money to fight McGregor, the audacious mixed martial arts superstar who cooked up this crazy notion that he just might be able to beat one of the greatest boxers ever despite never having had a boxing match before.

Golovkin finally has that bout he sought, the match in which he can gain affirmation for his talents after a career spent pulverizing the overmatched likes of Willie Monroe and Dominic Wade and pleading for the greats to fight him. Alvarez is set to meet Golovkin in a middleweight unification bout on Sept. 16 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas that De La Hoya, ever the promoter, insists is the greatest middleweight bout of all-time.

Asked where the fight ranks in the pantheon of great middleweight bouts of the last 20 years – and it’s hard to come up with many in 20 years, as most of the great middleweight scraps were long before that – De La Hoya didn’t simply stop with the last two decades.

He went all Lavar Ball.

“By far this is in the biggest, probably in the history of the middleweight division,” said De La Hoya, who needs every edge he can get in selling what on paper is a fantastic bout between two of the best fighters in the world but which is being tragically overlooked given that Mayweather and McGregor will fight on Aug. 26 at T-Mobile Arena in a bout that is expected to smash all existing financial records.

“I mean, obviously, we have to wait for the actual fight to see what unfolds and takes place, but in terms of magnitude, in terms of [public relations], in terms of attention that it’s receiving, in terms of people that will be watching, yeah, this has to be the biggest. And obviously, we will have to wait until Sept. 16 to see if it’s going to be the best, which I think it will be, in the history of the middleweight division. But it has all the ingredients to unfold to be one of the best fights in the last 30 years. … The indications tell us that this will be a huge blockbuster.”

Floyd Mayweather Jr. (L) lands a jab on Canelo Alvarez during their 2013 bout that Mayweather won by decision. (AP)

Alvarez is the star of the show as the guy who filled the pay-per-view void when Mayweather retired and Manny Pacquiao drifted toward irrelevance. He sold nearly a million for a fight in May against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., a bout in which virtually everyone who offered an opinion on it suggested that Alvarez would win every minute of every round.

Here, Alvarez has a chance to achieve the crowning moment of a brilliant career by defeating the powerful and unbeaten Golovkin, a man turned into myth given the reverence and awe with which those who have watched him perform up close these last few years have described him.

And yet, Alvarez is again being overshadowed by Mayweather, as has happened nearly every time out since what unquestionably was the worst night of his life nearly four years ago.

On Sept. 14, 2013, Mayweather and Alvarez climbed into the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to fight each other in a bout that pitted two men with a combined record of 86-0-1 at the time.

Everything that Alvarez-Golovkin is expected to be next month, Mayweather-Alvarez was expected to be, and more. It was the wily boxer versus the youthful slugger, and Alvarez boldly proclaimed he would end Mayweather’s perfect record.

“I was born for this,” he said, seconds after weighing in for that bout.

He may have been born for it, but we’ll never know. All we’ll know is that on Sept. 14, 2013, at 23 years, one month and 28 days, Alvarez wasn’t ready for it. Mayweather performed magnificently, befuddled Alvarez with regularity and won their fight going away.

It was hardly an embarrassment, as by that point, it was simply a replay of what Mayweather had done to many of the greatest in the game’s recent history.

Few, though, have been hounded about their shortcomings against Mayweather as much as Alvarez has. At nearly every fight over the last four years, in almost every public appearance, someone will bring up the Mayweather bout, and ask him what he learned from it, or plead with him to reflect on the experience.

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As his biggest moment arrives, just five weeks away when he’s taking on the toughest non-Mayweather challenge of his career in a bout that his promoter says could be the biggest in middleweight history, here come the questions about Mayweather again.

In the winter, when he was out for a night on the town, De La Hoya was stopped by a cameraman who asked him his opinion of reports that Mayweather and McGregor soon would meet.

Instead of dismissing it, De La Hoya talked up Alvarez instead of Mayweather as an opponent for McGregor.

That talk was never taken seriously, and Alvarez went down the far better path when it comes to boxing. He’ll make a solid eight-figure check for his work against Golovkin in a fight that has the potential to sell well over one million pay-per-views.

As the impending showdown with Golovkin looms, Mayweather is there yet again, trying to steal his shine, doing his best to overshadow what could well be Alvarez’s finest moment.

He’s also quite literally taking money out of Alvarez’s pocket. Every pay-per-view that goes to Mayweather-McGregor is one that might have, under different circumstances, gone to Alvarez-Golovkin.

With no Mayweather-McGregor three weeks ahead of it, the media would be buzzing about the coming Alvarez-Golovkin battle. Instead, Alvarez hosted a conference call Tuesday along with De La Hoya and trainers Jose “Chepo” Reynoso and Eddy Reynoso, and nearly a third of the questions were about Mayweather.

Alvarez has a chance to finish 2017 with more pay-per-views sold in one year other than anyone not named Mayweather. Alvarez is a good bet to go into the Hall of Fame when he retires, even if he doesn’t win another fight. He’s a lead-pipe cinch if he defeats Golovkin next month.

And yet, he’s asked, as he always is, about Mayweather. Mayweather is 40, fighting an MMA fighter instead of a boxer and admitting he wouldn’t be fighting anyone else, and yet Alvarez is being asked about him and what he’s learned from that fight, as he has been in every match since.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot,” the ever-patient Alvarez said. “I have more experience now. I feel more confident. I’m more of a mature fighter now. Obviously not just that fight, but the fights that followed have gotten me to this point. But yes, I’ve changed and I learned from it, and I just feel I’m more of a complete fighter now. I have more experience, and the confidence is probably the one thing that I can point out the most.”

The world is captivated, though, by the upcoming spectacle between Mayweather and McGregor, choosing it over the far better fight between Alvarez and Golovkin.

Win or lose against Golovkin, and Mayweather will finally be in his rear-view mirror forever, off to retirement and a date with boxing immortality.

Here’s the thing, though: That date with immortality looms for Alvarez, too. Alvarez is still just 27 and is in the middle of his prime. A crushing win over Golovkin would establish his credentials for an eventual landing spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

More importantly, it will focus attention where it should have been all along, on Alvarez’s many triumphant victories and not on his sole, bitter defeat.

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