At first glance, it is hard to talk about a “comeback trail” for a 23 year-old fighter, but that’s exactly what Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is embarking on right now as he looks forward to leave behind his first career defeat at the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr. last September.
After a few rounds of the usual speculations and rumors, Canelo finally chose to continue his career with a fight against fellow Mexican former champ Alfredo Angulo (22-3, 18 KO), leaving money on the table after rejecting more lucrative bouts against the likes of Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto (and probably sending them both on a collision course of their own).
Aside from the considerations of Angulo as the right opponent for this stage of his career in regards to his boxing style, it can be said that he is also the right opponent for Alvarez (42-1-1, 30 KO) to test his pay-per-view appeal once again now that he is no longer undefeated. Other than the loss of his undefeated status, the fight against Mayweather was a huge success, with record-breaking numbers across the board in every category from pay-per-view buys to closed-circuit tickets sold and beyond.
But even as much as Canelo is an established headliner in his own right, the focus should now be on his ability to attract paying customers during the next stretch of his career, regardless of his performance or his unbeaten record. With Mayweather already having posted the expiration date on his career, and both Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao being one defeat (or one disappointing victory) away from considering retirement, Canelo is expected to step up and be one of the industry’s biggest attractions.
Angulo seems to be a good choice for this task. Other than Cotto and Martinez, Canelo’s short list of possible opponents included guys like Erislandy Lara, a slick technical fighter in the mold of Austin Trout and Mayweather, two fighters against whom Canelo failed to impress. The fact that Angulo was defeated by Lara in his last fight is further proof of the fact that Team Canelo made its choice based on performance and willingness to trade leather rather than on the opponent’s record and other achievements. This does not diminish the fact that Lara vs. Canelo will remain overdue, but it is clear that Canelo chose an opponent with whom he can go back to his brawling ways, which is definitely his comfort zone.
Adding even more allure to the fight is the fact that Angulo features the very desirable combination of punching power and a relatively weak (or maybe just recently weakened) chin. His hunger is never in question either, and that will complete the prospect of a good departure from Mayweather’s defensive, come-get-me approach that rubbed so many of Canelo’s fans the wrong way.
The selection process for Canelo’s opponents looms as a big issue in the next few years. With Alvarez, we’re talking about a 23 year-old guy with the potential of being a top draw for the next 10 years at record-level pay-per-view territory. “You won’t see someone running away from me in the ring”, said Canelo about his opponent, and we can expect this to be one of his main concerns in his choosing of foes in the next few years, to suit his aggressive and entertaining style.
In other situations, such cherry-picking would be hardly tolerated, but that’s one of the perks of being a fighter who keeps breaking TV audience records at home (with highs of up to 77 percent of households tuning in) and is already one-half of one of the most lucrative fights ever against Mayweather.
So far, measuring Canelo’s drawing power has been a tough assignment given that he has topped the bill only twice in his pay-per-view career (against Trout and Josesito Lopez), both with very good results but very distant to those events in which he had to share the spotlight with a fellow headliner. But now, the time has come to allow Canelo to develop his own style, his own following (at least in the US) and build his own reputation as a win-or-lose TV attraction much in the style of predecessors like Oscar de la Hoya or Miguel Cotto. And that’s one of the lessons Canelo has probably learned from his last fight.
“I can’t tell you all the things I learned from my last fight [against Floyd Mayweather on a record-shattering pay-per-view event last September]”, said Alvarez recently, “but there is a long list. I don’t take it as a loss. I take it as a learning experience. And that is what’s going to keep me going. That’s the greatest thing about this sport. You learn and you move on”.
In the interest of moving on, Angulo may just be the perfect partner to measure his current market value. The young cinnamon-freckled boxer has already shown he is much more than just a spice, a side dish, or even a regional delight. He is the main course, and now is the time to test the appetite of boxing fans worldwide.