Note: This is the cover story in the June 2011 issue of THE RING magazine, which is available now on newsstands or in our new digital format.
Freckles and red hair are a good introduction, a better marketing hook and an irresistible temptation to search for comparisons. But Saul Alvarez never wanted to be Opie or Howdy Doody. Lucille Ball’s place among history’s great redheads is safe. Alvarez only wants to become a great fighter. If that means a different look, he’d grab a razor and go bald or reach for the dye and go green.
By birth, he’s a redhead, all right, complete with a nickname, “Canelo,” which is Spanish for cinnamon and a promotional ingredient in a recipe for impossible expectations. But be careful, very careful, not to over-indulge. Too much of the sweet stuff could ferment into a turnoff or flameout in a profession also with a taste for red, blood red.
Alvarez’s confrontation with expectation has arrived, faster than expected perhaps, yet inevitable in the 20-year-old’s swift emergence and Pied Piper-like ability to generate business, first in Mexico and now the United States.
He has a growing fan base, his first title belt (the WBC’s version of the 154-pound title) and an HBO-reported audience of 1.4 million for a March 5 decision over Matthew Hatton in front of an announced crowd of 11,674 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
The numbers have been multiplying into a buzz for at least a year. Where there’s talk, there’s argument, and there’s plenty of both about the merits and potential of a fighter who went from redheaded teenager to prospect to titleholder in about the time it takes to skip a flat stone across boxing’s shrinking pond.
It’s all happened much too fast for some of the faithful in the old-school congregation that foresees peril in every due not paid and every fundamental not learned.
But it has not been fast enough for those who worry about a sport in need of a quick infusion of youthful star power and charisma.
HBO’s Larry Merchant looks at Alvarez and sees a prodigy. Merchant compared him to a point guard or quarterback who is the son of a coach. The skills are in the DNA, inherited and instinctive.
“Sometimes, somebody with more athletic ability surpasses him,” Merchant said. “We’ll see.”
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