BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. — A group of boxing writers gathered around Saul Alvarez before the young Mexican star worked out and sparred for about 50 onlookers who made the trek up the San Bernardino mountain for his recent media day. None of the scribes wanted to talk to him about his next opponent.
Alvarez defends his WBC 154-pound title against Alfonso Gomez on Sept. 17 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, part of a split-site pay-per-view event headlined by the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz showdown in Las Vegas.
However, the media wasn't interested in Alvarez’s thoughts on Gomez, headlining at Staples Center or being a part of the Mayweather-Ortiz promotion. They wanted to know what the 21-year-old redhead plans to do after Sept. 17, and more to the point, when he’ll face a notable fighter in a suitable challenge.
Vanes Martirosyan and Alfredo Angulo, the WBC’s Nos. 1 and 2 154-pound contenders, were brought up. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the holder of the WBC’s middleweight belt and the only fighter who can match Alvarez’s popularity in Mexico, was also mentioned.
The names are thrown at Alvarez almost every time he’s interviewed, especially the prospect of fighting Chavez. But he doesn’t seem bothered by the repetition or by the suggestion that he’s unproven or just the product of hype from his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions.
Alvarez’s patience with his gradual pro development might irk the boxing media and hardcore fans but it will probably serve him well in the long run. His composure in the face of heavy pressure to get right into the biggest fights possible is definitely a good sign.
If Alvarez can maintain his focus and current attitude, he might make good on his promise to become a “superstar.” If he gets his way, fans won’t have to wait very long for him to prove it.
“Let me be very honest, I believe that I’m ready for everyone,” Alvarez (37-0-1, 27 knockouts) said calmly through translator Ramiro Gonzalez. “I’ll fight whoever my promoter puts in front of me. I don’t worry about who’s out there. If they tell me my next opponent is the devil, I’ll fight him.
“My job is to be 100 percent prepared for whoever I fight, and that’s why I’m here in Big Bear. I know I have critics, but that’s part of the game. I can’t worry about them. I just have to do my job and that job is to get ready for my next opponent, which is Gomez.”
Gomez (23-4-1, 12 KOs) is a 30-year-old veteran from Los Angeles who is probably best known for participating in the first season of The Contender. The gutsy boxer-pressure fighter did surprisingly well on the NBC-televised reality series, which ran in 2004-05.
Gomez, a natural welterweight, competed at against middleweights and defeated future 168-pound title challengers Peter Manfredo Jr. and Jesse Brinkley, albeit in five-round bouts.
Alvarez says he has only watched four or five of his opponent’s fights on tape in order to get a feel for his style. And he only viewed bouts that took place after The Contender, including Gomez’s seventh-round TKO of Arturo Gatti in 2007 and his fifth-round stoppage loss to then-welterweight titleholder Miguel Cotto in ’08.
“He has a big heart,” Alvarez said of Gomez, who has won five in a row since the loss to Cotto. “He throws good combinations and he’s experienced. I’ve got more fights than he does but he’s been in there with Cotto and Gatti.”
Cotto, the Puerto Rican star who currently holds the WBA 154-pound title, is another name the media tossed at Alvarez.
Roving video reporter Elie Seckbach told the young fighter that his trainer, Edison Reynoso, envisions Alvarez fighting Cotto and Mayweather in the near future.
“I love hearing that,” said Alvarez. “Those are the fights I want. That’s what I’m looking for. I told Oscar (De La Hoya), I told Richard (Schaefer), ‘Give me the best.’ But they want to make sure I’m ready for those guys when I fight them.
“I trust them, and I trust my managers. I have 100-percent confidence in my team and they have confidence in me. I’m working to be the best and everything will come in its time.”
Alvarez makes send but hardcore fans and the writers who represent them aren't as patient.
Gabriel Montoya of maxboxing.com decided to give Alvarez a little nudge, just to see if he could get a reaction, something more than the Zen-like responses the freckle-faced fighter had uttered.
“I was at Alfredo Angulo’s last fight,” Montoya told Alvarez. “I asked his trainer, Nacho Beristain, what would happen if you fought Angulo and he said Angulo would knock you out in five or six rounds.”
Alvarez’s face did not turn red. He didn’t grimace or even roll his eyes.
“If Angulo is who I fight after Gomez, I’ll be ready for him,” he said. “I would fight him tomorrow if I had to.”
“Nothing seems to get under your skin,” Montoya said. “You always appear so calm.”
Alvarez smiled at the observation: “I don’t just look calm, I am calm.”
Alvarez brings that composure into the ring as well, according to one of his sparring partners, Carson Jones.
“He’s got a lot of things going for him, good power and speed,” said Jones, a 25-year-old veteran who faces fellow welterweight fringe contender Said Ouali on the Mayweather-Ortiz undercard. “But the most important thing of all is that he’s really relaxed when he fights.”
Jones, who has sparred with Alvarez for two weeks at The Summit gym in Big Bear, believes the young fighter’s steadiness under stress will serve him well when takes on the bigger names in the sport, especially Chavez.
“Fans always try to compare Alvarez with Chavez, but they’re very different fighters,” said Jones, who has also sparred with Chavez. “Chavez looks nervous to me. It’s like someone is forcing him to be there. He’s thinking about everything he does in the ring.
“Alvarez is more relaxed. He’s more natural than Julio. Everything just flows with Alvarez.”
Alvarez’s “flow” was on display during five rounds of sparring for the members of the media who gathered at The Summit.
He appeared to be working on various aspects of ring generalship during the brisk rounds with Jones and Charlie Ota. Alvarez worked on tripling up his left-hand punches, cutting off the ring and fighting off the ropes during his three rounds with Jones (31-8-2, 21 KOs).
Against Ota (18-1-1, 13 KOs), a Japan-based American who holds the Japanese 154-pound title, Alvarez worked on blocking and counter punching while stalking the 30-year-old Maryland native.
One interested observer was Oscar De La Hoya, who made his first public appearance since checking himself into a California rehab facility in late May.
“I love what I’m seeing,” De La Hoya said. “He’s only two weeks into this camp, but he’s working on everything. He’s having fun with training, but he’s learning every step of the way. He understands that he has to learn with every camp and because he’s such a fast learner he’s getting better with each fight.
“Look at how at home he is in the ring. Look at his confidence. He wasn’t supposed to spar in front of everyone, but he wanted to. He did this for the media. I never did that at any of my media days.”
Photos by Gene Blevins-Hoganphotos.com / Golden Boy Promotions. Sparring photo by Scott Kilbride.