With Canelo Alvarez reportedly set to face Austin Trout on May 4, opinion is divided on who will win the fight. But what's very clear is that Alvarez is taking the sort of serious challenge that could knock him off the path to major superstardom.
Floyd Mayweather is fond of saying that all roads lead to his doorstep in the boxing game. The biggest pay-per-view star in boxing, the biggest moneymaker in all of sports, Mayweather has his pick of the litter, outside of the Top Rank stable, and can choose his opponents as carefully as he wants to.
One fight that has been rumored for Mayweather (43-0, 26 KO), should he get past likely May 4 opponent Robert Guerrero as is expected, is a potentially huge clash with rising Mexican superstar Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, an undefeated, 22-year-old boy king who has ascended into a force at the gates, capturing the imagination of the Mexican mainstream and steadily climbing the list of the most viable stars on U.S. soil, as well.
That fight, it is said, could happen in September, though many doubt Mayweather's sincerity when he says he'll fight four months after his May bout, as Floyd hasn't turned around that quickly to his next fight in ages, failing to fight more than once in a calendar year since 2007, when he beat Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton, two guys who are now 100% retired from the sport.
While there may not be any sincere worry over Guerrero managing to pull the upset of the new century by knocking off Floyd, there is a major roadblock on the other side, as Alvarez (41-0-1, 30 KO) will reportedly lace up his gloves and take on Austin Trout on the undercard at the MGM Grand.
In theory, these fights are paired together so that both Mayweather and Alvarez will win, convincing the public that this is the new fight that has to happen in boxing. And whereas Mayweather-Pacquiao was never going to happen because of the many political issues involved in that whole dead saga, there's really no particularly good reason that Floyd vs Canelo can't happen.
They both work with Golden Boy exclusively (Mayweather is not technically promoted by GBP, but he's fought under their banner for six years now, against nothing but their fighters). They're both hot and would be hotter with wins in their upcoming bouts. And there's a ton of money to be made from matching the aging Mayweather, selling the story that maybe his time as an untouchable is coming to an end, against the fastest-rising star attraction in the sport, who also happens to represent arguably the most boxing-crazed country in the world.
Trout, though, will have other plans. Having ended Miguel Cotto's unbeaten streak at Madison Square Garden in December, Trout (26-0, 14 KO) is chomping at the bit for an even bigger opportunity, and this is that shot. Represented, like Floyd is, by Al Haymon, Trout has boxing's most powerful man backing him these days, and that has been an obvious asset with two straight major fights against guys who normally may have avoided taking him on, because he's not a big star, and he's really good.
The 27-year-old Trout isn't going to wow anyone with physical gifts, but he's a big, strong junior middleweight, with top-notch boxing skills, and a brain that he uses. He's also a southpaw who knows how to use the ring, and presents young Alvarez with an entirely new challenge.
Trout belongs in this division, and he's a top fighter in this division. He's a lefty. He's in his prime. He can move. he's not afraid to win ugly if that has to happen. He can be very slick, and frustrating for opponents when they can't land clean.
Canelo Alvarez has not yet faced anyone quite like him. Though Alvarez was all but gifted the WBC junior middleweight title, the highest-ranked fighter he's ever faced was Ryan Rhodes, who wound up totally overwhelmed in Mexico in 2011. Sure, he's got Shane Mosley's name on his sheet, but Mosley was a decrepit shell of himself by that point. Kermit Cintron, Alfonso Gomez, Josesito Lopez, Matthew Hatton, etc. -- it's not that these are bad names for a 22-year-old fighter to have beaten. Actually, when you focus on the age before the hype, Canelo's record is pretty good, and his title is hardly the paper thinnest in boxing today.
There are issues, though, with all of those fighters. Mosley was shot. Cintron was really never as good as TV and promoters made him out to be -- a lot of the barbs given to Andre Berto could be directed toward Cintron instead, or at least as well. Hatton and Lopez were both small. Rhodes, while respected, was a top ten guy to most in large part because the division was somewhat weak.
With all due respect to those fighters, none of them on paper brought to the table what Trout will bring on May 4.
Then there's the mental side of things. Trout is riding incredibly high following the Cotto upset, a fight he took on the road in front of a partisan crowd in New York, with many worries about what would happen if a competitive fight went to the cards. With breaths held around the boxing world, Trout swept the scorecards, and he arrived as a genuine player in the junior welterweight division.
Once again, Trout will be going into a fight with his back against the wall, at least from the outside looking in. Canelo is a darling of everyone who pulls the strings in boxing, because he is worth a lot of money already, and could be worth considerably more very, very soon. He ticks every box for becoming a major star, with the exception of having the in-ring credibility one must have to truly leap into the elite levels, where your name is known to non-fans who will occasionally tune in for a fight that they have heard about, because it's an actual sporting event, and not one of boxing's fabled "huge fights" that can barely draw a respectable crowd to a mid-sized theater.
Mentally, Trout was just here. Alvarez, on the other hand, has been heavily favored in each of his fights since bursting onto the wider audience's radar in 2010. He's been handled very, very carefully, while Trout has graduated from unappreciated road warrior to big-time threat to the sport's top names.
Canelo, to his credit, demanded a big fight. He wouldn't accept finishing off the fading Cotto, which Richard Schaefer and Golden Boy would still have loved to make happen. He wouldn't accept anything less than a genuine challenge. He deserves respect for seeking out something more.
In Austin Trout, he has found his huckleberry. "No Doubt" has already killed one fight that was supposed to make a lot of money. In three months, he'll take aim at another showdown that has been fantasy booked before all the cards were dealt.