Tonight's Showtime pay-per-view pits Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara in a matchup of the best 154-pound fighters not named Floyd Mayweather, with a solid undercard featuring Juan Manuel Lopez, Abner Mares, Tomoki Kameda, Mauricio Herrera, and more.
Do you need some reasons to pay the money to tune in tonight? Let's see if we can help sway you.
1. Canelo Alvarez may be the most valuable fighter in boxing today
Recently in one of the threads on this site, we had a short discussion where someone theorized that Alvarez, with his youth, drawing power, and talent (mostly the first two), may be the real most valuable fighter in the sport. While Floyd Mayweather is a much bigger money player, and so is Manny Pacquiao, those guys are in their mid-to-late 30s. Alvarez turns 24 on July 18. If you think about it, that seems wild. This guy's been in the discussion for five years now, and he's just about to turn 24.
This pay-per-view isn't expected to be any huge blockbuster, and Alvarez hasn't reached that super-duper star status of being an easy PPV draw capable of pulling 500K with anyone, let alone a million buys, but he's on his way to that level if he keeps it up. And when Mayweather and Pacquiao retire sooner than later (or even just fade out as stars before they actually quit, as we see all the time in the sport's history), Alvarez is first in line at this moment to take over as the biggest star in the game.
2. Erislandy Lara may be the exact wrong opponent for Canelo Alvarez
All that stuff said, it has to get done in the ring, and Erislandy Lara doesn't care whose star is bigger. Lara is a crafty, skilled southpaw who gives opponents terrible trouble no matter their style. And in the toughest fight of his career to date, Canelo and his team proved that they might not be the best game planners out there, as they decided to stand mid-ring and box with Mayweather, potentially the worst idea possible.
Will Canelo try to play a distance game with Lara? Because Lara is extremely sharp from the outside. Will he try to pressure him? Alvarez could get peppered on the way in. It's a tough matchup for a young star fighter. Lara was seen as the toughest fight at 154, and Alvarez has taken it. That deserves respect. It also means that Lara has a chance to dent boxing's short-term future.
3. Crossroads: Juan Manuel Lopez vs Francisco Vargas
Lopez (34-3, 31 KO) saved his floundering career with a TKO-2 win over Daniel Ponce De Leon in March, and now has a big fight here with "Bandido" Vargas (19-0-1, 13 KO), with both hungry for a world title shot at 130 pounds. Vargas, 29, is a skilled boxer-puncher who doesn't leap off the screen, so to speak, but he's a quality operator. Lopez, 31, missed out on being the next great Puerto Rican star, but is one of the most reliable action fighters in the sport, a hard-punching southpaw whose resistance to playing defense at all makes him incredibly vulnerable.
Lopez has been stopped three times, but it's not because he has a bad or even mediocre chin. I'd argue he has a damn good chin, as we've seen him stand up to some bombs along the way. Orlando Salido's two stoppage wins were a result of him chopping down Lopez over eight and 10 rounds, while Mikey Garcia was just a different class of fighter, and finished Lopez in the fourth. (Garcia also had missed weight, to be fair.)
It's a big opportunity for Vargas to beat a name fighter that still draws some attention, and a chance for Lopez to prove his comeback was no one-off fluke against a shot fighter.
4. Abner Mares is still one of the best young fighters in the sport
Boxing fans are quick to write off fighters for losing, particularly when they're stopped in the first round as Abner Mares was last August against Jhonny Gonzalez. But take a look at what the 28-year-old Mares (26-1-1, 14 KO) has done since 2010: a draw with Yhonny Perez, a win over Vic Darchinyan, two wins over Joseph Agbeko, a win over Eric Morel, a win over Anselmo Moreno, a win over Daniel Ponce De Leon. That's a fantastic run. Morel is by far the weakest fighter of that lot, and even though he was long-faded and fighting small against Mares, he was still a competent fighter and no complete scrub.
I have argued that there is an asterisk for Mares in a lot of fights -- Darchinyan was a small bantamweight, Moreno a small super bantamweight, Morel was small. But Moreno is a fantastic fighter, and Mares beat him clean. Abner was extremely dirty and aided by referee Russell Mora's blindness during his first fight with Agbeko, but he beat him convincingly in the rematch. If you were ranking to heavily include strength of schedule, Mares is one of the very finest fighters of the last five years. He's won world titles at 118, 122, and 126 pounds. Yes, he was stopped in a round, by a quality fighter who can punch like hell. It happens.
This matchup with Jonathan Oquendo (24-3, 16 KO) is critical. If Mares wins, he's back on track. But you never know how a fighter will respond to his first loss, and some felt that Mares raised some orange if not red flags during his time out of the ring. We'll see how he does, because if he shows up a little off or a little weak, Oquendo, the rightful heavy underdog, is good enough to upset him.
5. Great undercard matchup is available free on Showtime
Though it's a good, solid undercard overall, also featuring Mauricio Herrera taking on Johan Perez in the pay-per-view opener, the best matchup on this undercard might be a free-view bout on Showtime at 7:30 pm EDT, pitting 22-year-old WBO bantamweight champion Tomoki Kameda against Pungluang Sor Singyu. Kameda (29-0, 18 KO) is the closest thing to a phenom of the three quality Kameda brothers who fight in the pro game, all of whom hold or have held world titles, and he's a fine young talent taking on a good challenger in Thailand's Pungluang (46-2, 31 KO). While Pungluang's record is inflated, as most Thai boxers' records are, he's a legit fighter, and a threat to Kameda's belt and undefeated record.