The erudite Larry Merchant once described the handsome Oscar De La Hoya as "George Clooney with fists." Merchant of course saw the same thing everyone else did in "The Golden Boy" and that was a fighter who was good looking, charismatic, marketable - and who could actually fight.
De La Hoya was all of those things and more during a professional boxing career that began in 1992 after he won the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympic Games and ended in 2008. Along the way Oscar was a media darling, Madison Avenue loved him, he earned hundreds of millions in fight purses and you were as likely to see his face on the cover of Men's Fitness magazine or on Entertainment Tonight as you were in the pages of The Ring magazine or on an HBO pay-per-view show.
"When you talk about Canelo Alvarez, if you have been here this week, you have seen the huge turnout," said Schaefer of the crowds in Las Vegas. "We are going to have a sold out MGM Grand Garden. There's a lot of great fighters. There's a lot of fighters who are as good in the ring as Canelo is - who know how to box, who know how to bang, who are exciting. But yet, there are very, very, very few who have that extra something."
The extra something that Schaefer of course is referring to is the ability to become a crossover star or a household name with universal appeal to mainstream sports fans. In recent times Muhammad Ali possessed the elusive "It Factor" as did "Sugar" Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson. But as boxing has become more of a niche or cult sport, it has become difficult for fighters to make the leap from being popular in the boxing universe to the realm of being recognized on a widespread basis.
Schaefer tried to explain what he feels it is that Canelo has that so many other fighters don't. Alvarez is of Mexican heritage and is from Mexico, but he is fair skinned and has red hair and freckles which makes him somewhat of an anomaly in his home country where he is extremely popular. His nickname "Canelo" means "Cinnamon" in Spanish and the tress of red hair, ready smile and good looks give him the look of a college boy - not a fighter.
"Is it the red hair?" asked a bemused Schaefer. "I don't know, I don't think so. It certainly helps. But I think it is his charisma and how he connects to the people, how he talks to the people and how they look out for him. How somehow people are drawn to him."
That is certainly the case as already Alvarez, at only 23, has engaged in the richest bout in boxing history when he faced Floyd Mayweather, Jr. last September. Although he lost the bout, his popularity has not waned and the loss now seems only a footnote. Tonight represents the first time he will be the headliner and the anchor of a pay-per-view event when he meets Alfredo Angulo.
"When he walks into the ring with his robe on and so on it sort of gives you the chills," said Schaefer. "The only other time I've had that same feeling was when Oscar was walking out. I think the way that Oscar has connected to people is the way Canelo has connected to people. Of course the fact that he can back it up in the ring, he has the knockout power, he can box and so on and he's only 23 years young."
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Alvarez will likely be around the sport for at least another decade if not longer. Boxing careers for the top fighters last about 20 years in this day and age as they only fight a couple times per year. It's the type of schedule that lends itself to longevity. Alvarez turned professional in Mexico at age 15 in 2005. Tonight will be his 45th career bout and he has already fought nearly 300 rounds as a pro. He has taken very little damage in those bouts and as a result he will likely be around a while, which allows the opportunity for the American public, corporate sponsors and advertisers to become more familiar with him.
"He's not just a fighter," says Schaefer who speaks of Alvarez in admiring terms. "He is the hope of the Mexican of the Latinos and the many other nations in 'Yes, I can rise above and I can deliver and I can excite.' He is, I think, for many years to come, going to be the face of boxing."
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