LAS VEGAS — All the measuring sticks show that Saul "Canelo" Alvarez's popularity continues to rise to almost unprecedented levels.
The 23-year-old Mexican star will be the crowd favorite Saturday night inside the MGM Grand, site of Alvarez's junior-middleweight world title fight against unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. for which $20.03 million in tickets — a U.S. boxing record — sold in one hour.
Alvarez promoter Richard Schaefer said that the sports director of Mexico television network Televisa, Alberto Sosa, expects the Mayweather-Alvarez fight to be one of the most widely viewed events in the country's television history.
Mexico's tourism board joined Corona beer as one of the bout's lead sponsors, with each investing more than $1 million, Schaefer said.
And Showtime, which is handling the Mayweather-Alvarez bout pay-per-view sales ($65 to $75), said U.S. sales of the fight broadcast could break the record of $137 million set by the Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya fight in 2007.
Alvarez "is a phenomenon and it's developed almost into a mania," Showtime Sports Executive Vice President Stephen Espinoza said. "The last time you saw this in this country with a Mexican-born athlete was probably Fernando Valenzuela. It's a similar-type hysteria in the Mexican audience."
Last spring, Alvarez rejected an opportunity to fight on the undercard of the Mayweather-Robert Guerrero fight at MGM. Instead, betting on his growing popularity, Alvarez opted to headline his own boxing card against little-known Austin Trout at San Antonio's Alamodome. Alvarez filled the place with a crowd of 40,000.
"The English-language, mainstream audience has now found out about this redheaded guy, and it's catching on like wildfire," Espinoza said of Alvarez. "What started as interest from the Mexican American audience is now meeting this pent-up demand for a new, fresh face in boxing. He's good-looking, is humble and above all is a very skilled boxer."
Nearly four years ago, Alvarez caught the attention of Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions when its representatives learned a freckle-faced teen nicknamed "Cinnamon" was knocking out foes and drawing television ratings close to those of the Mexican national soccer team.
Alvarez takes a 42-0-1 record, with 30 knockouts, into the bout against the 36-year-old Mayweather (44-0, 26 KOs).
But are Alvarez's strength, size and youth advantages enough to propel him to victory against the faster, more experienced Mayweather?
"No one wants to miss the fight that Floyd loses, and this could be it," Espinoza said.
"I'm not here just to fight," Alvarez said through a Spanish interpreter this week. "I'm here ready to win."
Alvarez has the fight he has long sought. And if he can do what no other boxer has done, and defeats Mayweather — who is more than a 2-1 betting favorite — Alvarez's popularity could reach previous Manny Pacquiao-like peaks.
Mayweather isn't lacking confidence going into the bout. He chided Alvarez for accepting a lower guaranteed purse of $5 million, compared to Mayweather's $41.5-million guarantee, and he forced Alvarez to agree to fight at a catchweight of 152 pounds, two pounds below the usual junior-middleweight limit of 154 pounds.
But Golden Boy executives say Alvarez's ultimate purse for the bout could climb to $12 million or beyond with pay-per-view bonuses. As for making the weight limit, Alvarez said Wednesday he weighed 153 pounds, with the weigh-in scheduled for Friday.
Ready or not, he has Mayweather.
"Mexicans were waiting for their next idol who can connect with the people, like Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. did," Schaefer said. "He's the total package —- the hair, the freckles, his fighting style, how he adjusts. It all fits."
Schaefer said the ascending popularity of Alvarez, with likely more than a decade left in his fighting career, was considered during negotiations of the deal with Mayweather. In addition, Mayweather routinely generates about 1 million pay-per-view buys.
Alvarez "really wanted the fight and entry to the club as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world," Schaefer said. "Floyd paid that same price when he accepted a few million to Oscar's $50-million [purse] in 2007.
"It's a good deal for Canelo. If he wins, it's a game-changer in the sport. If he loses, he's still bigger than he ever was. Already, 'Canelo-mania has swept the country."
Schaefer said Thursday that closed-circuit and merchandising sales for the Mayweather-Alvarez bout have eclipsed records for Golden Boy fights.
"The way I fight, my personality, I guess I satisfy them with my victories," Alvarez said of his fans. "The only way I can repay them is with a victory."
And that is his plan for Saturday night.
"Without a doubt, I'm going to win," Alvarez said. "I'm a firm believer that you only get nervous when you don't prepare or work hard. So I don't have nerves. Money doesn't matter to me, only winning."
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