Saul Alvarez may be the most overrated fighter since Cassius Clay. Expectations are high. The potential is there. A substantive challenge, however, has yet to materialize. On Saturday at the Honda Center before 11,674 (the second largest boxing bout in the history of the venue), the expectations weren't dashed, but a challenge wasn't met in Matthew Hatton (41-5-2) in a bout won by unanimous decision.
Nicknamed "Canelo" (Spanish for "cinnamon," as in the color of the freckled red-head), Alvarez was already beloved (and despised) in his native Mexico before winning a light middleweight title. Alvarez (36-0-1) appears regularly in the tabloids for his exploits in the ring and his engagement (and break-up) to Marisol González (a former Miss Universe contestant and current sports reporter). As Jaime Motta with ESPN puts it, "He's a creation of the Mexican media, but you can't take away the fact that the kid has skills."
To bring accomplishments in the ring up to the level of popularity in Alvarez's homeland will take more than his showing against Matthew Hatton, another overrated fighter nearly a decade his senior and known best for being related to his more talented older brother Ricky. The title at stake was last held by Manny Pacquiao who set the tradition maintained by Alvarez of winning the vacant WBC light middleweight at a catchweight of 150 lbs.
At Friday's weigh-in, Alvarez, 20, needed two attempts just to fail to make weight. He eventually weighed in 0.4 lbs above the contracted 150-lb limit (consequently forfeiting 20% of his purse, but not a shot to win his first world title despite the advantage). Beyond weight, Canelo was fighting an opponent diminutive and inferior in just about every tangible metric to Alvarez to match all the intangibles that Canelo possesses over him.
From the first round, Alvarez, 20, dominated, but appeared winded often from the third round. The crowd was squarely behind Canelo and the chants of "México" to punches thrown was easily 1:1. He outlanded Hatton 294-138, but the more telling statistic was in power punches: Canelo landing 257 to Hatton's 75.
Frustrated with Alvarez's onslaught, in the seventh round, Hatton did his best to use Alvarez punching him on a break to sit down to take a time out. In the tenth, Hatton appeared to employ the tactic with a vague hope of getting Alvarez disqualified. Apparently, the punches had so disoriented the Briton he had forgotten that no such favor would be paid to him against a Mexican star in southern California. Alvarez pushed the action all night long and nearly had Hatton knocked out on a few occasions. He showed skill, caution, and poise in a telegenic style. Too often, however, with his man hurt, Alvarez fights with the same cautious success with which his career has been managed.
After the fight, Canelo said, "It's my first world title shot. Hopefully the first of many and I'll win them all for my fans...I want to be the next big name for Mexico." A potential roadblock to his plan is the divisive Mexican rivalry burgeoning between him and another equally overrated fighter: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the son of the legend whom all Mexican fighters hope to reincarnate. While many have similar granite chins to the elder Chavez, few have his guts and fewer still his longevity. Like all clones, this generation's seems for the moment to have depreciated in quality. Chavez Jr may be better genetically positioned to assume his father's mantle, but Alvarez's greater dedication may cause fans to feel he wears it better in the end.
The rivalry extends from the fighters to their fans to their Mexican television alliances (Alvarez with Televisa and Chavez with TV Azteca). Sadly, for now, the cold war between their promotional relationships (Alvarez with Golden Boy and Chavez with Top Rank) will indefinitely prevent the fight that Salvador Rodriguez of Diario Deportivo Récord says, "Every Mexican wants to see." There is great hunger in Mexico to see one of these prospects meet the expectations set for them. As HBO's Larry Merchant recently said, "After Chavez, they had Morales, Barrera, and Marquez -- and now there is an expectation for a star to emerge. Margarito lasted a second and a half, but there is an expectation that someone would come along."
From here, the closest thing to a substantive win for Canelo in the near future might mean to fight someone who may cause him to lose. Manny Pacquiao, Paul Williams, or Alfredo Angulo would be viable options in that regard. None seems immediately on the horizon, particularly Pacquiao being at Top Rank. Alvarez's difficulties to make 150 lbs for this fight seems to rule out the likes of true welterweights like Andre Berto (unless he, as Hatton, moved up in weight to fight Alvarez).
Of all unknowns for Alvarez's future, one thing is clear: If his career proves as great as the current hype surrounding him, he will be an all-time great.