For a long, sapping 50 minutes after the barnstorming press conference was supposed to start, the scene in Bayfront Park on Friday afternoon acted as a metaphor for boxing’s big events of late:
Nothing happened as we waited and started feeling burned in the electronics.
Just as some began pondering how well oven mitts would work with smartphone touch screens, something happened. Finally, stately strutting up in a white suit as cool and clean as fans and media weren’t after 90 minutes in South Florida summer afternoon weather, came Mexican Canelo Alvarez.
Alvarez, the super welterweight world champion, had just finished modeling his suit and hair as near perfect as his 42-0-1 (30 KOs) record when multiple world champion Floyd Mayweather struck his first pose on the carpet. One 44-0 (26 KOs) just-undersized guy in a white T-shirt surrounded by a phalanx of black T-shirted guys who look like they just wiped out a Popeye’s.
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They came to town on an 11-city tour to drum up pay-per-view buys for their Sept. 14 fight in Las Vegas. The fight’s tag, “The One,” gives a get-outta-here-kid sideways boot to Manny Pacquiao and the landmark fight that never was with Mayweather. Whoever you blame for that, Pacquiao’s recent ring defeats caused him to lose his luster if not his liquor endorsements.
Now it’s Mayweather versus Alvarez that tries to break boxing back into the North American sports mainstream. The last great attempt at it, Mayweather versus Oscar de la Hoya, did so until about the ninth round.
That’s when those of us who ponied up the pay-per-view money — at my boxing-hating wife’s encouragement, I might add — realized the fight failed the hype. But everybody made a lot of money. That’s the goal here in a fight co-promoted by Mayweather’s company, Alvarez’s company and Golden Boy Promotions, de la Hoya’s company.
The fighters dutifully answer similar questions. They do the in-your-face stare down that’s drama on the street, cliché in prefight media sessions, comic when you know it’s being done in 10 other cities. Besides, neither guy followed with any trash talk. Instead, Old School Rules reigned: speak with great respect for the other man and show confidence in your own abilities.
“The mainstream is the key,” said Stephen Espinoza, Showtime vice president of sports and event programming. “Without question, we’re going to get Floyd’s huge core audience. We’re going to get Canelo’s huge core audience. The record-breaking potential depends on the crossover, the casual fan, the non-fan. There are two things that speak well for the potential of this event. One is, the spectacle of it and there’s such great storylines. There’s pent up demand for a fight of this magnitude.
“Secondly, Canelo’s a fresh face. A new player on the scene. A very good-looking young kid who draws women of all ages. That’s what Oscar brought to the table.”
That can’t be overstated. Michael Jordan wouldn’t have been Michael Jordan if he looked like Larry Bird.
Or look at the four biggest crossover fighters of the past 50 years. Three pages of Thomas Hauser’s definitive biography on Muhammad Ali discuss the role his appearance played in his appeal. No less than the original supermodel, Cheryl Tiegs, says, “He’s an extraordinarily handsome man because of his charm, his charisma, his whole being.”
Sugar Ray Leonard exuded a boyish, innocence that made him mothers’ ideal for their daughters. That it countered much we later learned about Leonard mattered not during his heyday. As Leonard faded, Mike Tyson commanded attention in a raw, primal Alpha Male way: swiftly delivered brute power. Oscar de la Hoya came off like a Hispanic version of Leonard, softened even more for our 12-round championship-fight, headgear-in-amateur boxing times.
One speaker Friday compared Alvarez to mythic actor James Dean, and there’s more than a passing resemblance. One hopes the 23-year-old Alvarez will leave a larger body of work.
He’ll do well to last as long as Mayweather. The 36-year-old seemed almost reflective Friday at times.
Mayweather has heard his greatness gets diminished because he’s rarely, if ever, been in true peril. We do this with individual athletes more so than teams and with boxers more so than anyone else. Mayweather gets it because he too well embodies the Manly Art of Self-Defense without the thrilling power. He seems to win too easily.
“A lot of times, people look back at my career and say, ‘Floyd Mayweather hasn’t faced anyone,’ ” he said. “They’re just saying that because they want to see me in a toe-to-toe battle and me beat up, and I get knocked down and get up and win. Like a Rocky movie.
“But this is real boxing,” Mayweather continued. “I feel like my career wouldn’t have lasted so long if I’d been in toe-to-toe battles. I was a smart fighter. The cool thing about my career is I’ve taken no punishment; I’ve made a lot of money; and I’ll retire a very, very wealthy man and very healthy and being smart.”
Because people keep paying to see if the latest Oscar, Shane or Canelo can at least do something about the healthy part. They’re touring the country to get you to gamble on at least one more time.