From talks of cherry picking smaller fighters like Amir Khan, to accusations of dodging Gennady Golovkin and being the face of the sport’s future, we’ve heard every possible hot take on Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez. Regardless of the conversation surrounding the 25-year-old superstar, Canelo stays true to his belief that the talking should take place inside the ring.
“I don’t like to answer whether or not I’m the face of the sport,” Canelo said during the first episode of HBO’s 24/7: Canelo-Khan series, an attitude that stands in stark contrast to boxing’s previous figurehead, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Mayweather never failed to bring the fire with his TBE (“The Best Ever”) stance. Everywhere Mayweather went, TBE followed.
Canelo could not be more different. In 2011, when contender Alfonso Gómez put his rap skills on full display during a press conference – taking a few subtle shots at Canelo’s age, “gifted belt,” and red hair – our dude responded with a simple “I’m a boxer and not a clown.” That one ended with a sixth-round knockout in Canelo’s favor. Yep.
Just last year, James Kirkland stated that he wanted Canelo to “feel like they were fucking” while they were in the ring. That one ended with an even more impressive third-round KO over Kirkland. That’s right.
Canelo gives us a welcome break from the often questionable tactics employed by most boxing greats.
Sure, Canelo’s refusal to engage in outside-the-ring trash talk that boxing fans know and love makes press conferences, TV series, and headlines a little less entertaining, but the truth of the matter is that it’s a welcome break from the often questionable tactics employed by most boxing greats.
The sport feeds on the drama of its protagonists, but often that drama slips by unnoticed, eluding punishment and consequences for the unforgivable behavior of some athletes. Lest we forget the incident involving Mayweather assaulting the mother of his children before their very eyes. Not only did he serve an extremely short jail sentence (two months), he went on to make more than $200 million fighting Manny Pacquiao. All of the sudden, everyone had forgotten what a horrible person he was.
Earlier this year, Russian fighter Sergey Kovalev compared Haitian-Canadian boxer Jean Pascal to a monkey, a dreadful display of racism that was met with little to no backlash. Sure, Pascal denounced the trash talk (if you can even call it that) in a press conference, but Kovalev went on to win the duel and carry his career forward at its highest – and most profitable – point.
Even Manny Pacquiao suffered repercussions for homophobic comments he made while in his home country of the Philippines. Pacquiao lost his sponsorship with Nike and had low pay-per-view sales, but “low” is relative – 400,000 viewers in Manny’s case, enough to make millions. Not exactly the worst consequence for someone who said some really ugly things.
For these reasons (and many more), Canelo’s tactics outside of the ring are not only welcoming, they’re actually refreshing.
If you watched the HBO Face Off episode featuring Canelo and Amir Khan and thought that it was extremely boring, you’re probably right. But maybe that’s not so terrible. Mayweather made a career out of providing outside-the-ring entertainment because he couldn’t get the job done on the big stage. Canelo is different. With a face-off vs. Golovkin – another soft-spoken but incredibly exciting boxer – looking likely, we might be witnessing the start of a new boxing era.