'A different era for me': Canelo's new approach isn't to satisfy his critics

LAS VEGAS — Canelo Alvarez removed his designer sunglasses to reveal the sort of deadly serious expression that’s all too familiar to his 39 knockout opponents.

Only this time, the target of his white-hot rage wasn’t another fighter — at least not an active one — but Oscar De La Hoya, the Hall of Fame boxer who promoted Alvarez from 2010 until their ugly breakup in 2020.

For the first time since November 2019, Alvarez and De La Hoya shared a stage during fight week as Alvarez prepares to defend his undisputed super middleweight championship against fellow Mexican Jaime Munguia on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena (8 p.m. ET, Prime Video PPV).

Munguia (43-0, 34 KOs) is co-promoted by De La Hoya, who once occupied Canelo’s position as the face of boxing for much of the 1990s and 2000s. And while “The Golden Boy” taunted Alvarez with digging remarks about the star fighter’s character, taking aim at Alvarez’s failed drug test ahead of his 2018 rematch with Gennadiy Golovkin, Munguia could only laugh.

Yes, there were times that work was not my priority based on my mental health, which I had neglected for so long,” De La Hoya told Alvarez. “But that doesn’t change the fact that Golden Boy built Canelo over this period.”

Alvarez (60-2-2, 39 KOs) responded with an expletive-laced tirade on the “idiot” he despises, saying, “try not to forget that I was already Canelo when I came to the United States and that he only profited from my name. He never lost a single cent, but instead made money. Have you already paid Golovkin what you wanted to steal from him?”

De La Hoya told ESPN on Wednesday that GGG was paid “everything he’s owed” following Golovkin’s 2022 lawsuit against Golden Boy Promotions, which sought upward of $3 million. On Thursday, De La Hoya sent Alvarez a legal letter demanding that Canelo cease and desist from further “defamatory allegations” and retract his comments.

Alvarez showed Wednesday he still has plenty of fight left in him — a burning desire after all these years to hit back at foes inside and outside the ring. In an era where boxers usually train near the comforts of home, Alvarez once again went away for training camp to his cabin in the mountains of California near Lake Tahoe in Truckee.

Alvarez now appears to be entering a different stage of his career, where he flexes his muscle as the sole face of boxing. During his storied career, he often sought out the sport‘s most-avoided fighters — Dmitry Bivol, Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara among them — in search of legacy.

Days ahead of his 65th pro fight and two months shy of his 34th birthday, Alvarez’s place in boxing history is undoubtedly secured. He’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever he retires, with a chance to surpass Julio Cesar Chavez as Mexico’s all-time greatest boxer.



Canelo reacts to presser fireworks: De La Hoya ‘just wants attention’

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Oscar De La Hoya exchange their sides of the story after they came face-to-face with each other in a news conference.

Canelo has been a staple of boxing’s pound-for-pound list (currently ESPN’s No. 4) for two decades, delivering matchups fans clamored for, most notably a classic trilogy with GGG. Lately, he’s resisted increasing public demand for a clash with rising star David Benavidez, who occupies the No. 2 position in ESPN’s super middleweight rankings.

But rather than Benavidez, Alvarez will defend his 168-pound crown vs. Munguia on Cinco de Mayo weekend. The champion is a -550 favorite, per ESPN BET, to turn back ESPN’s No. 4 168-pounder.

“[Benavidez] brings nothing to the table for me,” Alvarez said in March at a news conference in Beverly Hills, California. “He just brings 25 extra pounds on the night of the fight. That’s it. … If a promoter who I work with offers $150 to $200 million, then I’ll fight tomorrow. That’s the only reason I’ll fight with him.”

De La Hoya earned hundreds of millions during his run, just like Alvarez after him, and faced the same pressure to continue taking on the toughest challenges.

“When a fighter mentions a number that high, $150, $200 million, in other words, I don’t want to fight him,” De La Hoya told ESPN last month. ” … Canelo comes in after [Floyd] Mayweather [as boxing’s top star] and he’s setting the example that it’s about the payday. … The whole world wishes that he would fight Benavidez and lead by example.

“That fight must happen. We’re on a good roll right now with having good fights, and we must continue to make those big fights happen. And for the first time in a long time, the casual fan is asking for this fight. It’s kind of like Mayweather-[Manny] Pacquiao. It’s that type of situation. So it’ll be a shame if Canelo doesn’t [fight Benavidez].”

EARLY IN HIS career, Alvarez built a reputation for chasing risky fights. At age 20, he squeezed past Trout, a tricky southpaw who was virtually unknown. Months later, in September 2013, Alvarez challenged his predecessor as boxing’s top star, “Money” Mayweather.

Alvarez was still developing and not in his prime yet, but he was already a star. Still, he made weight concessions (a catchweight of 152 pounds) to land the career-best opportunity with Mayweather and was soundly dominated. Alvarez later credited that junior middleweight title fight defeat as a learning experience that would carry him to the top of the sport, and keep him there.

It was another nine years until Alvarez would lose again. He found himself in a much different position but nonetheless pursued the more challenging matchups. Rather than defend his four 168-pound titles vs. Jermall Charlo, a middleweight, Alvarez elected to challenge Bivol for his 175-pound championship in May 2022.

Like Trout, the Russian boxer possessed talent that far exceeded his profile. Bivol went on to rout Alvarez in a fight that knocked Alvarez from his pound-for-pound perch. That’s why, it appears, Alvarez has no problem saying no this time around to Benavidez.

He absorbed criticism for the setback despite it being just his second fight at 175 pounds. The loss still eats at Alvarez; Canelo told ESPN he remains interested in a Bivol rematch at light heavyweight.

“Everybody say ‘no, it’s an easy fight,’ but I knew [Bivol] was a really good fighter and another weight class,” Alvarez said. “So I take my risk. And I always fight with every single fighter … and I always prove myself there and I always prove [to] everybody. But not anymore. I’m tired of that because it’s never is going to be enough for them. I’m going to do this for me, for my people and that’s it.”

Indeed, fans will always lobby to see another new fighter land the Alvarez matchup. That’s the nature of boxing when you’re the top star. It’s with good reason that an Alvarez-Benavidez fight is so highly anticipated.

“I think it is a different era for me,” Alvarez told ESPN last month. ” … If you see my history, it’s always somebody else [fans want me to face] when I have a fight. … Right now with Benavidez. It’s always there. So I don’t really focus on that anymore because it’s never going to be enough for some people.”

“I always fight the best out there and I’m happy with my career and I’m in a position [where] I can do whatever I want because I fight for it,” he added. ” … I sacrifice myself and … I deserve this position because of everything I did before.”

Alvarez still appears near the peak of his powers following a pair of dominant victories last year over John Ryder and Jermell Charlo. Alvarez broke Ryder’s nose in a Mexico homecoming last May, and four months later outboxed Charlo, who refused to engage. Canelo floored both opponents.

Benavidez, too, enjoyed a banner 2023 in what amounted to a breakout campaign. In March, he outpointed Caleb Plant, whom Alvarez stopped in November 2021, and TKO’d Demetrius Andrade in November. Benavidez doled out brutal beatings in both bouts, raising the volume on the calls for a summit meeting with Alvarez.

“I’m not going to be waiting on Canelo,” Benavidez told ESPN in March. “After I fight Canelo, my career doesn’t end. It’s frustrating, but it gives me a bad name at the end of the day, too. … The reason why this fight is not happening is because Canelo doesn’t want it to happen, plain and simple.”

There’s little doubt Benavidez — a volume-punching machine with power in both hands — would present a dangerous challenge. He’s much bigger than Canelo, for one. Alvarez won his first title at 154 pounds and is 5-foot-8. Benavidez is 10 years younger, 36 fights fresher and is a career 168-pounder at 6-foot-2 with a 4-inch reach advantage over Alvarez.

When he couldn’t entice Canelo into the ring, Benavidez moved up to 175 pounds for a June 15 bout with former champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

WHEN ALVAREZ SIGNED a three-fight deal with PBC last June, hope grew that the move would lead to an eventual clash with Benavidez, a longtime PBC boxer. Alvarez went on to face Jermell Charlo in the first fight of the deal, with plans to meet his twin brother in the second bout of the agreement on Saturday. But after Jermell’s listless performance, the fight against Jermall became a hard sell.

“What Jermell did in the last fight is not going to be good for the eyes on the people,” Alvarez said. “It’s going to be the same guy. Oh, his brother did a really bad fight. And I think this fight with Munguia is better than the Charlo fight. I think he deserved the fight. He win good fights, he improve a lot and he’s very respectful to me. So I think he deserve it more.”

As Canelo advances to the latter part of his career, respect appears more important to him than ever before. He’s always shown respect to his opponents, and isn’t looking to reward fighters, he said, who don’t reciprocate. He laughs at the thought he should punish disrespectful fighters by gifting them the career-high payday that accompanies a shot at the sport’s top star.

“Let me beat you, give you big-money payday,” Alvarez said mockingly. “No, not anymore. … Respect is important. And I know it’s a fight, but when I fight, I fight with a lot of fighters who talk a lot of s—, talk a lot of things, and they don’t do s— in the ring.”

Plant earned a career-high $10 million, and Munguia will exceed that amount. Benavidez has never earned more than around $3 million. Alvarez isn’t concerned with critics at this stage, especially his former promoter-turned-rival. De La Hoya offers a unique perspective as a fighter who starred atop the sport — from his 1992 Olympic gold medal win to his final fight against Pacquiao in December 2008.

“The way I saw it was whoever I have to fight, and he’s the best, I fight,” De La Hoya said. “I didn’t worry about no payday [for the opponent]. I always put my legacy first. What is it going to take for me to get to the top? What is it going to take for me to be considered the best? Well, I have to fight the best.”

MUNGUIA MIGHT BE a consolation prize in Benavidez’s absence on the right side of the marquee, yet it’s still an anticipated matchup, especially for Mexican fans. Munguia represents Alvarez’s first countryman foe since Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in May 2017.

Canelo has long said he doesn’t wish to fight fellow Mexicans but made an exception for Munguia. “This is history for Mexico because it’s the first time two Mexicans, they going to fight for four belts.”

“Munguia is a really good fighter,” Alvarez added. “It’s a young fighter who throws a lot of punches, who is strong, who is hungry. So it’s a risk for me.”

A risk, perhaps, but a small one compared to the perils of fighting Benavidez.

“Fighters usually know, absolutely,” De La Hoya said. “… There’s a tiny fear in every fighter. There has to be. Even Mike Tyson will say there’s a tiny fear, and that fear is always losing. [Benavidez is] a younger guy, he’s the bigger guy, he’s fast, he’s strong, he throws a lot of punches. See anybody throwing punches and punches will be a problem for Canelo at this point of his career. … He’ll get knocked out. He will get beat.

“Obviously he’s a businessman,” he added. “That’s exactly what he is at the fourth quarter of his career … and there’s nothing wrong with that, but at least have some balls to fight the best guy in front of you.”

Alvarez will head into Saturday’s fight looking to maintain his undisputed super middleweight championship, his No. 4 spot on ESPN’s pound-for-pound list and, most of all, his ironclad claim as the face of boxing.

A win over Munguia likely won’t come as easily as his two previous victories. After all, Munguia is fresh, strong, unbeaten and determined to dethrone a man he’s long dreamed of fighting.

The former junior middleweight titleholder is coming off a career-best victory, a ninth-round TKO of Ryder in January. Munguia’s previous outing was named ESPN’s 2023 Fight of the Year, a bout against Sergiy Derevyanchenko where a final-round knockdown earned Munguia the decision.

It’s also a full-circle moment for Munguia. As a 21-year-old, he agreed to replace Alvarez following his PED suspension and fight GGG, only for the Nevada commission to decline approval, citing Munguia’s inexperience. Six years to the day later, Munguia has his life-altering opportunity, and he’s much more prepared for the shot.

“Working with the legend Freddie Roach has really motivated me,” Munguia said last month following a workout at Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California. “He has my confidence very high and … he’s brought a lot of peace and tranquility to my corner.”

Canelo is at peace, too. At peace with his legacy, his standing in the sport and, most of all, his freedom to fight whomever he pleases.

“I just want to do whatever I want and put obviously really good fights out there,” Alvarez said. ” … I think when you deserve it, when you did everything, when you fight with everybody, when you do the correct things, I think you can do whatever you want.”

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