Like it or not, this is the Canelo Alvarez era in boxing and the health of the sport is in great hands

In recent boxing history, each decade has often been defined by the biggest star (or group of fighters) that stand atop the sport as the face of their own respective era.

The 1970s was best remembered as the second half of Muhammad Ali's legendary career and the series of battles he had with the likes of Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton. Ali gave way to Sugar Ray Leonard in the 1980s, as his memorable feuds with his fellow "Four Kings" at welterweight and middleweight -- Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran -- kept the sport flourishing. 

The decade closed with the Mike Tyson era, and eventually a rebirth of the heavyweights in the 1990s as Tyson was joined by the likes of Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Foreman and Riddick Bowe. Roy Jones Jr. then began a near-decade run as a virtuoso pound-for-pound king before handing off the baton to welterweight kings Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, and their run of record-setting pay-per-view sales which held the sport hostage before they finally faced off in 2015.  

But despite Mayweather's constant threat of returning and Pacquiao's tentative grip on relevancy as he navigates the twilight of his career after turning 40, the sport has largely moved on to what's next. And while it's possible that this era will ultimately be defined by a talented group of welterweight champions including Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jr., Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia, a combination of politics and strategic matchmaking have threatened to get in the way of the best matchups.  

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The same can be certainly said for a recent renaissance in the heavyweight division that has produced some attractive rising stars in unbeaten champions Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, but a frustrating reluctance to have them define this era by what happens in the ring against one another. 

So while boxing is forced to sit back and wait to see which star (or group of stars) may end up emerging as the historic fighter of record for the second half of this decade, there is one fighter who has quietly done an impressive job in the aftermath of the Mayweather-Pacquiao era, doing his best to declare this space in time as his own: middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez. 

On Saturday, the 28-year-old Alvarez (51-1-2, 35 KOs) will once again headline the biggest boxing card of the calendar year during Cinco de Mayo weekend when he faces IBF champion Daniel Jacobs (35-2, 29 KOs) in a unification bout at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET). 

Like it or not, this is the Canelo Era. And if there's one characteristic that has defined it, without question it's Alvarez's continued willingness to face the very best in a manner that's often antiethical to how Mayweather selectively handled himself in the previous decade. 

Have there been a few minor "heel turns" from the Mexican star along the way, including an ill-timed failed drug test in 2018 for a banned substance that was blamed on the consumption of tainted beef? Without question. There has also been a few catchweights, rehydrating clauses and questionable scorecards that often come with being the perennial A-side in big fights as the biggest PPV star in North America. 

Yet the juxtaposition of how Alvarez has managed to become the only consistent PPV draw post Mayweather while being so quiet and unassuming from the standpoint of his public persona has been fascinating. Sure, Alvarez has the good looks and unique red hair that draws a certain portion of the audience, but overall his success has come from the dare-to-be-great nature of the fights he has sought and the old-school toughness he has shown in winning them. 

"I want to be remembered as one the greats in boxing, and that's why I continue to work hard and continue taking on these type of fights, so I can continue writing history," Alvarez said during  last month's media teleconference. 

Although he understands English, Alvarez refuses to speak it during interviews and doesn't seem to have an ounce of the trash-talking or theatrical side to his personalty that helped Mayweather become a household name. If we're being honest, Alvarez's interviews are often quite boring. Lucky for fans and his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy, his fights are largely the opposite. 

The true test of Alvarez's character as the current face of boxing, however, was what the future of his matchmaking would look like after signing a landmark 10-fight, $365 million deal with upstart streaming app DAZN that was overflowing with guaranteed money. 

Alvarez's decision to open the deal by moving up in weight to knock out the underwhelming Rocky Fielding in December for a secondary super middleweight title at New York's Madison Square Garden was largely inconclusive in regards to whether he would be willing to consistently challenge himself. But by choosing to fight the most dangerous challenge available to him this weekend, Alvarez silenced any remaining critics. 

The switch-hitting Jacobs brings a blend of power and athleticism that Alvarez has yet to face in one package as a professional. It's also a challenge that fits in line with the resume that Alvarez has built by often pushing past the misgiving warnings of his promoter to challenge the likes of Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara, Mayweather, Cotto and Gennady Golovkin to find out how great he can be. 

Alvarez's history isn't quite perfect, of course. Along with the failed drug test last year, he also waited out Golovkin for upwards of two years before claiming results in fight-of-the-year contenders against GGG (a split draw and majority decision) that many felt weren't earned. But Alvarez consistently backs up his principles by doubling down on himself in his pursuit of becoming one of the best to ever lace up a pair of gloves. 

In an era where business often gets in the way of history, Alvarez's commitment to excellence is nothing short of refreshing. And his future isn't expected to get any easier should he defeat Jacobs on Saturday. 

The success of DAZN is largely dependent upon Alvarez not only winning but accepting big fights in succession. A trilogy against Golovkin is tentatively in the works for this fall. DAZN also has no shortage of difficult future opponents under contract, including unbeaten WBO titleholder Demetrius Andrade.

Although Alvarez recognizes that fighting at 160 pounds is the desired weight for his 5-foot-8 frame, he has also talked publicly about his desire to possibly moving up as far as light heavyweight, with the name of hard-hitting WBO champion Sergey Kovalev as a potential future opponent. 

"Yeah, everything [including Kovalev] is possible," Alvarez said. "Look, as a team we've always been a team to take on all challenges. That's what motivates and drives me. But right now, the focus is 100 percent on [Jacobs] and what I have in front of me at this time. 

"But the door is open. It's open and it's possible."

Whether or not super fights that fans deserve like Joshua-Wilder or Crawford-Spence ever come to fruition, it will likely be hard to look back on this decade of boxing history and not see Alvarez's face as the rightful heir to the throne once shared by Mayweather and Pacquiao as boxing's most important star. 

If this truly is the Canelo Era, the sport is in good hands. Love him or hate him, Alvarez delivers.

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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