Outside of the titles at stake in their long-awaited middleweight championship fight and the opportunity for critical respect among the sport's elite, Canelo Alvarez enters Saturday's pay-per-view showdown with Gennady Golovkin with a chance to secure something much different: validation as a true Mexican legend.
Admittedly, it's not a subject that Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs), whose cards are typically close to his chest during interviews, has stated as something he'll be in pursuit of when he enters the ring at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas ().
But after years of fighting off stigmas that he's just a pretty boy who can sell fights and absorbing criticism for hand-picking opponents while waiting the 35-year-old Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) out, Alvarez has a shot to firmly silence the hardcore fans who have so readily attacked his machismo.
It's a narrative that Alvarez was supposed to have repealed by defeating Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in their May PPV bout. The lifeless performance from Chavez, however, robbed a bit of the shine from Alvarez's dominant decision victory over nothing more than a punching bag.
But by moving up in weight to face such a dangerous puncher as GGG head on, the fight offers a shot at elevating his legacy with a victory to the heights of other Mexican icons like none before it. And its apropos that he'll attempt to do so by getting past Golovkin, a gentleman boxer with destructive power who readily flaunts the "Mexican style" taught to him by trainer Abel Sanchez that was modeled after the pressure fighting of Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
The distinction here is interesting -- part of why Alvarez, with his red-haired matinee idol looks, has failed to win over every segment of the large Mexican boxing fan base has been the fact that his fighting style hasn't mirrored that of heroes before him like Chavez. More of a thinking man's boxer who looks to counter before coming forward, the cerebral Alvarez hasn't left a wake of all-action fights and consistently destructive knockouts in his rearview mirror.
But Golovkin has. In fact, he knocked out 23 straight opponents before his close decision win over Daniel Jacobs in March. And in the wake of Alvarez appearing like he was avoiding GGG over the past two years, Golovkin started to appear as if he was trying to take Canelo's spot as the preferred fighter south of the border by appealing to the ideals of the fan base.
Not only did Golovkin strategically begin speaking Spanish during post-fight interviews, fans began to show up for his west coast fights wearing "Mexicans for Golovkin" t-shirts. All the while, Golovkin continued to flaunt his "Mexican style" catchphrase with his can't-resist "awe shucks" delivery of broken English.
It's almost ironic that Alvarez's pursuit of his full birthright and inheritance as a great Mexican fighter must come by defeating a Kazakh fighter who has done a great job taking over Alvarez's corner in terms of acting the part of a traditional Mexican fighter some have wished Canelo could be.
"This is more than a fight, it's a real Mexican fight," Golovkin said during training camp in Big Bear Lake, California. "Abel brings a Mexican style to me. I love fighting Mexican style. I love Mexican food and eat it every day. I love the Mexican tradition. I am surrounded by it. I have many Mexican friends. I have Mexican blood."
While the promotion for the fight has lacked fireworks due to the quiet and polite demeanor of both fighters, Alvarez has appeared to take a bit of umbrage with how freely Golovkin has thrown the term "Mexican style" around.
"When Golovkin or a lot of his fans refer to fighting 'Mexican style,' it is describing a style in which a fighter is gutsy, comes forward aggressively, is throwing power punches just to throw them and engages in unnecessary exchanges," Alvarez said during training camp in San Diego. "I would argue that GGG's definition of 'Mexican Style' isn't completely correct.
"If you look at all the great Mexican fighters who have become world renowned world champions like Salvador 'Chava' Sanchez, Erik 'El Terrible' Morales, Juan Manuel 'Dinamita' Marquez, and Ricardo 'Finito' Lopez just to name a few, they weren't the biggest brawlers -- they were intelligent with their boxing, were able to outclass their opponents and knew how to use their bodies to achieve their victories."
Alvarez is hoping to redefine the image of a true Mexican warrior on Saturday and by doing so, cement his status among the greatest fighters in the history of his homeland.
"I would argue that a Mexican warrior is one that has heart, passion and fights with all he has until the very end with intuition and intelligence," Alvarez said. "A Mexican warrior will not die in the line of fire, but will cunningly be three steps ahead of his opponent. No one can teach you to be a warrior. It's something innate that unites all Mexicans -- that fire is what propels us to survive and thrive."