Saul Canelo Alvarez Tries To Win One For The Gingers

So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2013, Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez on Showtime pay-per-view on Sept. 14. Previously: the meaning of Mayweather-Alvarez; a special edition of TQBR Radio; the undercard and week’s schedule, previewed; keys to the fight parts I and II; how good Mayweather-Alvarez could be; a preview and prediction for Lucas Matthysse-Danny Garcia; a staff roundtable. Next: the fundamental nature of Matthysse-Garcia.

“I’m fighting Dennis the Menace… I mean Carrot Top… I mean Blake Griffin… I mean Chucky.”

The above is a subtly crafted comic observation from Floyd Mayweather, Jr. on his September 14 opponent Saul Canelo Alvarez, one that we can only be grateful was captured for posterity by Showtime’s All Access cameras.

As with most things that pass through the negligible filter between the pound-for-pound star’s brain and mouth, the whoops and chirps of his self-styled “Money Team” – a motley crew of yes-men, tub-thumpers and sycophants if appearances are to be believed – were there to offer encouragement. How they all laughed. It certainly takes me back.

You see, Alvarez and myself have something in common. Sure, he’s on another planet when it comes to bank balance, physical prowess, bravery, fortitude and brute strength. But Canelo and I are both redheads. Gingers. Carrot tops, as Floyd might say before I stop him in his tracks and explain the U.S. version of Dennis the Menace is actually blond.

Stick “Mayweather”, “Alvarez” and “carrot top” into YouTube and you’ll be treated to more examples of Mayweather ploughing this tired furrow (and repeating his Dennis the Menace faux pas) for an easy laugh, much like those folks at school who would simply shout “Ginger!” in my direction, presumably under the impression this follicle predicament had slipped my attention. As fight night approaches, my inner 13-year-old is yearning for Floyd to have his clock cleaned.

At this stage it is worth pointing out I do not view the redheaded community as a put-upon people, or indeed a people or a community at all. To my knowledge, no one has ever been denied the right to vote, work, buy a house  or found themselves disproportionately stopped and searched by police on account of having freckles. I take ginger-bashing as no more than ropey, irritating banter but that is not to say others haven’t fared far worse.

In an endearing 2009 Guardian piece questioning whether “gingerism” remains the last acceptable prejudice, Simon Hatterstone referenced the case of a redheaded family in Newcastle who were driven from their home by continued abuse — an extreme example, but one a young Canelo Alvarez would be able to relate to.

Alvarez inherited the eye-catching feature/troublesome burden atop his head from his mother, with this incredibly rare look among Mexicans credited to French colonists on her side of the family. While he is now a sex symbol in his homeland, Canelo didn’t always have it so good.

Pablo S. Torre’s excellent and exhaustive pre-fight profile of Alvarez reveals a story familiar to redheaded children the world over – a steady flow of verbal and physical brickbats endured by a meek young man. Well, endured until one of the bullies became the first person to feel the weight of the stiff right hand that helps to makes Canelo the most marketable commodity in boxing outside of his Saturday night dancing partner.

So many elements of Mayweather’s “Money” persona mean he can be easily cast as the latest bully Canelo must overcome. His smack talk away from the ring is famously voluble but lacks the charm of Ali at his most personable. At best it is predictably boorish, while the racist slurs aimed towards Manny Pacquiao via a 2010 YouTube video stand as his most regrettable effort.

The kind of extensive press tour he recently completed with Alvarez provides the ideal stage for Mayweather to ramp up this side of his personality – as he has done ever since he pinched Oscar de la Hoya’s lunch in 2007. Later that year, Ricky Hatton made light of Mayweather’s childish behaviour with a verbal dexterity that would serve him well in later after-dinner speaking engagements, but eventually the American got under his skin.

Therein lies Mayweather’s trick – he is not just the dumb bully; this becomes a part of his act that simplifies tasks probably already within the means of his peerless boxing skills. De la Hoya admitted to wanting to take his head off and gassed down the stretch to drop a split decision; Hatton switched from a picture of charm to a snarling lunatic making cut-throat gestures at the weigh-in who was eventually becalmed via a ring post; Victor Ortiz didn’t know whether to head butt Floyd or cuddle him.

Alvarez has talked an exceptionally good game over recent weeks and must keep his head amid the rabid closing formalities of Vegas fight-week. He must not get in the ring and see an embodiment of his tormentors in Guadalajara over a decade ago. That is what Mayweather wants and it will lose him the fight.

By common consensus, Canelo’s countryman Jose Luis Castillo gave Mayweather the biggest scare of his illustrious career in their first fight 11 years ago, when he was out-landed according to Compubox numbers. But this is not the blueprint – Hatton’s challenge, essentially as Castillo version 2.0, showed as much. The temptation to throw tonnes of leather to breach the defensive master leaves plentiful opportunities to be exploited by the counterpunching master.

Alvarez is not that kind of fighter. He picks his punches judiciously and delivers them with withering accuracy and power. He should go with this, perhaps tempting Mayweather to be the bull and not the matador. Solid, straight punches are another major strength of the younger man and are a potentially potent weapon against his opponent’s magnificent shoulder roll – a move that has driven many a happy hooker to distraction. Providing the 152 lbs. catchweight has not diminished his natural physical advantages, banging with selective intent to the body could also be key.

If he keeps his head and does all of this there is still every chance Canelo will not win on Saturday. Mayweather is just that good. But if he pulls it off, freckled folks around the world will gladly raise something a little stronger than ginger beer to toast the victor.