BIG BEAR, Calif. >> As a boy, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and his seven siblings sold popsicles in their hometown of Juanacatlan in western Mexico. It was his father’s business, and the whole family helped out.
With his bright red hair and bouncy character, Saul was better at boxing than sales. He dropped out of school at 15 to become a professional fighter, and thanks to the help of his older brother, Rigoberto, quickly became known in the sport.
Now, five years after the birth of his daughter and a few days before a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., the 23-year-old champion is becoming known also as a boxing promoter. Following in the footsteps of his promoter and friend, Oscar de la Hoya, Alvarez is making waves as a businessman.
Mayweather, considered the best boxer in the world today and undefeated in 44 bouts, is the favorite for Saturday’s fight in Las Vegas. However, even if Alvarez loses, he could learn a lot from such a high-profile confrontation at such an early age.
Alvarez and De La Hoya have many things in common. Alvarez is a young, charismatic champion, with good looks and is fearsome in the ring. Both are favorites among the U.S. Hispanic community.
But just as this week was thought to be something of a celebration — win or lose — for Team Alvarez, De La Hoya dampened the mood a bit on Tuesday, when he admitted himself to a treatment facility as he continues to fight substance abuse.
“I will not be at the fight this Saturday to cheer Canelo to victory since I have voluntarily admitted myself into a treatment facility,” De La Hoya said in his statement. “I explained this to Canelo and he understood that my health and long-term recovery from my disease must come first.”
Alvarez said De La Hoya called him on Monday to tell him he wouldn’t be at the fight.
“I support him in the great battle he has in his life,” Alvarez said. “I’m sure he’s going to win his battle and I’m going to win my battle.”
Mayweather, who beat De La Hoya in 2007 but has been at odds with him in recent years, said he wished him well.
“Hopefully he can get better,” Mayweather said, “and pull through like a true champion.”
Indeed, De La Hoya was a champion, and Alvarez says that always inspired him.
“He was a great boxer, a great fighter, a boxing legend and now he is a promoter, and he is one of the best promoters in the world, if not the best,” said Alvarez in a recent interview with The Associated Press in Big Bear, California, where he was training for the fight. “So, he was a great inspiration.”
Alvarez said De la Hoya gives more than just boxing advice. Perhaps this relationship — as strong as it seems — might make for a version of therapy for De La Hoya when he returns.
“It is a relationship in which he is my promoter, but he is also my friend,” Alvarez said. “Obviously we have lived through many things together, and the good thing is that we get along well as a team. That’s the most important thing, isn’t it? Because if you don’t get along, you don’t have a team. When you get along, you get total success.”
De La Hoya was 30 when he created his promotion company, Golden Boy Promotions, while Alvarez founded Canelo Promotions three years ago, when he was 20.
“I have my promotion company, which is already one of the best in Mexico,” Alvarez said. “I see myself doing a lot of things.”
Alvarez says he doesn’t do it so much for the money or fame, but for his daughter, Emily, who he also named “Cinnamon,” which in Spanish is “Canela.”
“She’s my biggest inspiration,” he said. “She made me more responsible. She inspired me to achieve everything I’ve done.”
Even if it means missing time with her because of the training.
“Obviously that’s the hardest thing about going away, to leave my daughter for so long. That’s what hurts me the most,” he said. “It’s difficult, but obviously there’s a bigger purpose, right? To give her something better.
“So I think it’s worth the sacrifice.”
And now, Alvarez (42-0-1) can see Mayweather (44-0) on the horizon. It is shaping up to be the biggest bout of the year, and will probably be one of the most profitable of this decade.
Not bad for a kid from Juanacatlan.
AP Boxing Writer Tim Dahlberg in Las Vegas contributed to this report.