3:34pm

Fri June 17, 2011
Latin America

Mexico's Red Hot Boxing Star Ready To Defend Title

On Saturday night, a young boxer who's being billed in Mexico as the sport's next big superstar takes to the ring. Saul Alvarez is only 20 years old, but he's currently the World Boxing Council's super welterweight champion.

He will be defending his title in his hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico. Alvarez turned professional at the age of 15 and since then hasn't lost a single fight.

A Rising Star

They call Alvarez "El Canelo," or cinnamon, for his bright red hair. And over the last year, his career has been on fire.

At a staged workout this week in a public park in Guadalajara, Alvarez was mobbed by screaming teenaged girls. Boxers don't tend to be a good looking bunch, but Alvarez appears to be the exception. He has a huge following of female fans, and for a while he was dating the former Miss Mexico.

Last year Alvarez signed with one of the biggest promoters in the sport, Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. Erik Gomez, the vice president of Golden Boy, says even though Alvarez already has a championship, they view him as a developing prospect with huge potential.

"He's already the biggest star in boxing here in Mexico by far," Gomez says. "We just want to do that transition over to the U.S."

At the public workout this week, Ryan Rhodes, Alvarez's opponent for Saturday's fight, clowned around in the ring and mugged for the cameras. After a half-hearted workout, Rhodes pretended to collapse, exhausted, in his corner.

Alvarez, on the other hand, was all business. The 20-year-old is calm and serious. He quickly worked himself into a glistening sweat sparring with his trainer. Scott Christ, the editor of the site Bad Left Hook, has followed El Canelo's rapid rise over the last two years and says that he's an aggressive fighter — but not overly aggressive.

"His trainer has called him a 'genius in the ring,' which ... remains to be seen," Christ says. "As a 20-year-old kid he's very patient. He's got power in both hands. His footwork isn't great yet, he's a little slow moving around the ring, but his hand speed is pretty good. Overall, he looks in many ways like a complete package. There are very few really glaring flaws about him."

Guadalajara's Hometown Hero

Guadalajara touts itself as the home of mariachi and tequila. It's also recently been home to some of Mexico's biggest sports figures. The golfer Lorena Ochoa, who was ranked No. 1 on the LPGA Tour last year, is from here, as is the 23-year-old soccer star Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.

Alvarez negotiated to have the first defense of his WBC title in Guadalajara, saying it meant a lot to him to bring a high-profile fight to his hometown.

Before his last bout, El Canelo was fined $70,000 because he arrived almost two pounds overweight. He says that won't happen this time, and claims he's in the best shape of his life.

Rhodes, his opponent, also comes into this fight with an impressive record of 45 wins and only four losses. The 34-year-old from Yorkshire, England, is the former light-middleweight champion in Europe.

"I've won British, I've won European. The only thing I'm missing is a world title, and on Saturday night I will become world champion," Rhodes says.

The left-handed Rhodes predicts he'll knock Alvarez out. If he does, it will be the first loss of El Canelo's five-year pro career.

And even that might not derail the meteoric rise of Mexico's Great Redheaded Hope. His managers point out that he's still only 20 years old, he attracts huge TV ratings in Mexico — and he's got his whole career in front of him.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.