Editor’s note: This story was originally published in Oct. 28, 2019.
Canelo Alvarez is boxing’s biggest superstar.
At 29, Alvarez — who will jump two weight classes to try to win a world title when he challenges Sergey Kovalev on Nov. 2 in Las Vegas for the WBO light heavyweight belt — has amassed the richest contract in sports history (worth $365 million), three division belts and legions of fans.
But how well do we really know the sport’s reigning middleweight champion?
“He’s not self-revealing. He’s a global superstar who does not need or seek attention,” said longtime HBO boxing announcer Jim Lampley. “And that makes him very different from a lot of fighters.”
How different? We went a couple of rounds with people in Alvarez’s orbit — from his trainer to Michael Buffer to the First Lady of Boxing herself — to find stories that reveal more about the man behind the gloves.
He has a devastating left hook — and a lead foot
Ramiro Gonzalez, public relations director for Golden Boy Promotions: “We had just signed Canelo [to a multifight contract], and we went to see him in Guadalajara. At the gym, I saw his work habits. I said, ‘This is a real mature kid. He’s not like an ordinary fighter.’
“Then Canelo asked, ‘Where are you staying?’ I told him my hotel and he said, ‘Oh, that’s very close to where my apartment is. Do you want a ride?’ I sat down in his car, a Spyder Audi, and suddenly it went vrrroooom!!! I was bracing my feet. It was very scary! I said, ‘Canelo, please [slow down]!’ Since then I have refused to ride with him.”
He likes to horse around
Jim Lampley, veteran play-by-play announcer: “Canelo told me it’s not uncommon for him to go out and ride horseback in the morning [when he’s at his stateside home in Delmar, California] for two and a half or three hours and then go to the gym and do a full boxing workout in the afternoon. I said, ‘Wow, that’s pretty strenuous. How do you do that?’
“He replied, ‘[It’s] two different sets of muscles. The muscles I use to control a horse — the inside of the thighs and calves — don’t have anything to do with boxing. It’s no physical strain for me to do that and then box two or three hours in the gym.’ Endurance horseback riding is not easy, and it’s a mark of what extraordinary conditioning he has that he is able to do both.
“In my experience, horses understand nonverbal communication with human beings. Canelo is a master of nonverbal communication, as good as any fighter I’ve ever seen at achieving dominance within the ring — and amplifying that dominance with his poker face. He never projects any real emotion inside the ring — his expression is always the same. I think that gives him a level of psychological superiority that he communicates to his opponents.”
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“Sure enough, after the fight [which Alvarez lost in a majority decision], they brought Canelo into the room. He was standing right next to me. I turned my head because I didn’t want him to feel self-conscious. His face was messed up — battered, bruised, swollen. But when I peeked at him, all I saw was the soul of a little boy who wanted to be champion … but who had just gotten beat. He looked so vulnerable and so hurt — not physically, but his pride was demolished. There were tears coming down his cheeks. I turned and smiled at him. If I had been in his shoes, I probably would’ve been like, ‘Get the f— out of my face.’ But despite all this pain, he gave me a slight little smile and a nod back before someone pulled him away. I saw the human being.
“Canelo had always seemed so removed from his audience. Always polished with his answers. I didn’t see a lot of personality — until that night. That’s when I became a fan.”
Oscar Valdez, former WBO featherweight champion: “The first time I met Canelo was in 2004 at the junior Mexican national championships. We both made it to the finals, which were in Sinaloa. I was representing Sinaloa; he was representing Jalisco. He had been a pretty good fighter since he was a kid. In the finals, he fought one of my friends, who was also from Sinaloa, and they each gave a hell of a fight. Canelo won the fight — but the judges gave the fight to the guy from Sinaloa.
“After Canelo got robbed, he was [crying] his eyes out — and I was trying to cheer him up because I had seen him fight. That was the first time I said, ‘Wow, this guy’s a little tank. He can fight.'”
He doesn’t pull punches — even with non-boxers
Mario Lopez, actor and TV host: “A few weeks before his fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in 2016, I went to Canelo’s training camp in San Diego to interview him for ‘Extra.’ I wanted to spar with Canelo for a few rounds, mix it up. It’s one of those things you want to be able to tell your kids — that you got in the ring with Canelo Alvarez.
#FBF Buena suerte a mi amigo @Canelo mañana! @GoldenBoyBoxing #CanelovsFielding #MadisonSquareGarden #NYC #GoldenBoyBoxing #DAZN #Repost @MexicanoBoxeo
Canelo Alvarez y Mario López haciendo sparring 💥 #Boxeo #Boxing pic.twitter.com/EL7AxwaJI6
— Mario Lopez (@mariolopezviva) December 14, 2018
“I thought that he’d pull back a little on his punches. But they were coming pretty quickly. And they were snappy and crisp. He’s so competitive. After he gave me a couple of body shots and I started returning them, then he was cool.
“I asked him a few questions about working inside, feinting a little bit before throwing the right hand. He was very helpful. But he didn’t pull back; he let those hands go on me [laughs]. I felt those body shots, and that jab was quicker than it looks. I thought he was going to mess around with me a little bit.”
When he’s not punching your lights out, he’s a pretty personable guy
Lightweight Ryan Garcia: “We have the same trainer [Eddy Reynoso] and wanted to get in the ring together, even though Canelo is a light heavyweight and I’m a lightweight. One day we said, ‘Hey, let’s spar a little bit.’ We were just trying to trick each other in the ring and work on our feints and stuff like that. It wasn’t real sparring, because he’s too big. He could’ve hurt me.
“Canelo’s a very disciplined guy, but he’s very relaxed in the ring. He taught me that there are ways to relax so you won’t get hit with certain punches. He showed me that the more relaxed you are, the easier it is to fight your fight by staying put. That helped me [prepare for my upcoming fight against Romero Duno].
“He showed me how I can hit Duno with a body shot after he throws a right. Canelo told me to wait until the fourth round to start landing that shot, and then he said I should get out of there.”
“There was nobody around to see it. He didn’t have to do any of that. But Canelo took the time out to make sure that Oscar felt comfortable and part of the team. I’ll never forget that.”
Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, former lightweight champion: “In 2013, before Canelo’s fight with Austin Trout, I was training at the Churchill Boxing Club [in Santa Monica, California] early one morning with my son. They told me that Canelo was coming to the club, so I said, ‘Let me hurry up and get done.’ I didn’t want to interrupt his training. [His people] said, ‘No, no, no, it’s OK. You can stay. He’d like to meet you.’ But I didn’t want to be in the way.
“So I got done training just as Canelo’s trainers — Eddy [Reynoso] and his father, Chepo — came in. They said, ‘Oh, Boom Boom Mancini! How are you? Nice to meet you.’ Canelo’s sparring partners arrived and started shadowboxing. Finally, Canelo’s car pulled up and he got out. He came in and shook everyone’s hand.
“So his trainer said, ‘I want you to meet Ray Mancini.’ He tells him, in Spanish, that I was a former lightweight champion, and Canelo goes, ‘I don’t know who he is — but I’ve heard the name.’ I started laughing. I got a kick out of that. He might not have known who I was, but he was very respectful, very personable.”
He was a star from the start
Richard Schaefer, former CEO of Golden Boy Promotions: “We had a stand at the Fiesta Broadway, which is the biggest annual Hispanic festival in the United States, in downtown Los Angeles [in 2010]. Canelo was wearing these washed-out jeans and a white T-shirt, with his red hair and freckles. I said, ‘This guy’s the James Dean of boxing.’
“I had heard from Rafael Mendoza, the late, great talent scout from Mexico, about how good Canelo was as a fighter, and I thought, ‘If this guy can fight as good as he looks, we’ve got something very special.”’
Bill Caplan, veteran boxing publicist: “I remember the first time I knew Canelo was going to be a superstar. He fought Carlos Baldomir [at Staples Center in 2010], and he starched him. Then he took a quick shower, got dressed and came out into the crowd. People were gathering around him like he was the Beatles. And I told the guys at Golden Boy, ‘This guy’s going to be a superstar.'”
He can act the part
Michael Buffer, ring announcer: “I was very impressed with Canelo’s ability to act and perform in commercials we did together for DAZN. He was very good at taking direction, and his sense of humor and timing was brilliant. Very professional. There’s no doubt in my mind that if he wanted to, he could pursue an acting career after his days in the ring and be successful.”
Additional reporting by Dan Rafael.