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Boxing phenom 'Canelo' Alvarez's path to the top will be straight and narrow, Oscar De La Hoya vows

Rising star Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez doesn't appear to be susceptible to the same temptations that Oscar De La Hoya says shaved years from his boxing career, and the former champion-turned-promoter aims to keep it that way.

March 04, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Saul "Canelo" Alvarez takes a brief rest while taking part in a training session. Alvarez is considered a rising star in the boxing world.
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez takes a brief rest while taking part in… (Luis Fernando Loza Lepez )

Mexican boxing phenom Saul "Canelo" Alvarez has six older brothers, none of whom is the real big brother watching over him.

That would be Oscar De La Hoya, his promoter, role model and advisor.

In the current game in boxing — called "Who will be the next Manny Pacquiao?" — Alvarez gets a lot of votes. He is 20, fights at junior middleweight (154 pounds) and has been climbing the ladder to international stardom after winning two Mexican amateur titles, turning pro at age 15 and staying unbeaten through 36 fights.

But there is more than success in the ring. He is a redhead with a disarming smile — the baby and only redhead in his family of seven boys and a girl. He boxes with fire similar to his hair color and has a magnetism that both sells tickets and attracts members of the opposite sex.

That's where Uncle Oscar, 38, says he comes in.

"I saw him fight last July," De La Hoya says. "I loved what I saw. His speed in the ring was unbelievable. I'm glad I never had to fight him."

De La Hoya, who won an Olympic gold medal in 1992 for the United States and dominated pro boxing marquees for more than a decade in middleweight classes, also saw something else he loved — and worried about.

"I went to the weigh-in," De La Hoya says, "and there were thousands of people there. I remember saying to myself, 'Wow, he is the whole package.' There were men everywhere who loved his style and women everywhere who just loved him."

Up went the red flag. De La Hoya had been there, done that and suffered the consequences.

"Outside of the ring," says the now happily married De La Hoya, "I was a party guy. I loved to go drink it up, have a good time. I'd say the partying took four years off my career."

Knowing the pitfalls — and why to avoid them — coupled with the huge financial stake his Golden Boy Promotions has in Alvarez, De La Hoya has done his best to stay close to his new star.

"He's different, he's serious," De La Hoya says. "But we talk about it a lot."

Alvarez says he doesn't have a girlfriend.

"At his age, I had 10," De La Hoya says.

Alvarez says he doesn't drink alcohol.

"It isn't that I can't," he says through an interpreter. "It's just that I don't like it."

What does he think of Las Vegas, where he has fought only once to date? It is a city, he knows, where things happened to De La Hoya and stayed there.

"It is a nice place for tourists, and I like the shows," he says. "But when I am there, I am there to work. I don't like to gamble."

That may make Alvarez too good to be true. De La Hoya says he will watch closely to make sure that is not the case. In the process, De La Hoya might very well end up being a guardian angel to someone who could bump his all-time boxing status down a notch by comparison.

"With Oscar and Manny Pacquiao," Alvarez says, "I respect that they are legends in our sport. But I'm in this to surpass them, to be better."

The march toward that continues Saturday night at Honda Center in Anaheim, where Alvarez stakes his 35-0-1 record against Matthew Hatton of England, Ricky Hatton's brother. Hatton has a name, a 41-4-2 record and the perception of being somebody who could mess up Alvarez's flight to stardom.

Not if De La Hoya and Golden Boy have their way.

"There is a marketing and promotional machine out there for him, set to go," he says.

Meanwhile, Alvarez, who says his top priority outside the ring is to become more proficient in English — "I understand it, but I'm not comfortable speaking it yet" — is certainly communicating well somehow. At an autograph-signing session for him in Anaheim a few days ago, they had to haul him away to a workout with about a quarter of the crowd of nearly 1,000 still waiting.

Alvarez is asked if De La Hoya should be termed his role model.

"Sí," he says.

The role model smiles, accepts that with pride and vows again to make sure the example Alvarez follows will be the one De La Hoya set.

Inside the ring.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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