- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
LOS ANGELES -- Junior middleweight Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is just 20, but he is already a major star in Mexico. His next frontier? America.
Golden Boy Promotions executives Richard Schaefer and Oscar De La Hoya have the stats memorized and revel in them. They talk about how Alvarez regularly draws massive ratings for his fights on Mexican television network Televisa, which covers his every move.
For one recent bout, Schaefer said Televisa officials told him that Alvarez drew an audience of about 60 million people, similar to what the Mexican national soccer team gets for its games.
With Alvarez's unusual look -- red hair and freckles that make him look more like Howdy Doody than a prizefighter -- combined with his crowd-pleasing style, it's not a surprise he has captured the imagination of Mexico's boxing-loving fans.
Then there's his personal life, which has become fodder for celebrity watchers. He dates Marisol Gonzalez, a Televisa Deportes reporter, actress and Mexico's 2003 representative in the Miss Universe pageant.
"When I tell you he has a rock star-like following, he really does," said De La Hoya, who knows a thing or two about that, given his own fame. "He is the one fighter now in Mexico who generates the biggest ratings on television from any athlete in any sport. He has a tremendous punch, tremendous speed, great footwork."
Alvarez comes from humble roots -- his father owns three ice cream parlors in Guadalajara -- but seems at ease with his fame.
"I accept it," he said through translator Eric Gomez, a Golden Boy vice president. "It's not too many fighters that get that acknowledgement. I accept it and it motivates me. It makes me hungrier, so I accept it and I'm ready to deliver."
But as famous as Alvarez is in Mexico, he is nowhere near that level in the United States. He signed with Golden Boy in January, a signing De La Hoya declared "historic" for the company, hoping to eventually reach that level.
Alvarez has fought in the United States three times so far, including a ninth-round knockout of Jose Cotto in the high-profile co-feature slot on the Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley pay-per-view undercard in Las Vegas on May 1. Now Alvarez (33-0-1, 25 KOs), who turned pro at age 15 with no amateur experience, is back in the United States to fight on another Mosley undercard, hoping to continue to build his fan base north of the border.
"I want to fight more often in the United States, maybe do one fight in between here and there in Mexico, but all of the big fights are in the U.S., and I plan to start making my career in the U.S.," Alvarez said.
He will face perhaps his stiffest test in former welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir in the scheduled 10-round co-feature of the Mosley-Sergio Mora undercard at Staples Center on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET, $44.95), one of the big events on the weekend of the Mexican bicentennial celebration in Los Angeles.
"I'm very happy, very motivated for this fight," Alvarez said. "I know that Baldomir is a very tough fighter. He has faced some of the best fighters in the world and it's part of my learning process. I've got to get past fighters like this if I'm going to become a world champion. I feel good and I'm ready for this challenge. It's an honor for me to be fighting Baldomir."
Indeed, Argentina's 39-year-old Baldomir has faced top fighters. He pulled a massive upset against Zab Judah to become the undisputed welterweight champion in 2006 and followed with an upset ninth-round knockout of the late Arturo Gatti later in the year before losing the title on a lopsided decision to Mayweather. Then Baldomir (45-12-6, 14 KOs) moved up to junior middleweight and lost a decision to the late Vernon Forrest for a vacant title.
Baldomir is 2-1 since and aiming to end the Alvarez express.
"I think personally that he's a little fragile and I'm going to test him," Baldomir said, perhaps referring to the moment when Alvarez was badly hurt in the first round of his fight with Cotto. "I know that he can be an aggressive fighter, so I'm ready to go toe-to-toe with him if he wants. This fight has me very, very motivated. I'm so hungry. I've always been quiet before fights, but this time I feel so motivated and hungry for the bigger fights that I'm talking a little bit this time.
"He doesn't present a problem. I don't think I'm going to see anything that I haven't seen before. I've fought bigger, better fighters than him. I think he's a novice. I think he's good, but I think I'm a lot better than him and I'm going to win."
"This fight here is going to be a test for both fighters," De La Hoya said. "Does Baldomir still have what it takes to become a world champion again and does Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez have what it takes to defeat such a great legend like Carlos Baldomir?
"We feel this fight is a very dangerous fight for Alvarez. He's facing an experienced fighter in Baldomir, but that's a test that you have to take to move on, hopefully move on to the next challenge, the next tough challenge."
De La Hoya was a bit over the top referring to Baldomir as a legend, but beating him, especially in the U.S., would be a big boost to Alvarez's burgeoning career. Impressing fans in America is important to him.
"It's very important to me," he said. "Obviously, to be able to fight in America, it's every fighter's dream. I think in the United States, that's the big leagues. It's the big leagues and if you can make it there, you can make it all over the world. I'm very, very motivated and I'm happy to be fighting in the U.S."
Eventually, Alvarez hopes his popularity in Mexico follows him to the United States.
"I think the important thing is to demonstrate that I'm a good fighter and to make a good showing and not only make a good showing, but keep improving," Alvarez said. "Obviously, fighting the best fighters in the world as well, that's going to help. But I want to be an exciting fighter. I want to make good fights. I think that's what's going to make me well known here in the United States."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.