- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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The last time Mexican sensation Saul "Canelo" Alvarez fought in the United States was in September, when he scored a spectacular one-punch knockout of former welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir in the sixth round.
Alvarez, 20, returned to Mexico, where he is one of the nation's most famous athletes, and easily outpointed former junior welterweight titlist Lovemore N'Dou in December to sew up honors as the 2010 ESPN.com prospect of the year.
Now Alvarez is back in America and set for his first starring role in a HBO main event. He will meet England's Matthew Hatton on Saturday night (10:30 ET/PT) at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
The fight was made in January, but only last week was it sanctioned for the junior middleweight world title recently vacated by Manny Pacquiao because he had no plans to defend it.
If Alvarez wins, he will become the youngest fighter to ever win a 154-pound world title, breaking the record Fernando Vargas set in 1998, when he stopped Luis Ramon "Yory Boy" Campas just a few days past his 21st birthday.
Alvarez and Hatton took the match without knowing it would be for a belt. When they found out during a teleconference with reporters to discuss the fight, they were ecstatic.
"Wow, that's great news," Alvarez said through translator Eric Gomez, one of Golden Boy's matchmakers. "I wasn't expecting it. I'm very happy. I'm very motivated now. This is going to be my first world title. I want to take advantage of it. I'll be ready, but this is more motivation for me."
Said Hatton, "Obviously, every kid who first laces on the boxing gloves, their ambition is to become a world champion, so that news is absolutely fantastic to me. I was so motivated for this fight anyway, getting the chance to perform again in the United States against a highly touted fighter in Saul Alvarez. I think he's the level I'm at now. I'm definitely a world class fighter. I've been dominating at European level, so a world title is what I was looking at. So, that is absolutely fantastic news."
In the televised opener, 21-year-old junior lightweight prospect Adrien "The Problem" Broner (19-0, 16 KOs) of Cincinnati will take a major step up in competition when he faces Mexican knockout artist Daniel Ponce De Leon (41-2, 34 KOs), 30, a former junior featherweight titlist and featherweight contender who is moving up in weight for the scheduled 10-rounder.
"Broner is a big, strong fighter with an exciting style," De Leon said. "But I'm ready for the challenge and I know he's never been in with a fighter as strong and experienced as I am."
Said Broner, "De Leon is a great fighter, a former world champion, and I respect him for stepping up for this fight. Unfortunately for him, I'm going to have to show him what it's like to be in the ring with a talent like myself."
Beyond the question of can Alvarez (35-0-1, 26 KOs) win a title at such a young age is the question of can he score another spectacular knockout against Hatton (41-4-2, 16 KOs), the European welterweight champion and the 29-year-old younger brother of former junior welterweight champ Ricky Hatton?
Alvarez is not in the habit of making predictions, however.
"I don't like to predict knockouts," he said. "I don't look for the knockouts. They come naturally. It's going to be a tough fight. I'm going to be ready to box 12 rounds."
For Hatton, the fight is not only a chance to win a title, but a chance to further escape the long shadow cast by his big brother, who was one of boxing's biggest global stars before going into an unofficial retirement after Pacquiao knocked him cold in the second round to take the junior welterweight championship in 2009.
"I've boxed in America quite a few times before. So, I'm very fortunate to have gathered that experience, but yes, to be top of the bill in me own right in such a big fight is something that I've always been looking forward to," said Hatton, who regularly boxed on Ricky's undercards but came into his own in 2010 when he won the European title and made two defenses. "I always had confidence in my ability where these opportunities would come my way, but yes, being top of the bill in me own right now, I'm looking forward to it. I'm very excited about it. I think it's going to be a great fight. It's a fight I'm going into full of confidence, can't wait for it, but yes, I am enjoying my moment in the spotlight, so to speak.
"I think it is overdue because I think it has taken me a while to produce my best form, but I really am in the best form in my career so far. I think this fight is coming at the right time for me, and being lucky enough to have boxed on these fantastic bills before stands me in good stead for this fight, I believe."
Golden Boy promoter Oscar De La Hoya, who promoted Ricky for the final four fights of his career, saw Matthew fight on those undercards and believes he is ready to come into his own.
"It's very impressive how Matthew has been able to progress in his career," De La Hoya said. "Every single fight, he's learning, he's growing. He's learning that the game of boxing is not all about brute strength. He's thinking. It's very impressive, especially to have an older brother like Ricky who has been in the limelight for so many years. For Matthew to break out of that shadow is also very impressive because it can be very difficult when you have an older brother who is in the limelight and who is the main event all the time.
"It shows you the character. It shows you the discipline and the patience that Matthew has had. He knows this is his moment, this is his time. I'm sure he's going to perform at his best."
Hatton is coming to Alvarez's territory. He will be the huge crowd favorite among a heavily Mexican crowd. Hatton said that means nothing to him.
"That's not something that I will lose any sleep over, to be honest," he said. "I'm an experienced fighter. To have good support is always nice. When I box home in England, they always give fantastic support. That's always nice, but at the end of the day, when that bell rings, when you're in the ring and everyone else gets out of the ring ... it's just the two fighters left in there. So, even though it's nice to have good support, those supporters can't get in the ring and help him on the night."
Alvarez is the clear favorite and if he wins big things are expected to follow. Some have suggested an eventual fight with Pacquiao, although that is unlikely given the feud between Golden Boy and Pacquiao's promoter, Top Rank. Still, it does show the kind of expectations some have for Alvarez.
"We can't get too ahead of ourselves," De La Hoya said. "He's got a tough fight coming up with Matthew. You can't plan too far ahead. He's a good fighter. He's a very, very good prospect. He's fighting for his first world title now. We're going to take it by steps. We'll see what happens and how he progresses, but we can't plan too far ahead because Matthew is going to be a very tough fighter. He's got a lot of experience. He's going to come to fight. He's just a hungry as Saul to win that world title."
Alvarez, however, feels he is prepared for possible challenges after Hatton.
"I'm ready," he said. "This is a tough fight. I do think I'm going to win this fight, but it's going to be a tough fight. I don't want to get too ahead of myself, but yes, I've always said that all along, that I'm ready for the big names."
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