On the eve of one of the biggest boxing matches in recent years, my facebook and twitter feeds are overwhelmed with support for Canelo Alvarez. It’s a compelling story, the youngest of eight kids, he turned pro at 15 having quite literally turned to fighting in part because he was picked on as a kid. But lets be honest, his support has more to do with how the boxing world feels about “Pretty Boy Floyd”, or “Money”, or whatever it is that he’s calling himself these days.
Typically favorites are well supported in the boxing world, from Mike Tyson to Roy Jones Jr., there’s been no shortage of cocky and abrasive fighters who have garnered the crowd’s support. So what’s different about Mayweather? It can’t possibly be that his lifestyle is too flashy, after all, 8 in 10 Hip Hop music videos incorporate sports cars or boats and we still love those artists (that’s obviously a fake statistic, but you get the point). Then again generally none of those guys are seen publically berating an old man, as seen in this altercation with Larry Merchant two years ago.
It’s true, Floyd pushes the cocky envelope to a level that even makes me squirm, and I’m a huge fan. But I think back to my days as a competitive high school track athlete and am reminded of a quote by the then undisputed king of the mile, Noureddine Morceli. He said, “When I race my mind is full of doubts — who will come in second, who will come in third?” Cute, but also a necessary mindset. Competing at my admittedly pedestrian high school level was intense – we’d spend hours psyching ourselves up and trying to psyche out competitors. I can only imagine what it takes to line up at the starting line of an Olympic final.
Now take that hollow feeling in your stomach and place yourself in a square ring, fighting someone until one of you yields. Oh and you’re doing it in front of millions of people. It’s kind of nuts. No, it’s completely nuts. And before you appeal to the argument about them being professionals and getting paid to act a certain way, consider what it is that we’re watching. We’ve placed two guys in a ring and asked them to knock each other out – How are they meant to mentally cope with that?
Canelo’s the image of boxing we want to believe in. He’s polite, quietly confident, and has worked his way up the ranks without complaint. And you know what – that’s great. I’m proud of the kid. It’s anyone’s best guess as to why Canelo handles the pressure in a manner more suiting to what we’d like to see. Perhaps it has something to do with his childhood – Canelo grew up horse back riding on his farm with what appears to be a loving family. Floyd’s mother was addicted to drugs, he was raised by his grandmother, and his father was a dealer who was in prison for part of his youth.
Or, maybe it has nothing to do with that. Maybe Canelo’s just a wonderful guy and Floyd is a jerk. Who knows? What I do know is that as an outsider, judging someone’s character in a boxing ring is quite bold – perhaps even cocky.