'Canelo' Alvarez keeps Cinco de Mayo pull vs. James Kirkland

'Canelo' Alvarez keeps Cinco de Mayo pull vs. James Kirkland
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez enters the ring before his junior-middleweight bout with Erislandy Lara on July 12. (John Locher / Associated Press)

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez flexed his muscles as Mexico’s greatest worldwide boxing attraction to help nudge Floyd Mayweather Jr. toward Manny Pacquiao.

And now Alvarez will need his strength again as he prepares to cap a memorable Cinco de Mayo boxing week with an HBO-televised light-middleweight showdown against heavy-hitting James Kirkland on May 9 in Houston.


Kirkland, from Texas, is 32-1 with 28 knockouts, including a December 2013 beating of Glen Tapia.

The 24-year-old Alvarez (44-1-1, 31 KOs) shrugged off the feet-dragging of middleweight world champion Miguel Cotto in talks earlier this year to make an expected toe-to-toe brawl at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.

"I've got to train hard for the fight, I've got to prepare very well," Alvarez told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday in a telephone interview. "I'm a strong fighter. But most importantly, I'm a smart fighter."

"The way you win this kind of fight is with your intelligence."

So, Alvarez is saying he possesses more ring smarts than Kirkland?

"Yes," he said in Spanish through translator and promoter Eric Gomez. "I feel I'm the smarter fighter and I feel that's going to be the difference."

Alvarez impressed with his business smarts, too, by insisting after beating Cuba's Erislandy Lara in July that he intended for his next fight to be on May 2 -- a popular boxing date due to its proximity to Mexico's Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Mayweather Jr. had fought on the first Saturday of May for three consecutive years, but after years of denying fans a super-fight against Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather's options for 2015 were shrinking to an unappetizing selection.

So Alvarez claimed the date early and worked with his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, to make the Cotto fight, taking away another option from Mayweather.

By the time Cotto backed out with Alvarez, Mayweather was too far along in Pacquiao negotiations to turn back.

"I'd like to believe I had something to do with [making Mayweather-Pacquiao] because I said all along that the only way I'd move off that date is if the big fight got made," Alvarez said.

"So I feel I'm partly responsible for him fighting Pacquiao. It's good for the sport, good for the fans and I'm happy for them."

Mayweather beat Alvarez by unanimous decision in September 2013, a fight that became the most lucrative in boxing history.

Mayweather-Pacquiao, which will be further hyped at a Los Angeles news conference March 11, will certainly eclipse Mayweather-Alvarez in pay-per-view and live-gate sales.


De La Hoya has said 2015 is shaping up as the most successful year in the sport's history, adding that he believes Alvarez versus Cotto will happen in September.

"I feel very good," Alvarez said. "I'm happy. I know Kirkland is a very strong, very dangerous fighter and the fans' response to it is crazy. That makes me happy. I have a fight. I have a date. I have an opponent. That's all I wished for."

Alvarez-Kirkland is expected to get a surge of fans drawn to the sport by Mayweather-Pacquiao.

"It's a whole celebration of Cinco de Mayo and I'm fighting on the week of Cinco de Mayo," Alvarez said. "We're going to celebrate that special week and I'm going to do my part with my fight."