Three years ago, Canelo Alvarez was tasked with opening the $375-million T-Mobile Arena in his first Cinco de Mayo main event in Las Vegas.
He followed that with consecutive bouts against long-reigning, power-punching middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin.
Now, as the leading draw for the new streaming service DAZN’s push to exceed 1-million subscribers by next month, Alvarez shoulders both business and ring pressure by meeting fellow champion Daniel Jacobs in perhaps boxing’s best division.
“I concentrate. I work hard. And things unfold and fall into place — like the contract, like the opponents, like everything that’s happened. It’s just me continuing to do my thing,” Alvarez explained Tuesday following his grand arrival at MGM Grand.
It was the 28-year-old’s interest in challenging himself that helped convince DAZN to make Alvarez the richest deal for a North American athlete, a $365-million, 10-fight deal that has World Boxing Council/World Boxing Assn. champion Alvarez (51-1-2, 35 knockouts) positioned to potentially unify all four belts in the middleweight division.
Jacobs (35-2, 29 KOs) wears the International Boxing Federation belt, stripped from Golovkin last year. Jacobs fought Golovkin in 2017 and was defeated by a narrow decision at Madison Square Garden.
“Technically, yes, he’s a much better fighter,” Alvarez said. “His abilities are much better … he has one of the most complicated styles in boxing.”
Jacobs said given the depth of the division — which includes World Boxing Organization champion Demetrius Andrade, former champion Billy Joe Saunders and unbeaten Jermall Charlo — the competition hasn’t been this strong since Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney occupied it in the mid-1990s.
“It’s perfect timing for us because we all have so many options, and I’m at the pinnacle, and I have the key right now,” said Jacobs, a near 4-to-1 betting underdog. “Focus on this job, show everything I know and the sky’s the limit. So many opportunities can arise by winning this.”
While Alvarez stands as the sport’s most powerful draw as Mexico’s most prominent fighter, Jacobs offers the compelling human-interest story of conquering life-threatening cancer, a subject that connects him with a mainstream audience.
“I was sleeping on my mom’s couch. Even at that time, it was really hard for me to maneuver and walk and do all these different things … sleepless nights, times when I used to cry, times when I used to doubt if I could even walk again,” Jacobs recounted of his cancer battle. “I never thought about this opportunity … this is the greatest opportunity I can even have, let alone dream about. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of it.”
The fighters’ stories moved LeBron James and his partner Maverick Carter to produce the two-part DAZN documentary series “40 Days” that has accompanied fight-preview coverage.
Alvarez said he didn’t mind embracing the challenge of Jacobs, and Alvarez’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, maintained that a victory over Jacobs makes him the sport’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter.
“I’ve never rejected any opponent,” Alvarez said. “I don’t focus on if I’m No. 1 or 2 or 3 … I just keep doing these fights to keep me as one of the best.
“I’m not focused on the contract. I worked hard for it. My thing is to continue taking the best fights … [because] I love boxing. I love what I do.”
Alvarez can invoke a rematch clause should he lose to Jacobs, and can fight him at a date of his discretion, Golden Boy Promotions President Eric Gomez said.
In a nod to his ambition, Alvarez recently hedged from a full commitment to fighting Golovkin for a third time in September, should he defeat Jacobs.
Because instead of pursuing Andrade’s WBO belt, Golovkin selected a likely one-sided match June 8 against obscure Canadian Steve Rolls at Madison Square Garden.
Would Alvarez actually punish Golovkin for playing it safe?
“He holds all the leverage,” Gomez said of Alvarez. “It’s going to be his decision.”