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‘Canelo’ Alvarez wants to be the new face of boxing

May 5, 2016

Mexican star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez let it be known nearly two years ago that despite his youth, he was seeking to elbow Floyd Mayweather Jr. out of the big Cinco de Mayo boxing weekend in Las Vegas and make the big event his own.

On Tuesday, Alvarez arrived to officially open a fight week that will close with him defending his World Boxing Council middleweight title Saturday night against England’s Amir Khan at the month-old, 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena. Alvarez, 25, is the world’s best-known boxer under the age of 30 and he basked in his growing importance in the sport.

“This is that extra motivation to be fighting on such an important date,” Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 knockouts) told reporters of his HBO pay-per-view bout. “There’s still many years to go, but at my short age — being so young, already headlining — it’s a great honor.”

A year ago Mayweather, with a typically defensive performance in his record-setting showdown against Manny Pacquiao, appeared in his fifth Cinco de Mayo weekend bout in six years.

Then Mayweather (49-0) announced his retirement in September, after defeating Andre Berto.

On Saturday, Mayweather, now 39, hinted that he might fight again. He told Showtime’s Jim Gray, “Everyone is asking me if Floyd Mayweather is coming back. … I’ve been talking with CBS and Showtime and you just never know. Some crazy numbers have been thrown my way, upwards of nine figures. … I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Khan (31-3, 19 KOs), the former junior-welterweight world champion, said if he upsets Alvarez, he expects to be “at the top of the line” to fight Mayweather. But Khan also sees a page being turned in boxing, captured in the MGM Grand’s removal of Mayweather’s image from its hotel and a new placement of Alvarez and Khan.

“If Floyd comes back, he comes back. I don’t know if he will,” Khan said. “I just think he’s a little bit bitter from not seeing his face on the side of the MGM, and people not talking about Floyd Mayweather on Cinco de Mayo weekend. They’re talking about me and Canelo and this fight.”

Alvarez’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, who headlined four Cinco de Mayo cards late in his career, said his fighter is enthused for what this appearance symbolizes. “The only way I can explain it is being on cloud nine. He’s always wanted Cinco de Mayo. Now that he has it, he’s going to make the best of it and wants to make it a tradition for many years to come,” De La Hoya said.

“I strongly feel he wants to make a statement with Amir Khan. It’s not easy. Amir can fight and box and I don’t think [Khan’s trainer] Virgil Hunter will keep him in the pocket. … He’ll have him move side to side and throw fast combinations and keep pivoting Canelo. But I think, ultimately, Canelo’s going to walk him down or cut off the ring in the championship later rounds.”

A win Saturday gives Alvarez impressive options for his next bout, with unbeaten, two-belt middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, Mayweather and perhaps even Pacquiao in line.

“You get used to” handling the distraction of future assignments, Alvarez said. “Look, I can’t be thinking about what could happen or what’s going to happen. I’m focused on May 7. This is the fight.”

Mayweather beat Alvarez by majority decision in September 2013, handing the Mexican his only loss.

Of Mayweather’s comeback talk, Alvarez said, “Don’t know, doesn’t matter. I’m doing my fights.”

Should he beat Khan, Alvarez has 15 days to begin negotiations with Golovkin for a title-unification bout or WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman has said he’ll follow a mandate signed by all parties and strip Alvarez of the belt, giving it to Golovkin.

“I can assure you Canelo doesn’t think about [what’s next],” De La Hoya said. “He’s focused on the job at hand. This is a real threat for him because of [Khan’s] speed. Who has given him problems? [Erislandy] Lara [in an Alvarez split-decision victory] and Mayweather. Because of speed.

“He’s not overlooking any fighter. You just can’t think about it.”

Alvarez is a 5-1 betting favorite to beat Khan, who has won his last five fights after losses to Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson.

“And then come [Sunday], I’m going to start making the calls to Golovkin’s people and see if we can work it out,” De La Hoya said. “Mayweather has to come to us. Mayweather misses the limelight, misses the Cinco de Mayo weekend … that’s what boxing does to you. It always sucks you back in. But this is Amir and Canelo’s weekend, no doubt about it.

“This is Canelo time.”

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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