By Diego Morilla
The young fighter arrived at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas for the high stakes mega-boutsurrounded by the same team that had accompanied him since his beginnings as an amateur. An iron-fisted, smooth-boxing champion with matinee-idol looks who thrilled Mexican fight fans, he felt he had already amassedenough achievements to secure the respect of fans and media alike – all he needs is a career-defining win against his respected Puerto Rican foe to silence the few remaining isolated doubters.
The above description applies not only to Canelo Alvarez as he prepares to face off against Miguel Cotto on HBO Pay Per View this Saturday night, but also to his promoter and mentor Oscar De La Hoya, who faced a similar situation against Felix Trinidad back in September 1999.
De La Hoya lost that fight in a highly controversial decision, and today in his role as promoter, the "Golden Boy" is in position to earn a measure of revenge for his loss 16 years ago.
“I have great memories,” De La Hoya said of the fight that handed him his first defeat as a professional. “The passion that people felt back then in the Mandalay Bay Arena, the rivalry between Puerto Rico and Mexico and all that – it was very special.”
On September 18, 1999, the then-unbeated De La Hoyawalked up to the ring of the then-brand-new Mandalay Bay Events Center for a then-record-breaking boxing event dubbed the “Fight of the Millennium.” The event would set new records for pay-per-view and live gate revenue, and generated enormous interest worldwide.
“It was a big fight, everyone was thinking about that fight, and the press from all over the world was there to watch us,” reminisced De La Hoya. “And that is what we hope for this fight, we have media from all over the world, and we are hoping for a big fight as well.”
There is one big difference, however, that De La Hoyawould like to see this time around. “The last three rounds,” he said, when asked about his biggest regret from that fateful night, repeating those words once again with a heavy sigh behind them. “I would have gone for the KO. That’s what I would have done."
De La Hoya is referring to his taking the result for grantedthree quarters of the way through the fight and resorting to backpedaling and celebrating in advance – a move that allowed Trinidad to win what would become the three decisive final rounds of the fight.
It's a mistake Canelo is unlikely to repeat. He is a pressure fighter from bell to bell. "Canelo is an aggressive puncher," De La Hoya said. "And he is a strong fighter who goes all out, and he can do it if he wants to.”
De La Hoya feels his pupil's youthful energy will play a pivotal role in his battle with the veteran Cotto.
“Experience is worth a lot, but youth can help you overcome certain situations,” said De La Hoya, who was 26-years old when he faced Trinidad – only one year older than Canelo on fight night.
“That’s what makes this fight so interesting. You have the young lion and the more experienced veteran in Cotto, and this makes for a close, unpredictable fight.”
Cotto is more than 10 years older than his foe and hassurvived countless wars against the best fighters through four weigh classes. Trinidad was once as technically sound as Cotto or even more so, and Cotto is roughly the same age with the same amount as professional experience as Tito was at the time of his high-profile Mexican match-up. But while Trinidad had a well-defined, easy-to-guess style, Cotto is known for continuously adding new weapons to his arsenal and coming up with new tactics for every fight.
Ultimately, De La Hoya sees one key intangible that will make all the difference in this fight, which opens a new chapter of the fabled Mexico-Puerto Rico boxing rivalry.
“The only experience that I transmitted to him was to fight with passion,” said the fighter-turned-promoter. “We’ve talked, we have discussed a few things, and he’s ready.The only advice that I would give him is to fight with the Mexican flag close to his heart. You need to put passion into it, because that’s what people expect from you. My experience could help him a little bit. But he is a professional and he is ready for a big fight.”