LAS VEGAS -- When Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao finally squared off last May in the richest fight in boxing history, a disappointing stinkeroo that nonetheless shattered all boxing revenue records, it essentially marked the end of an era that the two dominated for the previous decade-plus.
Both returned for forgettable codas, Mayweather with a lopsided win against Andre Berto last September before announcing his retirement and Pacquiao doing the same following his win against Timothy Bradley Jr. in their wholly unnecessary third bout on April 9.
So off into the sunset walked boxing's two biggest stars (at least for now, since few believe they are finished for good) within a few months of each other and the question many asked was who's next -- as in who will carry boxing for the next several years?
Before Mayweather and Pacquiao it was a man they both defeated to help make them stars, Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya. The Golden Boy had replaced Mike Tyson, who replaced Sugar Ray Leonard, who filled the void left by Muhammad Ali. There's always somebody just around the corner to assume the mantle as the face of boxing.
Now, in the post-Mayweather/Pacquiao era, that man appears to be middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez.
The 25-year-old Mexican star is his boxing-mad country's most popular fighter. The 2015 ESPN.com fighter of the year and author of the 2015 knockout of the year against James Kirkland has Hollywood good looks, corporate backing from HBO and beer giant Tecate, an exciting fighting style and an already-impressive resume that includes world titles in two weight classes to go with victories against quality opponents such as Miguel Cotto, Erislandy Lara, Austin Trout and an aging Shane Mosley. In other words, Alvarez has the sizzle and the steak.
"It's great for Canelo to have this fight on Cinco de Mayo because its important for the fight fans to carry that tradition. It is a tradition that Julio Cesar Chavez started. On that date, people want to see fights, people want to see action. People want to see great boxing and they will get that because Canelo is an exciting fighter to watch." Oscar De La Hoya
All of those elements combined have made Alvarez an economic engine driving the sport. He is big box office. He has drawn crowds of 40,000 and 31,000 to stadium fights in San Antonio and Houston, respectively, and his lone loss -- a decision as a weight-drained 23-year-old -- came against Mayweather in 2013 in the richest fight ever until Mayweather-Pacquiao surpassed it.
When Alvarez outpointed Cotto, a star in his own right, in November to win the middleweight title, the fight generated 900,000 pay-per-view buys, the biggest haul for a fight in years that did not include Mayweather or Pacquiao.
A month after Pacquiao' exit, Alvarez returns to action to make his first title defense, at a 155-pound catchweight, against British star Amir Khan on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) in the main event of the first boxing card at the T-Mobile Arena, which opened last month.
There is great significance to the date. Alvarez is headlining on Cinco de Mayo weekend, a traditional date for a major Mexican fight and one Alvarez has wanted to take for himself but could not until now because Mayweather had made it his own. But with his exit, it now belongs to Alvarez, another symbol of his status.
"It's great for Canelo to have this fight on Cinco de Mayo because its important for the fight fans to carry that tradition. It is a tradition that Julio Cesar Chavez started," said Golden Boy Promotions CEO De La Hoya, Alvarez's promoter, who fought regularly on that weekend. "On that date, people want to see fights, people want to see action. People want to see great boxing and they will get that because Canelo is an exciting fighter to watch. I think it's important that we have a fighter like Canelo own this Cinco de Mayo weekend because it's guaranteed action. It's a win-win."
Although Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) is a heavy favorite against Khan (31-3, 19 KOs), a 29-year-old welterweight contender and former unified junior welterweight titleholder, the fight is still expected to rack up strong pay-per-view figures as he continues his ascension as boxing's rainmaker.
It's a status Alvarez humbly embraces.
"I'm 25 years old. I've had a good career, a good strong career but I can tell you this -- the best is yet to come. I want to see the next 10 years of my career. I assure you they will be better than the first 10 years." Canelo Alvarez
"As far being the face of boxing, I don't like to name myself that," Alvarez said this week. "I leave that up to the media and the fans. Look, I don't give myself titles. I don't think of that. What I do is I do my job. If other people want to say that I'm the next person in boxing, then that's up to them. That's their opinion.
"I'm very motivated, very honored. It's a position that any fighter would love to be in. But it's also a great responsibility to have it and that's where the hard work comes in. But I'm very honored and I love it. I enjoy it. I just keep training and I keep working hard."
De La Hoya knows exactly how Alvarez feels because during his heyday, he was the pay-per-view king and focus of the sport.
"It's a lot more added pressure, knowing that you're the man carrying the sport," De La Hoya said. "You must perform at your highest level at all times and then some, which can bring a lot of anxiety. It can bring a lot of nerves, especially in fight week. But one thing about Canelo is that he is a very poised, focused young individual who keeps surprising me every single time I talk to him."
De La Hoya said that as poised as Alvarez is, there is still enormous pressure on him because of his position in boxing, and that he has taken time to talk to him about how to handle it.
"The perfect time to speak to him about it is fight week, so I will have that conversation with him shortly," De La Hoya said. "I'll say to him, look, stay focused, concentrate on the job at hand. Obviously, do not look past anything other than Amir Khan and just take it as just another fight."
Alvarez's popularity among Hispanic fans is unquestioned, but he has ample room for growth outside of that audience. Tecate, which recently made him the first athlete it signed to an endorsement deal, has targeted a commercial campaign at an English-speaking audience for the first time, with Alvarez as the star.
"At the tender age of 25, he has generated huge numbers. Huge (television) ratings," De La Hoya said. "He has filled arenas with 40,000-plus people. It's not only his look, it's not only his exciting style. It has to do with the fact that he brings in the female fan as well. That's a huge plus for any sport and the last man to do it was yours truly."
As much adulation as Alvarez receives he is, by all accounts, a hard worker in training camp who has not let his massive success and growing bank account distract him from what he really wants -- a legacy as an all-time great.
"We have seen Canelo grow up as a fighter and every year he gets better and better," said Jose "Chepo" Reynoso, Alvarez's manager and co-trainer. "Canelo is not at his peak yet. We will see a better Canelo this upcoming fight, better than when he fought Cotto."
De La Hoya has said time and again that he hopes Alvarez can be a mainstay for years to come, surpass his success as a box office stud and continue adding to his in-ring accomplishments.
"He's only getting faster and stronger. He's becoming an elusive fighter now," De La Hoya said. "He's not a stiff fighter anymore. He demonstrated that with Miguel Cotto and I think we'll see some flashes of perfection on Saturday."
And perhaps for many years to come as the face of boxing.
"I'm 25 years old. I've had a good career, a good strong career but I can tell you this -- the best is yet to come," Alvarez said. "I want to see the next 10 years of my career. I assure you they will be better than the first 10 years."