Gomez grateful for his shot vs. Canelo

While most of the boxing world will be focused on Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena in anticipation of Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s return to the ring against welterweight titlist Victor Ortiz on Saturday night, Alfonso Gomez will be a few hundred miles away trying to reach the promised land of a world title.

Gomez, who gained fame from his run on the first season of "The Contender" reality series, is a heavy underdog going up against junior middleweight titlist Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, the Mexican star whose popularity in the United States, especially among Mexican-Americans, mushrooms with each fight.

They will meet at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET, $59.95) -- on Mexican Independence Day weekend -- in what will be the main event inside the downtown arena but serve as the televised co-feature for the rest of the "Star Power" telecast, which is headlined by Mayweather-Ortiz.

So even though Alvarez-Gomez, of course, will play second fiddle to Mayweather-Ortiz, it is the chance of a lifetime for Gomez, who has had one previous title opportunity. That came in 2008, when then-welterweight titleholder Miguel Cotto hammered him.

Cotto dropped the gritty Gomez three times en route to a one-sided, fifth-round knockout. Gomez had made himself viable for such an opportunity nine months earlier when he brutalized the late Arturo Gatti in a bloody, seventh-round knockout that sent Gatti into retirement.

Since the loss to Cotto, however, the 30-year-old Gomez has won five fights in a row against decent opposition, including rugged Jesus Soto Karass, faded former lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo and Calvin Green.

Gomez's nice winning streak, combined with the facts that he is moving up one weight class (and therefore is a little smaller), has name recognition and a penchant for engaging in toe-to-toe fights, made him an attractive opponent for Alvarez (37-0-1, 27 KOs), 21, who will be making the second defense of his 154-pound belt.

"There is one fight on the [pay-per-view] which might steal the show, might steal the night, because both of these fighters -- Canelo Alvarez and Alfonso Gomez -- are action-packed fighters," said Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer. "They're coming to fight. It's going to be [Gomez's] second world title shot, but I think more importantly he is really pumped up and trying to derail that Canelo train. He knows what a victory over Canelo would mean."

It would mean he has knocked off Mexico's brightest young star in a major upset. Just to get the title shot was a big deal for Gomez (23-4-2, 12 KOs), who has been working toward one since the loss to Cotto.

"I'm just really happy to have this opportunity," said Gomez, who lives in Los Angeles but is from the same hometown in Mexico -- Guadalajara -- as Alvarez. "There's thousands, and even millions, of boxers who are looking for a chance like this, and I feel blessed and grateful that I got it. I'm not taking anything for granted. I know that Canelo is a tough fighter. He is strong, he's young, he's determined, he has a great team behind him.

"So I'm putting in all my efforts and all my work in the gym so I won't disappoint anybody. But most importantly, I won't disappoint myself in this second chance for a world title."

Because Alvarez and Gomez are from Guadalajara, some consider this fight to be a contest for hometown bragging rights, in addition to a belt, even though both fighters did their best to downplay any sort of rivalry angle.

"I just feel like he's a great fighter," said Gomez, who moved to Southern California when he was 11 and now lives in Anaheim. "He has a rock star following down there, and that's something that I've always wanted. And I feel like winning this fight will definitely give me a bigger name in Guadalajara, Jalisco, which is a dream come true for me since we're both from there. My dad said it in the press conference in Texas: At the end of the day, the title is still going to stay in Jalisco, because we're both from there."

Alvarez downplayed it even more than Gomez.

"No, I don't feel that at all," Alvarez said (through an interpreter) when asked if it would be a big deal to beat an opponent from his hometown. "Rivalries are born inside the ring, and I don't care if he's from Guadalajara or if he was from anywhere else. My job is to go in the ring and to win, and that's what I'm concentrating on. And I don't feel [a rivalry] at all. I don't feel any rivalry whatsoever."

Gomez has his share of fans dating to his "Contender" days, but he has been somewhat out of the spotlight since the Cotto fight three years ago -- though he did withdraw from a fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (before Chavez won a middleweight belt) because of an arm injury.

Now Gomez will fight Alvarez, who has been receiving massive attention in Mexico and a growing amount in the United States.

As important as it is to Gomez to win a title, he said it would mean even more to him to do it against Alvarez because of how popular he is.

"It's not only getting a world title, it's getting a world title against a superstar like Canelo," Gomez said. "My first try was against another superstar, which was Miguel Cotto. So fighting these megafights, for me, are dreams come true. Unfortunately, I wasn't successful on my first try, yet the experience to be with a great champion like Miguel Cotto gave me a lot of experience and gave me a lot of confidence to pursue that same dream. And so far, I haven't lost since then. So now I get my second try against another superstar like Canelo.

"And for me, that's a dream come true, because if it's about getting world titles, there's ways of doing it against lesser-known opponents. But I think my life story wouldn't have it any other way but to actually go for the biggest fish out there, and in this case it's Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez. So for me, it's not only a dream come true to become world champion, but to do it against a great champion like Saul, it adds to that satisfaction."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.