Junior middleweight titlist Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, the Mexican star who has been brought along slowly with a series of fights against opponents given little chance to win, will next face a tall order: powerful 6-foot-1 southpaw Paul Williams.
They will meet Sept. 15 -- on the traditional big-fight Mexican Independence Day weekend -- at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in a pay-per-view headliner, Golden Boy chief executive Richard Schaefer, Alvarez's promoter, told ESPN.com on Wednesday night.
Schaefer confirmed the story first reported by Ring Magazine's website, which he owns.
"Canelo and Williams is done. Signed, sealed and delivered," said Schaefer, who got the deal done on Wednesday. "I think Williams is the biggest name in the division we could get and he has been known for years as one of the most avoided fighters in boxing. He's awkward, he's tall, he's a dangerous fighter and that's what you need on a pay-per-view. You need to give fans fights where they don't know who's going to win the fight.
"So, yes, it's a risk for Canelo because Paul Williams is a terrific fighter. But it's also a dangerous fight for Paul Williams. Some people still underestimate Canelo Alvarez but he can compete with anyone and he wants to compete with everyone. People have to remember that Canelo is still only 21 years old, but if you want to earn a shot at Floyd Mayweather, you need to be able to pass this kind of test, this tall test."
The 5-foot-9 Alvarez (40-0-1, 29 KOs), one of boxing's youngest titleholders, won a vacant belt by easily outpointing Matthew Hatton in March 2011. He has defended the title four times, including a dominant decision against faded 40-year-old former champion Shane Mosley on May 5 on the Mayweather-Miguel Cotto pay-per-view undercard at the MGM Grand.
Originally, Golden Boy had looked to James Kirkland, an exciting brawler whom it promotes, as Alvarez's opponent and offered him the fight. However, Kirkland suffered a shoulder injury in a fight in March, had surgery and will not be ready to go by Sept. 15. So they looked to Williams (41-2, 27 KOs), 30, of Augusta, Ga.
"Kirkland is not going to be able to fight in September," Schaefer said. "I want to make sure he is healthy and ready to go before a fight like this. So now people are saying, 'Why are you putting Canelo in with Paul Williams?' Some people think we are nuts. But I know one thing -- it's going to be a good fight. These guys both come to fight. I think one of these guys will get knocked out. If it's an exciting fight I don't think there are any losers."
George Peterson, Williams' trainer and manager, said this is just the sort of opportunity they were looking for, so when Williams adviser Al Haymon presented them with the fight they jumped at it.
"We've been looking for something of this magnitude. We'll be prepared for it," Peterson said. "He is going to put on a boxing clinic against Alvarez. This is what Paul has been wanting. We know Canelo is a good boxer. He has good footwork, good power and the will to win. That's what I think about Alvarez. But Paul has been in the ring with the best and done really well. Paul can get up for this fight. There's been one or two fights he couldn't get up for."
For several years, Williams was considered one of the top fighters in the world. He is a former two-time welterweight titleholder, a former interim junior middleweight titlist and he owns a majority decision in an action-packed nontitle bout against Sergio Martinez, who went on to win the middleweight championship. He also beat a prime Antonio Margarito and scored a near-shutout of former undisputed junior middleweight champion and longtime pound-for-pound list entrant Winky Wright.
However, Williams' stock plunged when he met Martinez in a rematch for the middleweight title in November 2010 and got knocked out cold in the second round.
In his next fight in July 2011, Williams escaped with a majority decision win against junior middleweight contender Erislandy Lara that was so controversial that the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board took the unprecedented step of suspending all three judges over their scoring of the fight.
Williams bounced back in February to roll to a shutout decision against Japan's Nobuhiro Ishida, who had scored a first-round upset knockout of Kirkland in 2011.
"What has happened is a few people have written Paul off, have said that he's on his last legs. We're glad about that, or we wouldn't get no activity at all," Peterson said. "It's gonna be a real interesting fight and Paul is excited about it. It's an opportunity to show the boxing community that Paul Williams is back. He's never ducked a fighter and when the bell goes 'bing,' the fans will see a very exciting fight. Boxing needs something like this where who the winner will be is a mystery."
Schaefer said he is talking with both HBO and Showtime about being involved in the pay-per-view, although HBO has been involved in Alvarez's last seven fights.
"I wanted to get the fight done and now I'll see what I will do as it relates to which network is involved in the pay-per-view," Schaefer said.
Schaefer said whichever networks puts on the pay-per-view, he will promote the fight with a four-city media tour with stops in New York, Los Angeles, Texas (likely Houston) and Mexico City.
Schaefer also said he hopes to put together an all-Mexican clash between featherweight titlist Jhonny Gonzalez (52-7, 45 KOs) and the Golden Boy-promoted Daniel Ponce De Leon (43-4, 35 KOs), a former junior featherweight titleholder, to serve as the co-feature.