In boxing, some names are eternally linked and certain rivalries define an era: Robinson-LaMotta, Ali-Frazier, Duran-Leonard, for instance. But rarely did those bouts raise passions before they were fought, as the potential matchup of two of Mexico's rising stars has. Saul Alvarez, 20, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., 25, have been cajoled toward a potentially huge match since the earliest days of their careers. Both young, handsome and possessing explosive and entertaining styles, Junior and "Canelo" attract large crowds to their fights and provoke a wide range of reactions. Chavez's recent middleweight title victory over Sebastian Zbik and Alvarez's defense of his super welterweight title against Ryan Rhodes (45-4, 31 KOs) on Saturday provide an opportunity to evaluate the rivals at a pivotal moment in their careers, when both begin championship runs and Mexico can start realistically imagining (and anxiously awaiting) the day they meet in the ring. We recently got a chance to ask Alvarez (36-0-1, 26 KOs) his thoughts about his big moment and what lies ahead for him.
What can you tell us about your training for this fight?
It was great, thank God. We did a great job. We have been doing great work here in Big Bear [Calif.]. We worked at full speed, 100 percent, and we are almost ready to go. This is the first time we trained here, and we liked it a lot. We've done excellent preparation here. Everything is set up perfectly for a great training camp, and we are focused on that -- on training and doing a great job.
Has Big Bear allowed you to bring something new to your training?
The change has been beneficial. I had never trained at this altitude, and in the first days it surely feels good. You can feel the change of air, and it is more difficult to breathe. And then the sparring partners are great. I have sparred with WBA middleweight champ [Gennady Golovkin] and many others, and we have worked a lot on our strength and learning new things. We have worked especially hard on strength and speed, and in keeping our punches short. We have worked on many things, just to wait and see what we find in the ring that night and be ready for whatever comes our way.
What sort of challenge do you expect from Ryan Rhodes?
He is a pretty strong opponent. He can switch stances easily, even though he is a natural lefty. That makes him a little bit more complicated, but we're working on it. I believe we are ready for him.
How do you see the rest of the year with regard to future opponents?
Right now, we only have this one fight in our minds. Obviously, we have to overcome one in order to make plans for the next, but we're expecting everything to come out nicely on June 18 and then sit down to discuss our future.
What do you make of the middleweight division? Who would you like to fight?
I am gunning for the best possible fighters. I would love to fight the best, and we're working on that. I want to fight [welterweights Floyd] Mayweather, [Manny] Pacquiao [and junior middleweight] Miguel Cotto -- all of them -- step by step. But I want to take it easy.
What is your opinion about Chavez's comments that your title is inferior to his? [Chavez fought the regular champion, while Alvarez fought for a vacant title.]
We have many differences between him and me, and there are quite a few things that I could say about him. But in truth, I would rather not talk a lot. I respect him a lot and I congratulate him.
It seems that you have two sets of followers: those who love you unconditionally and those who wish you the worst luck. How do you manage those extreme feelings?
Each one of us has his own fans, and my fans talk a lot about Julio Cesar, and then his fans talk a lot about me. But each one of us has lots of fans, and I am grateful to all the people who follow me. And they have to see that we're both Mexican and we are both bringing world titles to Mexico.
Did you get a chance to see Chavez's title victory? Any thoughts?
Yes, I saw it. It was a fight in which you could tell that Julio wanted to be a champion real bad. His desire to become a champion was clearly visible, and I congratulate him because I believe it was a great fight.
I know you hate this question, but when do you expect to fight Chavez?
I believe we both have different plans right now. I believe Julio Cesar Chavez right now is way above my weight class, because he went up right after the fight. But we are ready to fight. We have already said this and we are talking about it, and we are ready for the day in which they make this fight. I believe there are many things to be taken care of, but we are ready for everything.
How do you deal with the pressure of being a regular favorite and one of the most watched prospects in boxing right now?
I am happy for all this attention -- this is what I wanted. This is what we all wanted, and I am happy for that. But I have to take it easy and put everything in perspective. I always aim to be prepared and 100 percent ready for everything.
How do you see Saturday's fight unfolding, round by round?
I believe we will come out in the first round to see what he can show us and then come up with a fight plan. I can't tell you what I am going to do round by round, but once I get there it will be different. I think we'll see how we are going to approach this once we get into the fight.
Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.