The prince of Mexican boxing is ready for his coronation, and only the kid brother of a famous English brawler stands in his way.
Saul Alvarez's career has been on a skyward trajectory since his early teens, and the hard-hitting 20-year-old can make championship history even more quickly than he imagined Saturday night.
The redheaded, freckle-faced slugger ubiquitously known as "Canelo" — the Spanish word for cinnamon -- will fight for the vacant WBC super welterweight belt against Matthew Hatton (41-4-2, 16 KOs), the less heralded brother of former 140-pound champion Ricky Hatton, at Anaheim's Honda Center.
"I didn't expect it to happen this quickly, but I've been preparing for this for a long time," said Alvarez, who turned pro at 15. "I'm grateful for the opportunity, but I know I still have to earn it."
Alvarez (35-0-1, 26 KOs) nearly missed the opportunity to become the youngest fighter to win the 154-pound title when he came in nearly two pounds over the fight's 150-pound catch weight limit on Friday. Given two hours to lose the weight, the sculpted fighter could only shave off less than half a pound.
Hatton, who made the catch weight, agreed to stay in the fight despite Alvarez's mistake. The fighters' managers agreed to an undisclosed financial penalty, which could mean Alvarez won't earn a whole lot more than a belt if he wins.
That's more than enough motivation. Given the power in his fists and the expectations heaped upon him by Golden Boy Promotions and the Mexican public, both Alvarez and Hatton realize Canelo is expected to seize his apparent destiny with ease.
Hatton has few major accomplishments beyond his European welterweight title. He'll likely be the toughest opponent of Alvarez's relatively short career, but not many people outside the Hatton family think he'll be tough enough to take the belt back to Manchester.
"He's never fought anyone as good as me, anyone as fit and determined as me," Hatton said. "I was highly motivated for the fight in the first place, but to get to fight for the world title motivates me even more. I'll leave nothing in the locker room."
The WBC fell all over itself to add a big, ugly belt to the virtual crown Alvarez already wears in Mexico, where his cowboy image and beauty-queen girlfriend make him the biggest name in the fight-crazy country's younger generation of boxers.
Just last week, the Mexico City-based sanctioning body abruptly ruled the winner of this fight would fill its 154-pound title vacated by Manny Pacquiao — even though the fight is at a catch weight, and even though Hatton has never fought at super welterweight.
"This is a huge stage for Canelo, the biggest challenge he has ever faced," promoter Oscar De La Hoya said. "We all think he's ready for the challenges of this fight and everything that lies beyond it. I really believe he's the next big thing in this sport. He'll be bigger than me."
Mexican brawler Daniel Ponce De Leon also meets Cincinnati's unbeaten Adrien Broner on Alvarez's first headlining HBO show, while 168-pound contender Daniel Jacobs and formerly incarcerated middleweight James Kirkland also are on a card expected to attract a vocal pro-Alvarez crowd to the Anaheim Ducks' home arena.
A villain's role is something novel for Ha tton, who often fought in front of sympathetic crowds on the undercard of his brother's bouts. Ricky Hatton's career peaked with big-money knockout losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Pacquiao, sending him into an effective retirement, but setting him up for life.
Many see Saturday's fight in similar terms — Matthew will get his biggest payday, but he'll go down hard. Ricky isn't among them.
"He'll never take a backwards step," Ricky Hatton said. "I was worried about him moving up in weight, but after seeing him in the gym, I'm not worried any more. As my brother, I'm proud to say he's made of the same material. We didn't come here for a payday. We came here to take home a belt."
The brothers still get along famously and work together, with a promotions company and a website, but Matthew has never been his brother's twin. For starters, Matthew supports Manchester United, while Ricky and most of their family prominently support Manchester City.
"I'm more professional now," Hatton said. "I also used to put on a bunch of weight between fights, like Ricky. I'm not going to say I still don't like a pint, but when you're a sportsman, when it's your job, you're supposed to stay in shape. I've learned from some of both our mistakes."
Hatton is eating ostrich and kangaroo meat during his training, keeping to an improved training regimen that helped him win his European title last year. He also worked on a game plan to minimize the physical disadvantages he faces against Alvarez, a natural super welterweight who looks taller than his listed one-inch advantage over Hatton, a longtime welterweight.
Hatton is aware of the long odds against him, but the 29-year-old has waited a whole lot longer than Canelo for his title shot.
"I'm sure he'll go on to do great things in his career," Hatton said. "Just not in this fight."