BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. — When Saul Alvarez steps from a black SUV into a swath of media and fans, he keeps his head low and his gaze neutral as he calmly follows his entourage to work. Footwork, timing, focus — they’re all impeccable.
‘‘It’s normal for me now,’’ he says with a grin while getting his hands wrapped moments later. ‘‘People are always around me.’’
At just 23 years old, the freckle-faced Mexican fighter called Canelo has mastered the moves of a star. He usually handles his skyrocketing celebrity with calm and poise, always coming off as a hungry, serious athlete who cares little for his sport’s near-requisite bragging and boasting.
Just three years after the Mexican junior middleweight champion’s first major US fights, Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KOs) will be under his sport’s biggest spotlight Saturday night in Las Vegas when he faces Floyd Mayweather Jr., the biggest star of them all.
Alvarez has studied Mayweather (44-0, 26 KOs) extensively, but not for tips on his opponent’s taunting, his spendthrift public persona. Canelo’s bankable celebrity got him into this lucrative fight with Money May, but he plans to win it by relying on the natural skills and acquired work ethic that propelled him here.
‘‘I've always said I've never fought to my potential,’’ Alvarez said. ‘‘I've never fought at 100 percent of my ability. My opponents have never brought that out in me. I think Floyd is going to be the one who brings it out.’’
Alvarez prepared for the bout in high-altitude Big Bear, following the example of countless fighters who have taken themselves away from celebrity distractions by going up into the San Bernardino Mountains. He worked out in a Spartan, one-ring boxing gym in the converted garage of a house owned by Sugar Shane Mosley, the long-reigning champion who has lost to both men in Saturday’s bout.
While he’s a veteran in many rules of his game outside the ring, Alvarez is still too young to be afraid of trying new things. For the first time in his career, he prepared for Mayweather by hiring a strength coach, a nutritionist and a chef.
‘‘I think we’re putting together a good game plan to beat Mayweather, and up here we have no distractions,’’ trainer Chip Reynoso said through a translator. ‘‘We worked harder than ever for this fight.’’
Alvarez betrays no real mental weaknesses in his preparations for Mayweather — only a quiet confidence, and no overcompensation for the daunting task in front of him. Instead, Alvarez quietly agrees with Reynoso’s opinions about his advantages, insisting he can do things nobody has ever done against Mayweather.
Canelo is an accurate puncher carrying more power than most of Mayweather’s previous opponents. His percussive right hand is among the most dangerous weapons in boxing — as several injured sparring partners could attest this summer. His jab work is more disciplined and effective than most of Mayweather’s recent opponents, which could mess with the veteran champion’s game plan.