-- LAS VEGAS -- Standing atop boxing's throne, moments removed from a chilling sixth-round knockout of Amir Khan, middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez provided boxing fans with the words they longed to hear.
"We don't f--- around," said Alvarez, through an interpreter, after gesturing toward unified titlist Gennady Golovkin, who was sitting ringside, to enter the ring. "I fear no one in this sport."
Alvarez didn't go as far as committing to a fall showdown with Golovkin, the oft-avoided middleweight destroyer who is the No. 1 contender to Alvarez's WBC title. But he didn't run from it, and now has 15 days to prove his actions are as strong as his words by making the fight against Golovkin or be stripped of his belt.
The recent (and likely short-term) retirements of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao opened the door for a new face of the sport to emerge. Alvarez very much looked the part on Saturday night, as the 25-year-old Mexican heartthrob christened brand-new T-Mobile Arena with a gruesome one-punch knockout.
It wasn't a fight as much as a coronation, with Alvarez headlining a pay-per-view on Cinco de Mayo weekend -- boxing's Super Bowl -- for the first time, thus completing his training as Mayweather's de facto Padawan learner-in-waiting.
While Alvarez's victory announced a new era in the sport, it's not crystal clear what that era will look like or, to extend the galactic reference even further, how tempted Alvarez will be by the dark side.
Outside of a Mayweather-Pacquiao rematch, Alvarez-Golovkin is the biggest and most lucrative event the sport can produce in 2016, with each fighter -- despite a nine-year age difference -- at the peak of his respective prime. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was ringside on Saturday as a special guest of promoter Oscar De La Hoya, teasing the notion that this superfight could take place at a venue as large as AT&T Stadium.
While membership to boxing's elite fraternity certainly brings privilege -- and make no mistake, Alvarez would be the A-side against Golovkin -- it also brings responsibility, as each star fighter must find a way to serve all three masters he answers to: his bank account; his health and longevity; and his fans, who ultimately pay his salary through pay-per-view buys.
Few have been able to strike this balance as perfectly as De La Hoya, who rose to fame and fortune without sacrificing his reputation with fans in the process. Alvarez has mostly modeled his promoter's "dare to be great" philosophy thus far, but we have entered a new era in boxing in terms of the political and financial control a star fighter has.
Much of that credit (or blame, depending upon your perspective) goes to Mayweather, who effectively "beat the game" by taking the power away from promoters and selectively choosing his opponents without affecting his financial bottom line. Serving the fans was rarely part of Mayweather's business plan, however, which was enabled by boxing's broken organizational structure and the public's lust to see him one day eat his words. He executed it brilliantly and became the richest athlete in the world, but he did so at the expense of both the sport that made him famous and his own legacy.
What Mayweather left behind is a strategy that is nearly impossible to duplicate without his own unique recipe of all-time great skill, charisma, business acumen and leverage -- with Mayweather holding the latter in spades, thanks to powerful advisor Al Haymon.
Alvarez, then 23, suffered his first defeat against Mayweather in their September 2013 superfight, which set numerous financial records. The loss could've been demoralizing for Alvarez, who barely won a round, but his evolution over the ensuing 27 months proved just how much he learned from the fight.
The question, of course, becomes this: Did Alvarez learn too much from Mayweather? And did his experience as the B-side -- forced to give up concessions to Mayweather (including an additional two pounds for the fight to be made) -- plant the seeds for a public heel turn once he gained enough power?
Alvarez's refusal to compete at the middleweight limit of 160 pounds despite holding the title is a start. He competed at a catchweight of 155 pounds on Saturday for the fifth straight fight, which has helped create a built-in excuse should he decide to duck (or even put off) a fight with Golovkin. Alvarez has also told anyone who would listen that he isn't a real middleweight and any opponent who wishes to face him must do so at his desired weight.
The problem is, boxing doesn't work that way. Or, at the very least, it shouldn't. There is no 155-pound division in boxing or a "Canelo Alvarez championship" to compete for (although we probably shouldn't give the sanctioning bodies any ideas). And with 15 days to make a decision regarding Golovkin, Alvarez has left himself with little time or wiggle room to fool around with negotiating for catchweights.
Even though Alvarez deserved respect for defying De La Hoya in the past and accepting a pair of high-risk, low-reward fights against Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara, he was the decidedly larger man in both. And if we're truthful while taking a snapshot of Alvarez's career, he has always been the larger man in each of his major bouts. While that doesn't mean he is necessarily a front-runner, he is, at the very least, opportunistic -- especially considering his reputation for rehydrating upward of 20 pounds on fight night.
The time is now for Alvarez to shed that label and find out how great he can be at 160 pounds, especially considering the four-pound leap it would take is even smaller than the eight-pound jump Khan, a welterweight, made on Saturday.
Despite its star power, Alvarez's victory over Khan was very much a money grab in glitzy wrapping paper, providing him one final tune-up before his moment of truth with Golovkin. Should Alvarez avoid the fight, a stream of big-name smaller opponents moving up in weight for big money would likely follow.
But how much of Alvarez's fighting soul would he forfeit in the process?
Alvarez has never fashioned himself a stereotypical Mexican warrior, willing to take two in order to land one. It's something that has delayed his affirmation from the most hard core of Mexican fans -- a similar battle De La Hoya, a Mexican-American, faced in his early rise.
De La Hoya was able to repeal the notion that he was just another pretty face and won back respect by how difficultly he matched himself, something Alvarez has the same chance to do with Golovkin. The fact that De La Hoya lost the majority of the superfights he accepted over the second half of his career never robbed from his greatness -- something Alvarez, who has recovered nicely from the loss to Mayweather, should consider.
Will Alvarez follow the same path his Mexican heroes paved before him by fighting for glory and honor? Or will he follow Mayweather's lead as the very definition of a prizefighter, choosing the pursuit of fame and riches above accomplishment?
The health of boxing would greatly benefit from the former, as would Alvarez's legacy, should he have hopes of surpassing the legacy of his Hall of Fame promoter.
Consider this the crossroad moment of his career and the beginning of the Canelo Alvarez era.
It's time to dare to be great.