BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) — 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 U.S. 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 Alvarez works out with trainer Chepo Reynoso and a retinue of coaches, Alvarez's brothers and assorted hangers-on, the gym stereo blares doo-wop, 12-bar blues and '60s bubble-gum pop records. Ranchera and hip-hop, the dual staples of many modern boxers, don't make the playlist until later in the workout.
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," Reynoso said through a translator. "We worked harder than ever for this fight. I can't explain it now, but you're going to see the results."
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.
He is naturally bigger than Mayweather, who easily could have more than a 10-pound weight disadvantage on fight night against Alvarez after the Mexican star rehydrates from the 152-pound limit.
But Alvarez's most important asset, he believes, is his mind.
"A lot of people get impatient and try to take his head off," Alvarez said. "That's when they start missing punches, and that's when Floyd can beat you with counterpunches. I'm not going to fall into that. I already know that's what he wants you to do."
Although Mosley turned down an invitation from Reynoso to spar with Alvarez, the fight fascinates him as a spectator. He's among the wary observers who believe Canelo has the best chance in years to end Mayweather's unbeaten run.
"Canelo can connect, but this isn't going to be a one-punch knockout," Mosley said. "He's going to have to wear him down, get him dazed. ... Canelo's speed and his defense, that was unexpected for me. I thought when I cracked that kid, I'm going to knock him out. It never happened. Floyd, he might be thinking the same thing."
Mosley said Alvarez fit in seamlessly into his home, even playing video games and working in the gym with Mosley's son, Shane Jr. Mexico's shining star can have a little quiet fun in Big Bear while he's preparing to stun Mayweather and the world.
"I don't think Floyd expects Canelo to be as good as he's going to be," Mosley said. "He's better defensively than you think, better in stamina. He's young, but Canelo has been in big events almost his whole career. He's fought in front of more people than this. He's not afraid of the big stage. I don't think he gets afraid anymore."