Two hours and counting after the press conference was supposed to begin, Floyd Mayweather finally made his long anticipated appearance in San Antonio, Texas, the ninth and penultimate stop on a tour that has taken him from Michigan to Mexico City in an effort to spread the word about his biggest fight in years.
Opponent Saul "Canelo" Alvarez has already come and gone, telling fans, via Showtime's All Access Blog: "I respect you. There are Mayweather fans that have been here since 7 a.m. along with my fans, but I'm here for both groups. As you can see, he's not. He tries to intimidate his opponents, but I was born to fight.”
To some, Mayweather's absence was a sign of a typically tone-deaf athlete who doesn't care much about the fans who pay his salary. But that doesn't jibe with the Mayweather who spent hours signing autographs and snapping pictures throughout the nine-day tour. Veterans of the boxing business saw something deeper going on.
"Besides being a very skilled, technical boxer in the ring, Floyd is very good at psychological warfare," Showtime executive vice president Stephen Espinoza said. "Canelo didn't take the bait. He didn't sit around waiting for Floyd. He decided to go forward with his half of the press conference and then left. It was his way of saying 'I'm not going to cater to your whims and I'm not going to buy into the gamesmanship.'"
It was the first shot fired, but surely not the last prior to the Sept. 14 fight in Las Vegas. Golden Boy's Oscar De La Hoya, the boxing legend who now promotes Alvarez, knows the power of Floyd's mental warfare firsthand. Before their record-setting fight in 2007, Mayweather stole his luggage and his lunch on a media tour just like this one. He even brought a live chicken to one event and called it "Golden Girl."
Canelo, he says, isn't going to fall for Floyd's tricks the way he did.
"When it comes to playing the mind games, Canelo doesn't let anything get to him."
The 22-year-old budding sex symbol has been the surprise breakout star of the tour. Fans have flocked to see him at each stop along the way.
"The response to Canelo, in each city, has probably been the most striking thing to me," Bleacher Report contributor and Showtime boxing blogger Lyle Fitzsimmons said. "He had fans everywhere, even in Grand Rapids, and they were consistently louder than Floyd's people—no matter what the ratio."
Insiders knew he was a star in Mexico, where his fights compete head-to-head with soccer matches for television viewers. But few, not even Mayweather and executives at Showtime, understood how deeply he had penetrated the American market.
"I think he was definitely surprised. Floyd is used to getting booed because of how often he's played the villain. And, in some ways, he relishes that. But, in this, there were certain tour stops where the support for Canelo was so overwhelming and enthusiastic. Bordering on mania or hysteria," Espinoza said. "I don't think he's had an opponent like that since Oscar De La Hoya. Oscar, at that point, had been an icon in the sport for a very long time. This is a 22-year-old kid. The amount of fan support and hysteria he created did take Floyd by surprise. Floyd didn't expect it."
De La Hoya believes Canelo's popularity is bothering Mayweather a bit, leading to incidents like the one in San Antonio.
"When it comes to the press conferences, we've seen more fans for Canelo. There's no doubt about it. Alvarez is here. He's made a huge blast into the U.S. and I'd have to give Round 1 to Alvarez," De La Hoya said. "I think Mayweather has been a little bit irritated by Canelo Mania. Mayweather is the pound-for-pound champion of the world and feels a little bit disrespected."
De La Hoya says he put this extravaganza together because he "wanted to see a great fight." But he admitted he also saw an opportunity to dethrone Mayweather with one of his own stable of fighters.
"I feel it's Canelo's time. I feel Canelo is facing Mayweather at the right time. We have seen signs of a shift," De La Hoya said. And, with a victory in hand, the sky is the limit for Canelo, a fighter Golden Boy feels is just scratching the surface of his potential.
"He's learning English. Speaking English and connecting with the public," De La Hoya said. "He's making the effort. He's taking action. In camp he's taking a couple of hours every day and taking classes. All that is really going to pay off."
The Million-Dollar Tour
Ten cities. More than 6,000 miles traveled. Two countries. One amazing fight.
These numbers, in part, tell the story of the Canelo Alvarez vs. Floyd Mayweather Junior Press Tour, part revival, part fan rally and part press conference hyping the best fight in years.
Three other numbers interest promoters even more.
$1.5 million in expenses:
"Some of those locations are extremely expensive. You can imagine shutting down Times Square in the afternoon for a fan rally. That alone cost us well over $300,000," Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told Bleacher Report. "Certainly the most expensive press tour ever put together."
100,000 fans reached:
"Those 100,000 will go and tell their friends and it will spread like a wildfire," Schaefer said. "They will share stories of how generous these fighters were with their time. Floyd Mayweather, at several locations, stayed for hours, literally hours to sign autographs and take pictures with their fans. And so did Canelo. It's important to show the fans who they really are. It helps them and it helps the sport of boxing as well. When you look at other sports, very few athletes at this level are as accessible as a Floyd Mayweather is to their fans. It's the fans that make you and not the other way around."
2,525,000 pay-per-view buys:
"We are looking at indications of an event that might shatter the record that I hold," De La Hoya confirmed.
Those indicators? According to Schaefer, a record setting gate that reached almost $19 million in just a couple of hours before the tickets had all been snapped up. Unprecedented interest in closed circuit broadcasts in Las Vegas, where tickets just to see the fight on the big screen are selling for $100. And more than 400 theaters nationwide signing on to show the fight right next to the latest action flick.
"Our motivation is to show sports fans that boxing is alive and well," Schaefer said.
Jonathan Snowden is Bleacher Report's Lead Combat Sports Writer. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes gathered firsthand. Mayweather vs. Canelo takes place Saturday, Sept. 14, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, and airs live on Showtime PPV.