Canelo Alvarez carries ring momentum into Miami Saturday
SAN DIEGO, Calif., February 25, 2021 – Canelo Alvarez has weathered the year-long coronavirus pandemic better than nearly anyone in boxing. In the last 12 months, he won his promotional autonomy from Golden Boy Promotions, put on a phenomenal performance against Callum Smith in December, and put a lock on Trainer of the Year honors for Eddy Reynoso.
Anyone with remaining doubts about Alvarez’s status as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world has some explaining to do.
Alvarez also got the royal treatment in his first promotional partnership with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing in December. It went well enough to return for Saturday’s main event in Miami at the Hard Rock Stadium. Alvarez (54-1-2, 36 KOs) will fight his mandatory challenger for the WBC Super Middleweight title, Avni Yildirim of Turkey (21-2, 12, KOs). The card airs on DAZN, starting with undercard bouts at 7 pm ET/4 pm PT.
Yildirim: Climbing Mount Everest
If Callum Smith had a big hill to climb, Avni Yildirim faces Mount Everest with no oxygen. Alvarez is truly at the peak of his skills. At age 30, with the guidance of his long-time trainer Reynoso whose excellence has developed right alongside Alvarez, he’s put it all together. Power, speed, ring generalship, and surprisingly good defensive skills. All of it backed by the confidence of a winner. Most observers aren’t trying to figure out who will win.
They’re deciding what round Alvarez will knock Yildirim out.
Yildirim’s resume isn’t a lot to look at. He’s had half the fights of Alvarez. What he does have is nothing to lose, a big stage and a big payday. And helping him climb Mount Everest is a confident Sherpa in trainer Joel Diaz. To hear Diaz talk about Yildirim and praise his work ethic and skills, you might buy into the “shock the world” scenario.
Diaz has been working with Yildirim in his native Turkey. They have zero distractions, courtesy of the pandemic. “We’ve been putting in some great work. I believe we can do something with Avni. If not, I wouldn’t be here,” said Diaz.
“He’s hungry, he has a whole country behind him, and he wants to make a legacy of his own being the only Turkish fighter right now at this moment. He’s fighting hard, he’s excited about the opportunity, and he’s taking advantage of it.” Diaz said putting together a fight plan against Alvarez is a challenge, but he’s up for it.
“Saturday is a big night for me and for my country, for all the fans,” said Yildirim. “It’s a big chance for me, a big chance for my country. Everyone is waiting for the WBC belt. Maybe after the world championship title, boxing will get so big in my country.
“He’s a big champion, everyone knows that. I’m ready for the world championship title for the big chance. It’s my time. Saturday, for everyone, it’s showtime.”
Alvarez: ‘I respect all fighters’
Alvarez oozes the grace that comes from confidence and the ability to extend courtesy to his opponents because he respects them, but doesn’t fear any of them.
“I respect all fighters. I respect the challenger that’s in front of me right now,” said Alvarez. “I know he’s a strong fighter. I know he has a lot of tools. I have the same mentality. I’m trying to do my job, and I’m trying to make history.”
While Alvarez isn’t likely to be challenged by Yildirim or many other opponents available, he’s set up a challenge on the calendar. After just one fight in 2020, Alvarez is back less than eight weeks later, and intends to return in May against Britain’s Billy Joe Saunders, then again in September and possibly December.
“I love being here. I love being in the gym. It’s my life. We’re going to take these fights fight-by-fight, and hopefully, I can fight four times this year,” said Alvarez. In today’s boxing universe, this is an ambitious plan fans can appreciate, even if the level of opponent Saturday is lacking. It’s a victory lap for Alvarez. He’s earned it.
Placing the fight in Florida allows up to 15,000 fans to attend in person. With little else on the sporting schedule, Alvarez can generate interest in boxing among Florida fans. His one previous appearance in Miami as an 18-year-old welterweight was a first-round TKO win against Raul Pinzon of Colombia in a club-level show in 2008. But even then, he was already the A-side in the main event.
Today, he’s in a massive venue, being wished well by Pitbull and in full control of his fate, just the way he likes it.
Competitive? No. Entertaining? Yes.
Once again as with Smith and with Sergey Kovalev before him, Alvarez is fighting a taller man. He knows exactly how to move in and tackle a big target with lots of open real estate in front of him, whipping damaging body shots to demoralize an opponent as much as they hurt him.
Armed with his skills, experience, and brilliant game plans by Reynoso (see Valdez, Oscar), Alvarez believes no one can beat him. Few would argue.
Fans shouldn’t wring their hands over the level of opposition. Relax and enjoy the demonstration. Watch for Alvarez to lay the groundwork, then go for a crushing uppercut or left hook whenever he can find it. The fight won’t go past six rounds.
There’s still time for plenty of tantalizing fights for Alvarez. Who wouldn’t be thrilled to see him take on the likes of Jermall Charlo or Artur Beterbiev? His most dangerous opponent might be the tricky Dmitry Bivol, who’s more than willing to fight at 168 or 175. The Triple G ship may have sailed.
Martinez vs Arroyo canceled on undercard
The best fight on the card was expected to be the co-main event, a 12-round championship bout in the flyweight division between Julio Cesar Martinez of Mexico and McWilliams Arroyo of Puerto Rico, with Martinez’s WBC belt at stake.
Late Thursday following the final pre-fight news conference, Matchroom Boxing announced the cancellation of the fight. Martinez blamed a hand fracture suffered during training that hadn’t healed sufficiently. He said via social media it was aggravated this week. Martinez says his title defense is postponed, not canceled. No new date has been announced.
Heavyweight Zhang Zhilei of China (22-0, 17 KOs) and Jerry Forrest of Virginia (26-4, 20 KOs) are now elevated to the co-main spot. Forrest is coming off a close decision loss to Carlos Takam last July. Zhilei is a 6-foot-6 southpaw and 2008 Olympic silver medalist now training in New Jersey. This pair is fairly well matched in skill level, and it could be a surprise.
“All I want to say is I’m ready to go,” said Zhilei. “I go one step at a time. I never look past him. I’ll see what happens after the fight and we’ll go from there.”
Forrest said he’s worked hard to be ready. “He’s a great fighter. I mean, when you’re talking about Olympic fighters, this man is a good fighter. We had to come up with a game plan. We have a game plan that we plan on sticking to. When you’re fighting top guys like Zhilei Zhang you have to be ready,” said Forrest.
Also on the undercard:
Diego Pacheco vs. Rodolfo Gomez Jr., eight rounds, super middleweights
Alexis Espino vs. Ashton Sykes, six rounds, super middleweights
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