After nearly a decade of training in San Diego, Saul Alvarez chose to prepare for his next match in Guadalajara, Mexico.
A sentimental part of the Guadalajara native Alvarez, nicknamed Canelo, welcomed his return home in Saturday’s prize fight with John Ryder. Before starting boxing, Alvarez, a grade school student, sold popsicles in place of change on the city streets. At 32, he came back as the undisputed champion at his 168 pounds. He said he cherishes the opportunity to perform for people who have watched him grow up.
The Alvarez player also liked the move. Guadalajara is nearly a mile above sea level, unlike seaside San Diego. Slightly lower elevation than Denver, but high enough for athletes to take their time acclimatizing.
Alvarez’s lungs hated the first week he got home. “It was tough at first,” said Alvarez, who is 58-2-2. “I needed oxygen the first day.”
As one of the sport’s elite pound-for-pound performers, Alvarez is already no stranger to performing in thin air.
Since turning pro in 2005, Alvarez has won world titles in four weight classes, from super welterweight to light heavyweight. He’s a free agent who gambles big money and signs short-term deals with promoters. Alvarez was reported to have earned $60 million last year for his two matches with England-based Matchroom his sport.
Alvarez went 1-1 in those fights. Last May, he dove into the 175-pound division to challenge Dmitry Bivol for the World Boxing Association title, who Bivol won by a narrow decision. And in his September, Alvarez defeated Gennady Golovkin in his third match of his trilogy. Alvarez won by unanimous decision, but the fight was lackluster in contrast to the first two matches.
These results and paydays will make for a great year for most fighters.
But for Alvarez, who was only beaten by Bivol and Floyd Mayweather, they qualified for a slump.
So, if his homecoming bout unfolds as planned against Ryder, a rugged challenger from London who’s gunning for the super-middleweight title, he’ll be in the finals after 2022, when Alvarez’s high standards disappointed him. It works as a rebound.
“I do it because I love it. I love a challenge,” Alvarez told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday.
Where Alvarez ranks among the great Mexican-born boxers will always be a matter of debate. He could prove himself better than Julio Cesar Chavez, who had a 90-game unbeaten streak to start his career, and featherweight giant Salvador Sanchez, who died in a car accident in 1982. maybe not.
However, among modern Mexican stars, Alvarez is best known to mainstream sports fans in North America. His fame in his home country rivals Oscar de la Hoya, who was born in Los Angeles and of Mexican descent.
Alvarez tends to fight twice a year, on Cinco de Mayo weekend and Mexican Independence Day weekend in mid-September. His games underpin these holidays in the same way NFL games do Thanksgiving and NBA games on Christmas Day.
Organizers believe US viewers will pay a premium to see whoever Alvarez faces. Saturday cards sell for between $55 and $85, depending on the provider and whether the buyer has a subscription to his DAZN, the streaming service that produces the broadcasts.
Saturday’s match venue, the Estadio Akron, holds 48,071 fans and is expected to sell out. With the exception of Ryder and his team, almost everyone present is likely to be Alvarez supporters.
At his best, Alvarez is an elaborate and calculating boxer. In May 2021, Billy Joe Saunders’ orbital bone was crushed with a strong right hand. Six months later, he gave Caleb Plant methodical boxing lessons and became the undisputed champion after an 11-round stoppage.
“We know what Saul brings to the table and how much of a threat he is,” said the 32-5 Ryder.
However, Rider’s trainer, Tony Sims, promises to bring the champion into close combat.
Sims told Ryder’s reporters, “He’s not going to be backwards.” “He will stand in front of Canelo.”
The 34-year-old rider has three opponents in common with Alvarez. Both boxers defeated Daniel Jacobs by decision, while Ryder lost to Rocky Fielding and Callum Smith, both easily defeated by Alvarez. Four years ago, on the undercard of Alvarez’s win over Jacobs, Ryder knocked out Bilal his Aqawi. Bilalakawi was a middleweight contender at the time and Alvarez’s longtime sparring partner.
Still, the subplot of Saturday’s match revolves largely around Alvarez and the high-stakes matchup possible if he wins.
Alvarez has repeatedly said he wants a rematch with Bivol. If that fight doesn’t happen, super-middleweight contenders David Benavidez and David Morrell, both undefeated, are eyeing Alvarez’s bout.
Any of these matchups could prove advantageous and are highly unlikely to occur in Mexico. Alvarez wanted to play at least one more match in his home country before he retired, but he said he wasn’t going to commit.
“The truth is we have to enjoy this night. We have to enjoy this moment,” he said Wednesday. “It took me 12 years to get back on track, so I don’t know.”
Eddie Hearn, head of Matchroom Sports, insisted that the match be staged in Guadalajara rather than in other cities where Alvarez had expressed interest. But he told reporters the opportunity to play locally was itself a form of compensation.
“All I want is to fight before my people,” he said. “And here I am.”