MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has reached a point in his boxing career where he can dictate terms.
One of the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters and arguably its most popular, Alvarez can determine fight patterns, moving between divisions while sanctioning bodies keep him as champion in separate weight classes.
The 30-year-old from Mexico can also choose his opponents, and Avni Yildirim, whom he will fight Saturday night, raised eyebrows. Yildirim, of Turkey, hasn’t boxed in two years.
The Mexico-based World Boxing Council, which recognizes Alvarez as super middleweight champion, designates Yildirim as Alvarez’s mandatory challenger, even though Yildirim is coming off a loss by technical decision to Anthony Dirrell in his previous fight.
Nonetheless, Alvarez (54-1-2, 36 KOs) will defend his title against Yildirim (21-2, 12 KOs) at Hard Rock Stadium. The bout follows Alvarez’s convincing decision victory over Callum Smith on Dec. 19 that earned him a second super-middleweight belt and ended 13 months of inactivity.
“I respect all fighters and the challenge I have in front of me,” Alvarez said. “I know what Yildirim brings. He is a strong fighter with plenty of desire to win.
“I come with the same mindset of winning, doing my job and continuing to make history.”
For Alvarez, it’s also a chance to perform in a new market. He will headline the first boxing card at the home of the Miami Dolphins.
“I’m happy to be here in Miami and open a new venue for big fights,” said Alvarez, who fought in Miami while a rising contender 12 years ago. “Hopefully, it will be the first of many.”
After landing the bout with Smith in late December, Alvarez plans to stay busy in 2021. His next targeted fight date is a unification bout with World Boxing Organization titleholder Billy Joe Saunders in May.
“It has been talked about, but there is nothing concrete,” Alvarez said. “First I want to go through this challenge and then explore what is next. But yes, we have had preliminary talks.
“I want to remain active. I enjoy what I do and work out in the gym. Fighting is my life. If everything goes well, we would like four fights this year.”
Yildirim knows Alvarez from sparring with the four-division champion. He is not concerned about rust as he attempts the monumental task of dethroning the heavily favored champ.
“He is a big champion, everyone knows that,” Yildirim said. “But I am ready for the championship title. This is my time.”
Saturday’s bout will be Alvarez’s second under promoter Matchroom Boxing after his split with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions in November.
“He knows what could lay ahead — fights with Billy Joe Saunders, unification matchups,” Matchroom president Eddie Hearn said. “But it’s irrelevant if he doesn’t beat Avni Yildirim. What I like about Avni Yildirim is he is a massive underdog in this fight but I promise he will come with fire in his belly.”
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