By Diego Morilla
It is often said that a fighter is as good as the opponents he faces.
And if that holds true for Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, he can definitely claim to be on his way towards becoming one of the best fighters of his era.
In his almost 10 years as a professional, Alvarez (44-1-1, 31 KOs) has faced a diversity of opposition that can be seen as one of his biggest claims to fame so far. And he believes his best fights are still ahead of him.
“I am ready for anything,” said Alvarez during a recent conference call. “I train and prepare myself very hard, and that is the only thing I like about this sport.”
Canelo’s love of training in a sport in which fights are often said to be won in the gym has proven to be a recipe for success. And he is going to need it in his challenge against a fighter who was once considered one of the most feared and most avoided punchers in the 154-pound neighborhood.
“He is one of the most dangerous fighters in the division and that’s why we made the fight,” said Canelo, in reference to James Kirkland (32-1, 28 KO), who will be challenging Alvarez in a junior middleweight bout in Houston’s Minute Maid Park this coming Saturday on HBO's World Championship Boxing at 9:00 PM ET/PT. “He is a southpaw fighter who always comes forward. He can stop an opponent with just one punch. He throws punches from all angles and that makes him even more difficult. He is a dangerous opponent, and I believe that his punching power is what makes him most dangerous, but I am not afraid to fight anyone."
Canelo’s fearless attitude has been on display for the most visible part of his career. In his last two fights since his defeat at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Alvarez has faced a ferocious brawler in Alfredo Angulo and a consummate boxing technician in Erislandy Lara, and won both fights in convincing style while reasserting his own high-octane, entertaining ring style. His list of previous opponents is a catalog of the most diverse boxing styles as well, with names including Shane Mosley, Kermit Cintron, and Austin Trout.
But against the Texas knockout artist he’ll be facing this Saturday, Canelo will need all the experience he can summon now that he is facing a fearless puncher who has no problem taking two blows in order to land one of his own.
“Obviously we know how dangerous Kirkland is,” said Canelo. “He is a fighter who is strong and very dangerous, but that’s what we’re training for, a strong fighter. I believe I am more intelligent than him in the ring and I believe this will take me to victory. I never like to predict a KO, but if there is a chance to knock him out I have to seize the opportunity.”
Although Canelo’s ability to win by stoppage is well proven against the best possible opposition, he admits that Kirkland’s power could pose a problem.
“Well, I believe not yet,” said Canelo, when asked whether he had already faced someone with Kirkland’s power. “I still have to wait until after the fight to see how he stacks up against the others, and then I can answer that question. I can fight against any style, but I believe people like this style more, because that’s where there’s more action in a fight. He is a dangerous opponent, and I believe that his punching power is what makes him most dangerous.”
The danger that Canelo feels in this fight has the potential to endanger a few things beyond his chances of victory on Saturday night. And even though his next fight is far from being made, the prospect of fighting for the undisputed middleweight title in that next bout is also on the line.
And he would have no problem pondering his chances out loud, if he was only allowed to do so.
“I am not allowed to talk, how am I going to talk?” a mildly annoyed Canelo could be heard saying during the call, after his promoter Oscar De La Hoya counseled against discussing Canelo’s possible fight against middleweight champ Miguel Cotto sometime in the fall.
“To me, there is nothing else than the fight I have in front of me,” said Canelo, in his oftentimes frustratingly diplomatic way, and much to the relief of his promotional staff.
“Everything else is not worth mentioning. It is a fight that can materialize, and a lot of people have talked about it, but right now I am focused on my opponent and there is nothing else.”
Canelo was reminded that a large chunk of Mexican boxing bragging rights also went unclaimed when his long-anticipated fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. failed to materialize a few years ago due to several short-circuits in the negotiation, only to end up joining boxing’s long list of what-woulda-beens.
But he quickly distanced himself from that situation and seized the opportunity to assert that, regardless of the fate suffered by Chavez recently in his career (in which he was stopped as a light-heavyweight), Canelo remains his own man and is driven by his own ambition and his own career path.
“I don’t see that as an example to follow,” interrupts Canelo while he is being asked about Chavez Jr., with ‘that’ being Chavez’s disappointing career and his undisciplined behavior outside the ring. "I prepare myself, and as long as I feel good at the weight. I will give 100% in that weight, I will devote myself to my career and with discipline, that’s what characterizes me, the discipline in boxing. That’s why I am here. I work on my own career, I have done well, and that’s how I got this far.”
Going further, however, will require much more than just gym discipline. Being a champion is one thing, and becoming an idol in the storied Mexican boxing pantheon is quite another. But Canelo feels ready to heed the call to become Mexico’s next boxing superstar (if he isn’t already) in what he sees as a lifetime goal that will only be completed after his career is over.
“I am getting ready, working hard, advancing my career. I believe those kinds of things come whenever the time is right,” said Canelo, about his impending status as boxing’s biggest draw in the post-Mayweather era. “Obviously it would be a great honor for me. That’s why I am in boxing, not to be a great fighter only but also to be one of Mexico’s greatest boxers. I believe time will tell and we’ll see who gets there. I am doing my career and fighting the best and God will tell where I will end up.”
His promoter, for one, forewent his momentary rivalry with his protégé and agreed wholeheartedly.
"Canelo is a fearless fighter who is ready to take on the best fighters in his division,” said De La Hoya. "May 9th should be an explosive night, one to remember.”
Indeed, the fact that Kirkland is hardly a tune-up fight remains one of the biggest concerns of both the promoter and the fighter.
“I try to improve fight after fight and to correct mistakes that I made in other fights. Sometime my opponents don’t let me do too many things, but I try to do something new all the time and learn, but I try to do the best I can for people to enjoy this fight,” said Canelo. “I want to fight the best, whatever style they have. That’s all I want.”