lang="en-US"> Canelo Álvarez: ‘My desire comes from my love for boxing. I want to make history’ – Ania Wilczynska
Tuesday, December 6th, 2022

Canelo Álvarez: ‘My desire comes from my love for boxing. I want to make history’

“Everybody believes they can beat me but it’s different when we’re in the ring,” Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez says coolly. The best boxer in the world pauses, stares at me intently and then delivers his heavy punchline. “Then it’s really different, really bad, for them. They all say the same thing because, maybe on the outside, it looks easy to fight me. But it is way different when the bell rings.”

On Saturday night in Las Vegas, in one of modern boxing’s rare unification title bouts, the IBF super-middleweight champion, Caleb Plant, may just become the latest fighter to discover the harsh reality of sharing a ring with Álvarez, who will defend his WBA, WBC and WBO titles. It is a landmark contest but Álvarez arrived in Vegas on Monday night in relaxed style. He flew on a private jet and stepped on to the tarmac in a blue silk pyjama suit. The 31-year-old Mexican then posted a photograph on Twitter and asked: “You ready Vegas?”

A few weeks earlier, during our interview, Álvarez had promised he would teach Plant the fundamental difference between watching him and fighting him. But, in Vegas, I reminded Álvarez of one of the great Marvin Hagler’s trademark insights into boxing. “It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5am when you’ve been sleeping in silk pyjamas,” Hagler said years ago. It was a reminder that even the seemingly untouchable champions have to keep returning to a dark well of adversity to replenish themselves.

How does Álvarez stoke this fire in his Dolce and Gabbana pyjamas? “The desire comes out of my love for boxing. I want to always get better and make history. That’s what matters to me.” He smiles. “There’s nothing wrong with the pyjamas, by the way. But Hagler is a legend.”

Álvarez speaks in Spanish here but throughout our main interview he relies on his increasingly confident English, which has helped turn him into the biggest draw in American boxing. His fame and wealth have become astronomical but Álvarez retains his relish for fighting. He is contemporary boxing’s closest equivalent to Hagler, for, unlike so many fighters who step into the ring once a year, this will be his fourth world title bout in 11 months.

Only one of his challengers, Avni Yildirim of Turkey, could be dismissed as a no-hoper. Callum Smith and Billy Joe Saunders, like Plant now, were admired world champions. Smith was the unbeaten WBA title-holder but, last December, the usually imposing Liverpudlian was outclassed over 12 rounds. After he crushed Yildirim in February, Álvarez faced Saunders, another previously undefeated British world champion, who brought his WBO belt to their showdown in May.

Saunders tried to get under the Mexican’s pale skin in his typically brash way. He was made to suffer by Álvarez, who stopped him with a brutal uppercut in the eighth round. Saunders ended up in hospital because his orbital bone had been fractured by that devastating punch.

The fight was watched at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium by a crowd of 73,126, which set an attendance record for a bout held indoors in America. “It was amazing,” Álvarez says, his eyes widening. “The people, the fight, everything. And that uppercut is one of the best punches I’ve ever thrown. I knew the fight was over as soon as it landed because his eye was really bad.”

Is he ever haunted by the prospect of damaging an opponent permanently? “I always remember how dangerous boxing is. Your opponent is coming to hurt you but it’s even more difficult for a fighter if something happens to the other guy. But I can never think how boxing can kill somebody. It would be too sad if something bad happened.”

Plant and Álvarez taunted each other at their first press conference in September. When the American made a comment about his mother during the face-off, Álvarez shoved him violently. Blows were exchanged and Plant’s sunglasses were crunched into his face and opened a cut under his eye. “You can see in his body language Plant is an insecure person,” Álvarez suggests, “and that’s why he tried to do something different and land that hook. I don’t know what he was thinking.”

Yet Álvarez nods when I ask if he thinks that, deep down, Plant actually believes he can win. “Of course. Plant is a good fighter, a skilled fighter, a smart fighter. But it is nothing new to me. I am always totally switched on when these guys like Saunders and Plant make it personal.”

Saunders was already in hospital when Álvarez held his post-fight press conference. After Demetrius Andrade, the WBO middleweight champion, interrupted him, Álvarez swore repeatedly at him in English. His amusing profanity went viral and Álvarez starts laughing when I try my own impression of his “Get the fuck outta here, man!” dismissal of Andrade. I only do this after telling him how surprised I have been that even people who have no real interest in boxing loved the clip. In the week of our interview, while on a train in London, I also watched three teenage boys act out the scenario as they shouted out Canelo’s name.

“I loved that whole thing,” he says of his exchange with Andrade, “and what you tell me is great because it shows people all over are starting to understand me. I am trying to talk more English and it helps. Before I was a little shy but my English is getting better now.”

When I interviewed Álvarez before the Saunders fight he repeated his mantra of “No Boxing, No Life.” He now wears a cap which says No Golf, No Life. Is this another sign of his yearning for a life beyond boxing? Álvarez smiles. “No, the golf is just really good for me. Outside of boxing it’s my best thing.”

Álvarez is famous enough, and a good enough amateur, that numerous golf pros play practice rounds with him. “I get to play with Abraham Ancer [the world No 14, from Mexico], Carlos Ortiz [his countryman, who is ranked No 78] and Sergio García. My best score is 77, two years ago, but golf is fucking hard. One day you can play really good and another day you can play really bad.”

Boxing, of course, is far harder and more dangerous but the man in the silk pyjamas stresses that he will offer little respite to Plant. “It’s very important for me to become the undisputed champion because it puts me in boxing history. Few fighters have accomplished this and nobody in Latin America has done it [and become an undisputed champion in this fractured era]. I like golf but I love boxing.”

Álvarez had his first professional fight on 29 October 2005, when he was only 15. His bout against Plant will be the 60th of his career and he has lost only once – to Floyd Mayweather in 2013 – when Álvarez was nowhere near the imperious fighter he is now. “It’s unbelievable. Sixteen years is a long time and I’ve come a long way. I’m proud of all I have accomplished but there is so much more to come.”

As he rubs his ginger hair, a little shyly, I think of another Hagler saying. “If they cut my bald head open, they will find one big boxing glove,” Hagler said. “That’s all I am. I live it.”

Canelo Álvarez lives it too and this week is another chance, and a privilege, to see a modern master at work. Marvelous Marvin, who died in March, would have nodded in approval if he had lived long enough to see Álvarez seal his undisputed status in the unforgiving ring.