While it’s refreshing to see Alvarez (54-1-2, 36 KO) back in the ring so soon after his recent demolition of Callum Smith in December, it’s understandable to wonder why Alvarez would fight Yildirim much less try to unify the 168-pound division with his comrades-in-arms Billy Joe Saunders and Plant Caleb. The simple answer in this case is that in order to retain his WBC middleweight title, he must face the WBC’s mandatory challenger No. 1.
Alvarez risks those unification chances and big-money fights when he faces Yildirim (21-2, 12 KO), who lost a technical decision to Anthony Dirrell two years ago. Will he make it?
Our ESPN panel featuring Mark Kriegel, Timothy Bradley Jr. and Ben Baby answers these questions and more.
What do you think of the Alvarez-Ildirim fight?
Canelo Alvarez, above, will be the 27th. February to defend his super middleweight title against mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim. Ed Mulholland/Matchroom via Getty Images
Kriegel: Okay, I wasn’t very excited to see Canelo fight Avni Yildirim, and I don’t know anyone who was excited to see Canelo fight Avni Yildirim, who the WBC made a kind of mandatory challenger by having him lose, albeit controversially, to Anthony Dirrell.
Within the cynical confines of this game, however, I have no problem with that, at least from Canelo’s point of view. It’s revenge for the few favors the WBC has done him in its less than infinite wisdom. The WBC first proposed this franchise champion designation (which has since also tainted the lightweight division), and then he made Canelo-Callum Smith for his 168-pound belt, which was empty.
For Canelo, it’s the price of doing business.
In less than two years, not counting the time lost to the pandemic, Canelo has defeated Gennady Golovkin (don’t kid yourself), Daniel Jacobs, Sergey Kovalev at 175 pounds and Callum Smith at 168 pounds. So I have no problem with Avni Yildirim as long as – and this is a must if – he takes on the noble task of trying to truly unify the 168-pound division.
This means measuring yourself against these great fighters, each one richly talented: Defending WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders, IBF champion Caleb Plant and undefeated former champion David Benavidez, who lost his WBC belt on the scale before his fight with roamer Alexis Angulo in August.
If Canelo fights these guys, I’ll sign up for Canelo-Ildirim II.
How does Alvarez approach Yildirim?
Bradley: It’s just a fight for a while. Canelo only fought once last year and he wants to keep building, not only on his legacy, but by getting better. The only way to improve is to go through a training camp, get in the ring and showcase your talent.
When you see a fight like that, it’s like night and day. With Canelo Alvarez, you have a counter that can be set up with a front foot and a back foot. He can just do a lot of different things, and against someone who always goes forward, always for Canelo, it’s a recipe for disaster for Yildirim.
Canelo should be very, very impressive in a fight like this, and he should win this fight spectacularly. It should be a burst of the high brightness spiral. SportsCenter – Top 10, top 10 knockouts in all of boxing by the end of 2021 when all will be said and done. He can bolster his credibility and position with an elimination victory, because that’s what many fans want to see.
Yildirim should be stopped before round 6. He is a mandatory fighter who deserves to fight Canelo, the decision-maker said. But at this point we know what those sanctioning bodies are. They move guys to certain places that benefit their wallets, their honesty and improve the appearance of their best fighters. Why doesn’t a guy like Benavidez, who had that title and won one of the youngest ever, have a chance to get it back?
The only problem I have with Alvarez: He’s not fighting the best right now. He wins those belts, and challenges guys in other weight classes. They have a guy at 168 in Benavidez who wants all the smoke, but Canelo doesn’t want to fight him. They have a guy in Jermal Charlo who might want to fight Canelo. People always say that these guys don’t really want to fight, or that the money isn’t right, or that they haven’t fought enough names to deserve a chance, but come on. Stop it! Stop it! It’s just a way of avoiding the fight and the battle you don’t want.
What can Ildirim do to make the fight interesting?
Avni Yildirim, above, won the WBC No. 1 middleweight super title and will fight Canelo Alvarez for the title. Adam Handsome/Bongart/Getty Images
Bradley: Honestly, I can’t see much. Yildirim is a punching bag. I saw him fight Chris Eubank Jr. and he got beat up in that fight. I saw it against Dirrell. Dirrell’s fight was exciting, wild, and it ended early, but he lost. It’s his last fight, and that was two years ago. Now he’s going to take on Canelo and do better?
It’s one-dimensional. Ildirim can’t do anything about Canelo. He doesn’t have that kind of control power. He’s a maverick. His head is still in the middle. He leans forward on his front knee. He’s almost six feet tall and Canelo is shorter, about six feet, but we’ve seen Canelo excel against bigger guys. Either way, Yildirim and Canelo have the same arm range.
If you look at Yildirim, he fought a few guys, but every time he addressed his opponent’s class, he was destroyed. He looks terrible. He’s been beaten. If Canelo doesn’t knock this guy out, he can’t be considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. It’s just a fight. Nothing I wouldn’t pay to see.
Why is Alvarez threatening to become an ally?
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Baby: Let’s face it. The Ildirim don’t seem very risky. He is not considered one of the world’s best middleweight superweights and has not won against a man named Lolenga Mok since September 2018.
Yildirim’s last fight was a 2019 defeat against former champion Dirrell, 36. It’s an easy way for Canelo to stay busy and provide the mandatory defense so he can hold onto the WBC belt.
But perhaps more importantly, it will allow Alvarez to make more money because the United States plans to relax restrictions on COVID-19 as the vaccine becomes more available. It makes no sense for Alvarez to compete against a reputable opponent without being able to take full advantage of it. The biggest boxing fights are not economically viable without a big crowd.
Someone like Yildirim shouldn’t cause problems for Canelo, who is probably the best book fighter in the sport.
If Alvarez wins, who’s next?
From Monday to Friday, host Pablo Torre presents the most interesting stories on ESPN, told by the world’s top reporters and insiders. Listening
Baby: Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com reported on a possible showdown between Cinco de Mayo and Billy Joe Sanders, which could be a very interesting fight that should sell well in the US, Mexico and the UK, where Sanders is from. Alvarez coach Eddie Reynoso told ESPN on Wednesday that Plant Caleb is another possible option for Alvarez.
But the fight that will obviously be discussed is another fight with Gennady Golovkin, who has put together one of the best boxing rumors of the 21st century. I’m not sure I’m ready to close the book on the 20th century. If Alvarez is ready to get back into the fight before the end of the year and return to middleweight, this could be a viable option.
However, if Alvarez wants to stay at 168, a third fight against GGG seems unlikely, especially since Golovkin will be 39 in April.
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