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Opinion

Why is Canelo Alvarez fighting Avni Yildirim?

Canelo Alvarez
John Dennen considers what to make of Canelo Alvarez boxing Avni Yildirim this weekend in Miami

FIRSTLY, it should be said, Canelo Alvarez vs Avni Yildirim is not a fair fight. Alvarez is better than him in every department. The Mexican has a far higher skill level, better power, resilience, experience. Canelo has fought vastly better opposition. He’s beaten the world’s leading super-middleweight in Callum Smith, toppled light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, unified middleweight titles against Danny Jacobs and that’s just his last three fights. Not to mention the 24 rounds he’s shared with Gennady Golovkin.

So there is no way Yildirim is going to win this fight. In fact it’s a mismatch. Chris Eubank Jnr destroyed the Istanbul fighter in the World Boxing Super Series. Yildirim went the distance with lowly Ryan Ford, scraped past Lolenga Mock and lost a technical decision to Anthony Dirrell last time out.

So why, on Saturday (February 27), will Yildirim be fighting Canelo Alvarez at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida?

Well, Canelo has to take it, if he wants to retain the WBC super-middleweight title which he holds alongside the WBA crown that he won most recently from Callum Smith. Yildirim is the WBC’s mandatory challenger. So, while it is baffling that the WBC have Yildirim in this position, Canelo clearly remains on his mission to unify world titles at 168lbs. In essence, by taking his mandatory in February, far sooner than expected and hot on the heels of his last contest, which only took place on December 19, it clears the path for Alvarez potentially to box at least twice more in 2021 on his accustomed dates in May and September.

Canelo Alvarez

“Avni Yildirim is a good boxer and I know we will put on an exciting fight,” Canelo maintains. (Well yes, it might be exciting but certainly expect it to be one-sided.) “I’m very glad that we are able to bring this event to Miami, a short distance from where my hero, Muhammad Ali, trained. February 27 will be a great night for the sport.”

This week’s outing can be viewed as a bonus fight, a public workout even. Given that it’s not on pay-per-view, DAZN will broadcast outside of Mexico at a much more reasonable price point, this is forgivable as it ought to lead Alvarez to a more meaningful fight next. It’s part of a two-fight deal with Matchroom, a coup for promoter Eddie Hearn, and so should set up a unification clash with WBO super-middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders after this.

“We take the next step in our journey to unify the super-middleweight division,” said Eddy Reynoso, Sport and Talent director at Canelo Promotions and Canelo’s trainer. “We will be facing our WBC mandatory opponent, Avni Yildirim. We are very happy with the alliance we have with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom to put on this bout together.”

Canelo Alvarez
Ed Mulholland/Matchroom

Hardly a must-watch fight in the context of Canelo’s glittering career but it should herald a more active year than usual for the Mexican star. He failed a drug test for clenbuterol-tainted beef in 2018 but still boxed twice in that year. However before he had rarely boxed more often than that. Normally he’d compete no more than twice a year. You have to go back to 2011 to find a calendar year in which Canelo made more than two appearances in a boxing ring. If the next opponent leaves much to be desired, the change of pace in terms Alvarez’s activity is welcome. It might even encourage some of the sport’s other superstars to be more active themselves. If sanctioning bodies are going to continue to mandate unappealing challengers, at the least fighting more often will get those bouts out of the way more quickly. Callum Smith in December, Billy Joe Saunders in May is not a bad run, even if there is a stop gap against Avni Yildirim in Miami along the way.

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