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LAS VEGAS — Canelo Alvarez is at a point in his professional career where he doesn’t have to push, doesn’t need to try to top himself, doesn’t have to take risks.
He’d get paid handsomely if he chose to face creampuffs. He could tread on his name and his resume, face tomato cans in lighter weight classes, eschew risk and bide time until his inevitable induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
He’s underappreciated and taken for granted by those of us who love this sport he dominates.
It’s a mistake.
Alvarez dares to be great, strives to make history, and looks to put on a show, which is why he has become so compelling.
On Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he’ll face IBF super middleweight champion Caleb Plant for the undisputed 168-pound title in the main event of a pay-per-view card that wouldn’t be happening were it not for his vision and ambition.
No Mexican-born male fighter has ever been an undisputed champion in the four-belt era. The only ones to do it have been Oleksandr Usyk at cruiserweight, Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor at middleweight, and Terence Crawford and Josh Taylor at super lightweight.
Alvarez is a mammoth favorite to become the sixth. At BetMGM, Alvarez is up to -1000, while you can get the unbeaten Plant at +625.
“Being the undisputed champion is huge for my legacy,” Alvarez said. “Not only would it be an honor to be the first Latin American fighter to do it, but there’s only a select club of fighters who have achieved this. [Trainer] Eddy [Reynoso] and I said in the beginning that the goal was to be undisputed, and now we’re one fight away.”
Alvarez has a joy about him that translates to the audience. This is a guy who is in the ring because he wants to be there, not because he has to be. He’s rich beyond his wildest dreams, wealthy enough to buy a fancy sports car for each day of the month as well as for his large family.
He is what happens when you take a kid with athletic ability, an insatiable work ethic and an awareness of the history of his sport who dreams bigger than the Pacific Ocean. Good was never enough for Alvarez. Great wasn’t enough, either.
His dream was always to be the best. When he was thoroughly outboxed by Floyd Mayweather in 2013, he was shocked, because he’d fully anticipated he was going to win. And he barely tolerated the many questions that came about that fight for literally years after because his pride was stung.
But he didn’t just get angry, he did something about it. Hour after hour, he worked on his footwork with Reynoso, learning better how to recognize danger and avoid it, and how to cover his own tracks. He kept working even when he’d done enough to win the fight he was preparing for, because chasing greatness forces you to go to places few are willing to go.
It’s why he’s miffed at his training partner and friend, lightweight Ryan Garcia. Garcia is enormously talented, and has made a good career for himself.
He’s not, though, a superstar even though he has that kind of talent. And it bothers Alvarez immensely.
“Look, Ryan has a lot of talent,” Alvarez said to Complex. “But to me, in my eyes, he’s wasting a lot of time and wasting his talent. I look at him and don’t see him 100 percent dedicated and, to us, that’s a bad signal.”
Before Alvarez fought Avni Yildirim in February, a fight he had to take to keep his WBC belt and his hopes alive for the undisputed super middleweight crown, Reynoso was trying to explain what made Alvarez different than most.
There was virtually no chance that Yildirim would have beaten him, but that’s not how he approached camp.
“He is always the best he can be because he brings the intensity every day and only focuses on one thing: Greatness,” Reynoso said. “And things that don’t help him to be great, he doesn’t care about.”
In facing Plant, he’s taking on an opponent without a lot of experience at the highest level of the sport. Plant's biggest win was over Jose Uzcategui, who isn’t remotely close to a household name in the sport.
But he’s got quick hands, good feet and a determination to shut up the naysayers whom he believes have never given him his just due.
He said he’s not going to allow Alvarez to make him melt.
“There have been some guys who lost before the bell even rang against Canelo,” Plant said. “I think that’s why he’s so irritated with me. Some guys just come in and are there to hand over their belt, get their check and leave. Anyone who knows me, they know I’m only here for those belts.”
So, too, though is Alvarez. Yeah, he’ll make a check for around $40 million on Saturday, but at this stage of his career, he’ll make eight-figure paydays against just about anyone.
It’s putting his name alongside the greats in the history of his sport, men like Robinson and Ali and Leonard and Duran and Chavez and Hagler and Mayweather, and anyone else who reached that hallowed ground where only the legends tread.
He knows what’s at stake and if you know him, you know he’ll be ready.
“Even harder than getting to the top is staying there,” Alvarez said. “That’s why I try to get better each and every day. That’s what I’ve been trying to do from my first fight up until now.”
It’s working, and it’s an example to his peers, not just in boxing but in all sports. Talent is only half the battle.
Alvarez has the God-given talent.
But he’s also nurtured it, enhanced it and developed it, and made himself the most frightening fighter in the world.
It’s why he’s the best.