In the week before their fight at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Canelo Alvarez and Avni Yildirim visited the venue for the first time for a photo shoot to promote the event. As is customary when fights occur in locations belonging to professional sports teams, each fighter was given a commemorative jersey with their name on it.
Canelo’s jersey bore the number 1, likely to signify that he is boxing’s No. 1 pound for pound fighter and the sport’s top draw.
Yildirim’s had No. 58, which one could debate is roughly where he should be ranked among the sport’s top super middleweights (BoxRec’s algorithm has him at 45, for argument’s sake). It’s also a number quite close to the odds levied against him in the bout (50-1).
Ultimately, 58 was the exact number of power punches Canelo landed in the fight before promoter Ahmet Oner and trainer Joel Diaz pulled the plug and stopped the lopsided beatdown after the third round.
Yildirim was predictably no match for Canelo whatsoever, absorbing 67 punches overall while landing just 11 of his own, none of which were of consequence.
In 2018, Canelo used Yildirim as a sparring partner in preparation for his rematch with Gennady Golovkin. He hasn’t used him since. There are likely many reasons why—availability, the desire for variety in his training partners, or Canelo just carefully selecting partners who more closely mirror his upcoming opponent. But one reason could be that, as evidenced in the ring on Saturday night, even in sparring, there isn’t much Yildirim can offer that would make Canelo sweat, let alone think.
To be fair to Yildirim, the same could be said for almost every fighter in the world in Canelo’s weight neighborhood. However, Canelo’s complete lack of respect for Yildirim’s abilities were evident when in round one, he attempted an absurd fake jab turned into an uppercut, and actually landed it. It’s a move Canelo often pulls out late in fights when he’s been dominating for a while as he did against Callum Smith. On this night the cruise control was on from the moment the bell rang, just as it was in the Miami Vice-style hype package that aired before the bout featuring Canelo in shades driving around Coconut Grove.
The video, and the fight that followed it, were simply high-priced commercials for Canelo’s next fight against Billy Joe Saunders in May.
Yildirim’s utility in this bout was simply to be a body to keep Canelo busy, but more importantly, to fulfill Canelo’s mandatory defense in order to retain the WBC super middleweight title.
Here is the best explanation for how and why Yildirim became the WBC’s mandatory despite losing his last fight: Yildirim’s loss to Anthony Dirrell in 2019 was declared “controversial” enough after an appeal that the WBC made him the mandatory next opponent for the winner of the upcoming bout between Dirrell and David Benavidez. Benavidez defeated Dirrell to win the title. Yildirim was supposed to face Benavidez, but then (a) tested positive for two performance enhancing drugs (for which he was later excused and fined by the WBC), and (b) got injured in training camp for a scheduled fight with Benavidez. Benavidez lost the title on the scales prior to his fight with Roamer Angulo, rendering it vacant. Canelo then won that vacant title in his bout with Callum Smith. All the while, Yildirim remained the mandatory, and then cashed in monetarily in the biggest way he could have imagined.
Canelo will receive criticism for his choice of opponent on this night, but the blame should be placed on sanctioning bodies and the structure that fighters are placed in. As it presently stands, there are four major titles in each weight class, and the highest honor is collecting all of them at the same time to be able to call oneself the undisputed champion.
For a fighter as decorated, powerful and wealthy as Canelo, you might ask why he bothers with these organizations at all. And therein lies the answer. Canelo has reached a level of success professionally and financially where he has to invent goals for himself in order to keep himself motivated. In this case, it’s the pursuit of all four trinkets at 168 pounds. On this night, that quest led him through a totally hapless opponent, but the next two times we see him would lead him to Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant.
Canelo has already beaten the game, and now he’s going back to try to improve his high score.
The larger goal for Canelo is to one day be remembered as the greatest Mexican fighter who has ever lived. In the eyes of many diligent historians, it’s a goal that might not be attainable unless Canelo fights for much longer, and/or tops out at a weight much heavier than we expect him to. The resumes of names like Julio Cesar Chavez, Ruben Olivares, Salvador Sanchez, Baby Arizmendi and more were built in eras with other bona fide legends to battle, and in an era when fighters could fight more often.
But even the above names are difficult to compare to one another. Intelligent people have ranked all of them at the top of their lists with sound justification. When Canelo ultimately retires and years have passed since his era, we will be able to better contextualize his accomplishments within the setting of his time. We already know that Canelo is a generational talent.
In one respect though, Canelo has already surpassed every Mexican fighter ever. Never before has a Mexican fighter been the biggest star in the sport overall. Even at Chavez’s peak, there were always Leonards and Tysons to overshadow him commercially.
In that regard, and in 2021, Canelo stands alone. No. 1, no matter who is printing the jersey.