Avni Yildirim enters as a considerable underdog ahead of his upcoming challenge versus pound-for-pound king Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
That hasn’t prevented an entire nation from standing tall with its favorite son. As much has been acknowledged by the super middleweight contender, who vows that the Feb. 27 unified 168-pound title fight will end with his serving as the lone active champion out of Turkey.
“It will be my chance to win the most important fight as the son of this country,” Yildirim insisted during a press conference Thursday afternoon at CVK Park Bosphorus Hotel in Istanbul. “I hope that we move forward with the prayers of the Turkish people.”
Istanbul’s Yildirim (21-2, 12KOs) has not fought since a technical decision loss to Anthony Dirrell in the Feb. 2019 vacant WBC super middleweight title fight. The manner in which the fight ended—Dirrell suffering a horrific cut from a clash of heads and the fight being stopped two rounds later—was enough for the WBC to consider a formal appeal from Yildirim and career-long promoter Ahmet Öner to allow him to remain in contention for a second title shot.
Dirrell has since lost to David Benavidez, who in turn lost the title at the scale after missing weight ahead of his 10th round knockout of Alexis Angulo last August.
Yildirim remained the number-one contender, was believed to have hit the jackpot when Alvarez (54-1-2, 36KOs) enforced his WBC “Franchise” champion status to challenge for the vacant title. He still has, though it would require having to wait two more months. Alvarez instead faced England’s Callum Smith, scoring a lopsided points win to collect the WBC and WBA belts which will be at stake in his Feb. 27 mandatory title defense versus Yildirim.
The two-year wait wasn’t ideal, although it gave Yildirim time to recover from separate injuries which left him unable to compete for all of 2020.
“Since my last fight, I had some minor injuries, the pandemic affected me, but we were patient and we continued working,” notes Yildirim. “I continued my training in the United States and Germany for 21 months outside my country. I did not give up.”
Nor has a nation ceased believing in him, no matter the odds.
“Avni and professional boxing in Turkey is at a very high level that no boxer in the country has reached so far,” Eyup Gözgec, president of the Turkish Boxing Federation stated. “Whatever the outcome of this fight is an inspiration to all young athletes. I want to thank Ahmed Oner for everything he has achieved for boxing in Turkey.
“I wish Avni Y?ld?r?m success. A true champion. I believe with all my heart that Avni will win this important fight.”
Yildirim and his team are prepared to live up to those lofty expectations.
“Avni will definitely bring this green and gold belt home,” vowed Öner. “On February [27th] he will show his quality to the whole world. All the work that has been done will pay off. This will be a great fight and a great event for Turkey. Win or lose I am sure Yildirim will leave his soul in the ring for his country.”
It remains to be seen whether Yildirim can upset the odds, with few if any picking against Alvarez—a four-division champ and the consensus pick as the best fighter in the world today. It’s a moment for which he’s waited two years in order to disprove his critics.
“It is said that the end of the patience is salvation, patience is a good sign,” notes Yildirim. “We have done everything to win this important fight. I trust my coach Joel Diaz, who has helped me to improve significantly.
“It is a great honor to represent my country on such a big stage. We will do our very best to bring the WBC green and gold belt to our country.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox