Canelo Alvarez fixated on unifying after perplexing mandatory vs. Avni Yildirim

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5 min read

Avni Yildirim has as much business fighting Canelo Alvarez, the best boxer in the world, as the Pirates’ Bob Nutting has being named Major League Baseball owner of the year.

It’s not so much that Alvarez is fighting Yildirim that is galling. That isn’t bad at all, because while Yildirim is no Andre Ward, he’s also no Rocky Fielding, either. He’s not a bad fighter. It’s the fact that he’s the mandatory and that Alvarez must fight him or risk losing his belt that is perplexing.

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Alvarez, who holds the WBA and WBC super middleweight belts, has been regularly fighting top competition and no one in their right mind would deny him what qualifies as a bit of breather. And so on Saturday in Miami (7 p.m. ET, DAZN), Alvarez will face Yildirim for the WBA-WBC titles.

The question, of course, is how Yildirim, who hasn’t fought in two years and is coming off of a loss, managed to hang onto the mandatory status as long as he has. If Alvarez had refused to fight him for no other reason than it will be such a one-sided fight, he’d be stripped of his WBC belt.

WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman said a little compassion and the pandemic created the unusual situation. And it’s important to note that Yildirim stepped aside to allow Alvarez to fight Callum Smith in a unification bout last year with the knowledge that the winner would defend against him next.

Alvarez, who is a -5000 favorite at BetMGM, will almost certainly make short work of Yildirim, and the WBC, and the world, will move on. Alvarez has already agreed to fight unbeaten WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders in May, and has said he wants to fight Caleb Plant later in the year.

Alvarez is one of the most notoriously focused boxers in the world, and it’s rare that he has another fight lined up when he still has a defense to make.

“I’ve always had these situations where people are asking and looking ahead to other fights,” Alvarez told Yahoo Sports. “I stay focused on the short-term goal of unifying, but I’m 100 percent focused. That’s how I handle it, by only focusing on the upcoming fight.”

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 22: Canelo Alvarez and Avni Yidirim take part in media availability prior to their WBC, WBA Super and Ring Magazine World Super-Middleweight title fight at Hard Rock Stadium on February 22, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Canelo Alvarez and Avni Yidirim take part in media availability prior to their super middleweight title fight at Hard Rock Stadium on Feb. 22, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Alvarez has had his ups and downs with Sulaiman over the years, but he wasn’t about to criticize the WBC or its president for keeping Yildirim as its mandatory for so long.

And while promoters have a right to criticize ridiculous mandatories — there hasn’t been a more outrageously bad mandatory challenger than the IBF foisted upon the world when it made unified super lightweight champion Josh Taylor fight Apinun Khongsong in September — Alvarez noted it’s just his job to fight.

So instead of wading into a fight that doesn’t involve him, Alvarez will face Yildirim, make a handsome payday and go on to the significant bouts that the fans want to see.

“I’m not the type of person to opine on that,” he said. “What I do is I get in the ring and do my job. I do what I have to do, do what I’m supposed to do because of how all of this is organized. I just adapt to the challenges and take it and perform my job.”

But it wouldn’t be an Alvarez fight if there weren’t a look down the road. For years, it was about whether he’d fight Gennadiy Golovkin. Now, it’s whether we’ll ever see him again at light heavyweight if he unifies the super middleweight belts.

He won a light heavyweight belt in 2019 when he stopped Sergey Kovalev.

He said his trainer, the esteemed Eddy Reynoso, didn’t think he was big enough to fight long-term at 175. But Alvarez said that when he was looking to get a light heavyweight belt, his team reached out to current WBC/IBF champion Artur Beterbiev about a fight.

Beterbiev denied that on Twitter, but while it’s a big hurdle and a significant challenge, that’s the kind of thing that has defined Alvarez’s career.

He is the true definition of a guy who fights all comers.

“I’m a guy who is a much smaller fighter and I come from much lower [weight],” Alvarez said. “That’s more advantage for those fighters who are at [175 pounds]. But there was somebody that we had in mind, somebody who we did consider. We couldn’t complete that fight because he had another fight about to happen.”

That was Beterbiev, who fought Oleksandr Gvodzyk in a unification bout a month before Alvarez fought Kovalev. But the fact that he allowed his team to pursue a bout with someone like Beterbiev, even if it didn’t work out, says much about the fighter that resides inside of Alvarez.

And if you’re looking for someone to blame this week for the main event being Alvarez against Yildirim, remember that.

This is a guy who is the very definition of a fighter.

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