Boxing is at its best when a pair of evenly matched fighters in their primes meet with significant stakes attached. It's one of the reasons so many of Canelo Alvarez's fights over the years have been so compelling.
Alvarez will fight John Ryder on Saturday in his hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico, in his first fight following surgery to repair a left-hand injury that had been plaguing him for a while. Alvarez — who in his past three bouts fought Caleb Plant and Gennadiy Golovkin for the undisputed super middleweight title, with a bout for the WBA light heavyweight title against Dmitriy Bivol in between — has received some criticism for choosing to fight Ryder.
If you're one of those contributing, stop. It's asinine.
Alvarez is still only 32, but he has more than a career's worth of mega-fights on his résumé. This isn't, and has never been, a guy looking for a soft touch. He loves golf, and he's the type of guy who, if the opportunity arose, would challenge Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler to a game.
Alvarez has consistently fought the best of the best. Since he defeated Kermit Cintron for a super welterweight title on Nov. 26, 2011, the only fighter Alvarez has fought who didn't at some point hold a world title was Avni Yildirim in 2021. And he had to fight Yildirim because the WBC made Yildirim the mandatory for its super middleweight title. If Alvarez didn't fight Yildirim, he would not have been able to unify the 168-pound belts.
Since Floyd Mayweather retired in 2015 following a win over Andre Berto, it has been Alvarez who has provided a significant percentage of the major fights in the sport.
Thankfully, that's changing. Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia fought April 22 in a bout that happened only because the fighters demanded it. It was well-received by fans and reportedly did huge numbers at the gate and on pay-per-view. It was a compelling match of talented fighters who took the bout despite much to lose.
That has been Alvarez's modus operandi for years. He took on Mayweather in 2013, suffering one of his only two losses, when he was only 23 and still developing. He lost badly, but he learned from it and came back even bigger.
Coming off of a heavily hyped rematch with Golovkin in September, Alvarez underwent surgery on his left hand. Though doctors deemed it a success, he can't know for sure until he's punching in the heat of battle on fight night. Combine that with his extraordinary strength of schedule and his desire to fight in front of his home fans, and it would've made sense to go with a slightly lesser opponent in this outing.
Ryder is no world-beater, as the odds suggest. Alvarez is -2000 at BetMGM, and Ryder is +1000. Alvarez's implied win percentage is 94.1%. Ryder's is 11.1%. But Ryder is a former world champion, and he owns wins over Zach Parker and Daniel Jacobs.
Without being told the odds, Ryder knows the challenge he faces because Alvarez has repeatedly proven himself on the biggest stage. Ryder, though, hopes that self-belief and tenacity will carry him beyond where his talents suggest he could reach.
“I’ve had my ups and downs in my career, taken my knocks, and I’ve come back," Ryder said. "I think this fight has come at the right time. I am at my best physically and mentally that I’ve ever been, and I am really looking forward to it. Canelo is still up there as one of the best pound-for-pound and the best of our generation. He’s so dangerous, and the best of him could still be to come.”
That is exactly on the money, particularly because Alvarez is not one who treats B- and C-level opponents like, well, B- and C-level opponents. He prepares for all of his opponents as if they're Mayweather or Golovkin, and if they're not, well, that's good for him.
Alvarez has never come into a fight out-of-shape or looking past an opponent, and it doesn't make sense that he'd start now.
He said his left hand has felt good in sparring, and though he hasn't watched video of Ryder — typically, he watches little video of any of his opponents — he knows Ryder's good enough to earn his respect.
He's not thinking of a potential rematch with Bivol or a challenge of unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev just yet. Those fights might come, but his greatness is in part because he has a singular focus upon the guy in front of him.
"I don’t think so far ahead," Alvarez said. "There’s a lot of fights for me to come. Every fight is dangerous. I’m training 100 percent for Ryder, and I will be ready."
There's little doubt of that.