The vast majority of the boxing world sees the outcome of Saturday's super middleweight title defense by Canelo Alvarez in Miami a foregone conclusion. WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim has lost both of his big step-up fights in his career and has been out of the ring for two years. Alvarez has tried to remain active and is on a path toward unifying his WBC and WBA belts with the WBO world title -- currently held by Billy Joe Saunders -- later this year.
But there's a reason the fights have to play out in the ring. Yildirim rates as nearly as big an underdog as Buster Douglas was ahead of his historic upset of Mike Tyson, but the Turkish boxer and his team don't seem to be shying away from this moment. In the lead-up to the fight and especially during fight week, Yildirim (21-2, 12 KOs) has appreciated what will be a milestone moment in Turkey's sports history just by reaching this fight.
"Nobody is giving a chance to a Turkish boxer, but we will stick it in their faces," Yildirim said. "All together, we will live this joy and this triumph."
Even with the Saunders fight already announced, Alvarez (54-1-2, 36 KOs) pushes back the thought that he's overlooking Yildirim.
"The only thing I'm expecting is to win -- not trust anything as a given, just continue forward with my objective to win," Alvarez said.
As long as it goes according to plan, Alvarez will be on a path toward doing one of the few things he's never done in his career -- becoming the undisputed champion of a division. He held three out of four of the middleweight world titles at one time, but the path toward winning all of the gold at super middleweight appears straightforward. It starts with Yildirim, goes through Saunders and, if all continues according to plan, it would culminate against IBF world titlist Caleb Plant.
"It's important for me and [trainer] Eddy [Reynoso] because very few people have achieved becoming undisputed champions," Canelo said. "And that's a short-term goal for us. To win all the titles at 168 pounds. Obviously, no Mexican has ever done it. So that's our short-term goal, to keep making history. And that's what we want."
Otto Wallin tells Yildirim to 'believe' and 'enjoy it'
Heavyweight contender Otto Wallin was in a similar situation to Yildirim when he challenged Tyson Fury for the heavyweight title in September 2019. Like Yildirim against Alvarez, Wallin was essentially an unknown fighter in the U.S. and a heavy underdog at 35-1. Just like Alvarez with Saunders, Fury had a rematch with Deontay Wilder already booked.
Wallin was an official's decision away from defeating Fury after opening a giant cut over his right eye with a legal punch. However, the fight continued and Fury won by decision.
If there's anyone who can understand what Yildirim is feeling ahead of the Canelo fight, it's Wallin. Even though nobody is picking Yildirim to pull off the upset, Wallin says its important to stay confident and believe that anything is possible.
"My advice would be to believe," Wallin told ESPN. "I mean, it's only you and him. Forget about all the critics and everybody else. Now it's just you and him, and everybody's human. So, like what happened in my fight with Fury, he was cut bad and that shows that he's human just like me and that anything can happen. Even Mike Tyson lost when he was in his prime and other fighters lost before that. This is boxing and one punch can change everything.
"He got to go in there with that conviction that he can do it and believe in himself and don't lose that focus. I'm sure there is going to be times in there when Canelo is looking real good and he's landing hard punches, and he has good defense and all that, and Yildirim might feel like, 'Oh man, I don't belong here.' But he's gonna have to just keep believing and keep pushing. Canelo has good upper-body movement and he's very slick, so try to hit the shoulders and hit the body and just try to hit something and keep believing.
"Try to enjoy it and don't be scared of losing. If you are scared of losing, you are going to limit yourself -- just play it safe -- and that wouldn't be good. Go out there and just give it your all and don't even think about losing. Do your best, and then, whatever happens, happens. But as long as you give your all and you give your best, that's all you can do -- you can't do much more.
Wallin understands that Yildirim is now at that championship level, and he's going to fight maybe the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and that must be a dream come true.
"When he gets in there, he has to remember that he probably worked all his life to get a fight like this, and now he's finally there and he should remember to enjoy it and not let the pressure get to him."
I'll be surprised if this fight goes longer than seven rounds. Yildirim tends to fade in the second half of fights. He's a come-forward fighter who is going to take a lot of leather because he's going to sit in front of Canelo and Canelo is going to be able to do what he does best -- counterpunch the hell out of him until he eventually stops Yildirim.
I expect vicious body shots to eventually put Yildirim on the canvas, and eventually Canelo will break him down enough to take him out, before the seventh round.
The fans want to see Canelo fight, period. Hardcore fans will say, "This isn't a challenge for Canelo," and I understand that. But casual fans will tune in, and if he can get a spectacular knockout and look good in the fight, he'll just continue to build up his stock. This is a good fight for Canelo to give those fans what they want to see -- fans love knockouts.
I would be surprised, and even a little disappointed, if Canelo doesn't score the knockout in this fight. -- Timothy Bradley Jr.
Tale of the tape
By the numbers
15: Wins by Alvarez in world title fights. His overall record in title fights is 15-1, with his only loss coming at the hands of Floyd Mayweather in 2013.
47.3%: Over his past 16 fights, Alvarez has landed 47.3% of his power punches and 37.4% of all punches. Alvarez ranks second in both these categories during that stretch among all boxers tracked by CompuBox.
0: Boxers born in Turkey who have won a major boxing world title. Yildirim would be the first should he upset Alvarez on Saturday.
Title fight: Canelo Alvarez vs. Avni Yildirim, 12 rounds, for Alvarez's WBC and WBA super middleweight titles
Title fight: McWilliams Arroyo vs. Abraham Rodriguez, 12 rounds, for the WBC flyweight interim title
Zhilei Zhang vs. Jerry Forrest, 10 rounds, heavyweights
Diego Pacheco vs. Rodolfo Gomez Jr., eight rounds, super middleweights
Alexis Espino vs. Ashton Sykes, six rounds, super middleweights
Marc Castro vs. Raul Corona, four rounds, junior lightweights
Aaron Aponte vs. Harry Gigliotti, four rounds, junior welterweights
Keyshawn Davis vs. Lester Brown, four rounds, lightweights