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Canelo Alvarez Stopping Traffic Amidst Preparation for GGG Clash

Canelo Alvarez granted his final pre-fight interview to Sports Illustrated, offering exclusive access inside a hectic day of training.

SAN DIEGO – A day in camp with Canelo Alvarez starts just before dawn, in a gravel parking lot about 25 miles north of downtown here. It’s 5:20 a.m. on July 31, roughly six weeks before Alvarez meets undefeated middleweight champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in Las Vegas.

A gray van filled with production types from Golden Boy Promotions idles in the parking lot, waiting for Alvarez to begin his morning run. One fiddles with the remote for a camera drone.

5:48 a.m.: A cameraman scrambles out of the van and into the street. A black Escalade drives by, slowly, with its hazard lights on. Then Alvarez jogs past, moving already at a brisk pace.

None of the commuters that whiz by seem to notice what they’re witnessing. They don’t know they’re seeing one of the best boxers in the world and one of the most popular athletes in Mexico train for the most important fight of his life. All they know is he’s slowing their drive to work. A car honks. Another car honks. A third car honks. Alvarez just continues jogging, while the crew from Golden Boy zigs and zags through traffic, stopping to film him where they can, controlling the drone that buzzes overhead.

Alvarez zooms past apple orchards, lime groves and dozens of ranches with “no trespassing” signs. He doesn’t look even a little tired.

6:39 a.m.: His run is over. He heads back inside his rental house, to rest and eat.

The last time the public saw Alvarez it was inside a boxing ring, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, after his dominant victory over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in a bout that wasn’t supposed to be competitive and lived down to its advanced billing. That’s when Alvarez summoned Golovkin into the ring and told Golovkin they would fight next. When it became clear that the best fight that could be made in boxing had in fact finally been made after two years of challenges lobbed back and forth, the tension in the ring rose, to a higher level than it had reached during the actual fight.

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For years, Alvarez has been described as the next great Mexican boxing champion. But his resume, while impressive—with victories over Shane Mosley, Erislandy Lara, James Kirkland, Miguel Cotto and Amir Khan; and only one loss, against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013—lacks the career-defining triumph a win over Golovkin would provide. He’s also only 27 years old. Beat Golovkin, and Alvarez could reign over boxing for the next 10 years. Not that Alvarez would say any of this. He’s as reserved as Mayweather is flamboyant. He says nothing as he enters the house, nodding to the occupants inside.

12 p.m.: The gym where Alvarez trains is located north of San Diego. It’s tucked into the back of an office park, near a coffee shop and various corporate office spaces. The glass on the front door is tinted. The gym could double as a Game of Thrones setting. It has no name.

With the Golovkin fight six weeks away, Alvarez has a busy schedule on this Monday. He’s giving what he says is his final pre-fight sit-down interview to Sports Illustrated. He’s also partaking in a photo shoot for Hennessy. He also has to train.

Boxes of Henny are stacked in the back of the gym, which strikes visitors as a newer facility—the rare boxing training center that doesn’t smell too bad. Posters of Alvarez inflicting damage on his opponents hang from the wall. Pictures that say critique my record if you want to, I’m still 49-1-1 with 34 knockouts; feel free to try your luck inside the ring.

One of his trainers, Eddy Reynoso, stands between heavy bags near the gym’s entrance. He says Alvarez is a different fighter than the one Mayweather made look slow in 2013. He says Alvarez learned from that experience, as evidenced by four knockouts in the seven bouts since. “Don’t forget this will be his 14th year as a professional,” Reynoso says in Spanish, to an interpreter. “He has a long period of fighting. With great quality.”

1:21 p.m.: Alvarez’s marketing team reviews the photo shoot with the Hennessy folks. Everyone is surrounded by Alvarez’s logo, an interlocked C and A. Eddy’s father, fellow trainer Jose (Chepo) Reynoso, stands on the ring apron. Alvarez has yet to arrive but still dominates the conversation.

Chepo details his writing process. That’s no typo. While in camp, when not training Alvarez to punish other boxers, he writes songs, mostly ballads, that he’ll sing to pass the time. He says he has written more than 50 total melodies, including two about Alvarez the boxer. One is titled “Canelo’s Story”; the other is “The New Kings.” (This is where a writer would place a sample lyric, but none could be found online.)

“Boxing needs a fight like this,” Chepo is saying. He means boxing needs a fight with two elite actual boxers, not one like Mayweather against UFC star Conor McGregor, which would take place on Aug. 26 in the same arena as Canelo-GGG. Their bout promises all the action, along with blood and perhaps even a knockout, with none of the spectacle that trailed Mayweather-McGregor like a really profitable cloud. “This fight will bring credibility back to the sport,” Chepo says.

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He continues, “This is a new era, and not just a new era, but Canelo’s era.”

2:25 p.m.: Alvarez arrives in a black Mercedes G-Wagon that he parks right in front of the gym’s door. What champion must bother with a parking space? Chepo vacates the ring apron and Alvarez sits down, grabbing hold of a gold sharpie in his right hand. He will use it to sign bottle after bottle of cognac.

Photographers scuttle around, lights flashing, as Alvarez answers questions. He says his bout with Golovkin is “the fight that boxing needs” and a “fight that will bring boxing back to where it belongs.” He says he used to watch Sugar Ray Leonard highlights that had been burned onto a CD given to him by his trainers. He thinks he fights like Leonard fought—smartly, moving forward but looking more so to counter-punch. He says his fight with Golovkin will recall Leonard’s welterweight bouts with Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran. Classics.

Alvarez says he plans to fight until age 35, at least. If that happens, he’ll have spent more than 20 years inside of boxing rings, training for fights, whittling the evening hours away listening to Chepo sing. “We’re going to see how my body feels,” he says.

2:45 p.m.: The gym falls silent as Nas walks in. Yes, that Nas, the hip-hop legend. He leans back on the ropes while Chepo wraps Alvarez’s hands.

“Legends,” someone says from near the heavy bags.

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​Nas wears black shorts and white Jordans. A gold chain hangs around his neck. Someone hands him a cup of cognac, and he sips from the plastic cup like a practiced pro. One of the Hennessy employees tells the boxer’s entourage not to touch the bottle the rapper is drinking from. “That’s for Nas only,” the employee says, more sternly than necessary.

Someone asks Nas if he’s into boxing. He notes that he saw Mayweather top Alvarez four years ago, in Las Vegas, on his 40th birthday. (Side note: Nas is 40! He’s actually 43. That’ll make anyone feel old.)

Music begins to play over the gym’s speakers. It’s If I Ruled The World, a Nas hit. One of the people Nas arrived with asks that the music be changed to jazz. The boxing people throw on Miles Davis. The music lightens the mood, as Nas sips cognac and Alvarez jumps rope in the ring and everyone else takes pictures.

“Smart fighter,” Nas says, when asked directly about Alvarez. “Fast. Effective. He’s one of the greats.”

And what will his fight with Golovkin do for boxing? “Boxing’s back,” Nas says. “And this just proves it. Everyone is excited for this fight. It’s the talk of the town. So it’s big for the sport.”

3:45 p.m.: The Nas contingent leaves out the glass doors with tinted windows. Alvarez resumes training, dancing to salsa music to sharpen his footwork, weaving around and under various ropes set up inside the ring. Sometimes, the younger Reynoso hits him with rubber sticks as he moves. It’s like they’re trying to simulate a fighter with Golovkin’s reach.

Alvarez follows that with heavy punches thrown toward a pad held by the younger Reynoso. He grunts louder with each subsequent punch, throwing up to 20 in a row. Ugh. Ugh! UGH! UGH-UGH!

Chepo begins to dance, throwing in some pelvic thrusts for both no reason and good measure. Alvarez turns around and joins him. Golovkin may be favored and Alvarez may be expected to lose. But on this day, he looks ready for the thunder puncher, has a new fan in Nas and has angered only a few morning commuters who didn’t know they missed history in action. 

Read in Spanish