DALLAS – Eddie Hearn was nervous. On Wednesday, the Matchroom Boxing boss, already with millions invested in a super middleweight unification fight between Saul “Canelo” Álvarez and Billy Joe Saunders, had a tense meeting with Saunders. At issue was the size of the ring. It was set to be 18’ x 18’ inside the ropes. Saunders, a mobile fighter, wanted 22’ x 22.’ Fix it, Saunders and his father, Tom, told Hearn, or we’re going home.
Hearn went to Canelo. For months, the relationship between the two has been rock solid. Hearn has promoted Álvarez’s last two fights after Álvarez separated from his longtime promoter, Golden Boy. Both seem happy with the arrangement. But Hearn didn’t know how Canelo would react to Saunders’s demands. More than 65,000 ticket-buying customers are expected at AT&T Stadium on Saturday—a U.S. indoor record for a boxing event. Hearn planned to float a compromise—21’ x 21.’ But when he informed Álvarez, he was greeted with a shrug.
“He told me to give him what he wants,” Hearn said. “He genuinely doesn’t believe there’s anything Saunders can do to beat him.”
“I don’t care about the size of the ring,” Álvarez said. “I’m still going to go in there and do my job like I always do.”
At 30, Álvarez (55-1-22) is at the peak of his powers. He has not lost since 2013, a 14-fight winning streak that has spanned four weight classes. He edged out Erislandy Lara when Lara was the most feared fighter at 154-pounds, demystified Gennadiy Golovkin at 160, knocked out the heavy handed Sergey Kovalev at 175 and last December claimed two pieces of the 168-pound title in a lopsided win over Callum Smith.
On Thursday, I asked Álvarez if he feels unbeatable.
“Right now,” Álvarez said, “I feel like no one can beat me.”
Who does? Across boxing, respect for Canelo grows. “I’ve got no doubt whatsoever that Canelo is the best fighter I’ve ever been in the ring with,” Smith told DAZN News. Abel Sanchez, who cornered Golovkin for his two fights with Álvarez, said Canelo is clearly pound-for-pound No. 1. Buddy McGirt, trainer for Sergey Kovalev, says that once Canelo figures you out, “it’s a wrap.”
Roy Jones can relate. From the mid-90’s until 2003, Jones was the best fighter on the planet. He collected belts from middleweight to light heavyweight, eventually jumping to heavyweight, taking a piece of that title off John Ruiz. “Nobody could lay a glove on me,” says Jones. “It was like Steph Curry taking three-pointers. [Opponents] are not faster than me. They are not smarter than me. They don’t have the same explosion in their punches as me. They can’t hit me. So how are they going to beat me?”
Jones appreciates the sublime skills of Álvarez. And he respects his willingness to test them. “He’s different,” says Jones. Since 2015, when Álvarez won a piece of the 160-pound title, 10 of his 12 fights involved major world championships. On Saturday, Álvarez will attempt to unify three pieces of the super middleweight crown against Saunders, a slick, undefeated southpaw. Álvarez didn’t want Saunders—he wanted his belt, part of his quest to become the first undisputed 168-pound champion. Saunders is simply in the way of that.
All week, Saunders (30-0) has worked to get under Álvarez’s skin. He has complained about the ring. He has griped about the judges. He has taunted Álvarez over a positive drug test, in 2018, which Álvarez attributed to tainted meat. When members of Álvarez’s team walked through the hotel lobby they were often greeted by chants of there’s only one Billy Joe Saunders (to the tune of "Winter Wonderland"). Once, security had to step between a member of Saunders’s team and Álvarez’s trainer, Eddy Reynoso.
And Saunders has talent. He’s a two division champion with wins over Andy Lee and David Lemieux on his record. He has a quick, sharp jab and is elusive in the ring. He dropped Lee twice in their matchup, wasn’t touched by Lemieux, and scored a come-from-behind knockout win over Marcelo Esteban Coceres in 2019. Canelo is the top dog at 168 lbs. Saunders is arguably right behind him.
Álvarez … has not been impressed. He rolls his eyes at Saunders’s antics. “Nothing frustrates me,” says Álvarez. When told Saunders promised to trade punches with him, Álvarez smiled. “We’ll see. That makes it better for me.” He expects Saunders to be elusive. He expects to have to be patient in order to win. “In boxing there are hard fights and difficult fights,” says Álvarez. “This will be a difficult fight.”
But winnable. Very winnable. But what fights aren’t? An Álvarez win on Saturday will likely lead to a fight with Caleb Plant. Álvarez will be a huge favorite against the largely untested Plant, who holds the final piece of the 168-pound title. After that, there’s a potential third fight with Golovkin. Or a matchup with middleweight contenders Demetrius Andrade or Jermall Charlo. Álvarez could eventually jump back to light heavyweight to take on whoever comes out of the Artur Beterbiev/Joe Smith/Dmitry Bivol fights.
He would be favored against any of them. Power, speed, defense—Álvarez has it all. He has boxing’s best trainer, Reynoso, backstopping him. Against Smith, Reynoso’s game plan included hammering Smith with shots to his left arm, neutralizing Smith’s left hook. Against Saunders, Reynoso says the plan is to hit him everywhere, including “his big mouth.”
And then … it’s on to the next. After wiping out Smith, Álvarez interrupted a Hearn interview by asking “who’s next?” On Saturday, Saunders will become the latest to try to dethrone Álvarez. If he can’t, Álvarez will calmly ask the same question.
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