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'It’s Become Personal': Jawing Behind, Canelo Álvarez Is Ready for Caleb Plant

LAS VEGAS — Canelo! Canelo!

Caleb Plant put a finger to his ear and smirked.

Canelo! Canelo!

His IBF super middleweight strapped to his shoulder, Plant waved at the 4,200 fans inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena to continue. For several minutes on Friday it wasn’t Plant vs. Canelo Álvarez, his opponent in Saturday’s 168-pound unification fight. It was Plant vs. the crowd.

Across the dais, Álvarez watched, smiling. This is familiar turf for Alvarez, the biggest star this side of the Atlantic, boxing’s pound-for-pound king. Since 2013, when a 23-year-old Álvarez dropped a decision to Floyd Mayweather, Álvarez has fought in these kind of atmospheres, in front of sold out crowds and packed weigh-ins, staring down undefeated opponents with scores of cameras rolling. He wears Dolce & Gabbana pajamas to venues and operates, says Álvarez’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, with the confidence of a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods.

“It's kind of a lovable arrogance,” Hearn told SI. “It’s not because he's not a nice person. It's because he has so much belief in himself.”

canelo-alvarez

Unbeatable is a word that should be used judiciously in a sport where fights can end in an instant, but Álvarez is as close to it as it gets. Since the loss to Mayweather, Álvarez is unbeaten in 15 fights in a row. He has wins over Erislandy Lara, Gennady Golovkin and Callum Smith. He knocked out Sergey Kovalev and Billy Joe Saunders, battered Daniel Jacobs and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. He isn’t dominating opponents—Lara, Kovalev and Jacobs had their moments, and a pair of Golovkin fights were as close as they get—but, with the exception of a draw against Golovkin, in 2017, he finds a way to win.

Hearn credits Álvarez's work ethic, which Hearn sees as unparalleled. Recently, Hearn flew to San Diego to visit Álvarez’s training camp. When Hearn arrived, Álvarez was running on the treadmill. After 30 minutes, he jumped off. He showered, changed and headed to the golf course, spending four hours playing in 80-degree weather. After that, Álvarez headed back to the gym for a session with his longtime trainer, Eddy Reynoso.

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“He's mentally so strong,” says Hearn. “He doesn't think about whether, ‘Oh, is this the right.’ He's just got people around him that he trusts to say, ‘Do this, do this, do this,’ and goes, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ and does it all 110%. He's just so straight forward and his belief, as a fighter, I've never seen anything like it.”

On Saturday Plant (21–0) will attempt to knock off Álvarez, and there are few indications he is capable of it. Plant has a glossy record but his résumé is paper thin. He won his title in 2019, picking off journeyman José Uzcátegui to do it. He has defended the belt three times, against Mike Lee, Vincent Feigenbutz and Caleb Truax, average fighters, all. Plant is a heavy underdog against Álvarez, with most experts projecting the fight won’t go the distance.

Álvarez (56–1–2) is among them. Plant has slid under Álvarez’s skin in recent months, reviving Álvarez’s positive drug test from 2018, declaring fighters in Reynoso’s gym to be dirty. In September, the usually composed Álvarez shoved Plant at a press conference to announce the fight, sparking a brief skirmish that left Plant with a cut below his right eye. On Friday, Álvarez and Plant, with several security officials between them, jawed after the weigh-in.

“I hope he has a good chin,” said Álvarez, “because he’s going to need it on fight night.”

Álvarez cites Plant’s language as what has drawn his ire, but those that know him say something different. Álvarez hates the perception that he is a cheater. In 2018, Álvarez tested positive for Clenbuterol, a fat-burning stimulant, forcing a rematch with Golovkin to be rescheduled. Álvarez blamed the result on tainted meat, which had some credibility: Contaminated meat was a problem then—Duane Brown, an offensive tackle for the Houston Texans, was suspended for 10 games after testing positive for Clenbuterol. His suspension was later overturned after Brown successfully argued the result was linked to tainted meat, a decision that led several U.S. sports leagues to issue warnings about eating meat in Mexico. Still, Golovkin and his trainer, Abel Sanchez, hammered Álvarez over the result.

Plant has taken a similar stance, branding Álvarez a cheater, questioning his legacy. And just like with Golovkin, Álvarez has taken notice.

“With all of the talk, it’s become personal,” Álvarez said. “He crossed a line. But I have to remain focused, because this is a very important fight for me … everyone knows what I’m going to do in the ring. When something is personal with me, it’s different. I have something special in my mind and I’m going to make it a great night for us.”

Few will bet against him. Few should. Álvarez is at the peak of his powers, a rare combination of power and speed, reinforced with a granite chin. Like many Álvarez opponents, Plant will enter the ring confident. Like most, he will likely exit something else. 

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