The 32-year-old will face off against John Ryder on May 6 in Guadalajara, Mexico, marking the boxing star’s first bout since his wrist surgery in October.
On a sun splashed stage in San Diego on Thursday, Canelo Álvarez was back in familiar surroundings. A confident opponent alongside him. A talkative promoter in between them. Cameras rolled. Photographers snapped pictures. Reporters lobbed questions. Álvarez’s title defense against John Ryder—ticketed for May 6 in Guadalajara, Mexico—isn’t a big event by Canelo’s standards. But any press conference he is involved in makes it feel like one.
“Don’t miss it,” said Álvarez, smiling. “I’m more motivated than ever.”
Six months have passed since he completed his trilogy with Gennadiy Golovkin. That’s a short layoff by today’s metrics, when elite fighters routinely—and unfortunately—fight once a year. For Álvarez, it’s an eternity. He collected four belts in an 11-month span between 2020 and ’21 and fought twice in ’22. He underwent surgery on his left hand in November but said he is back to full training.
“He had a great rehabilitation for his hand,” said Álvarez’s trainer, Eddy Reynoso. “We’ve been working hard. He’s at 100%, and this is going to be a huge 2023. He’s going to go up against lots of challenges this year, and we’re excited for what’s to come.”
At 32, Álvarez remains in his prime. He’s the undisputed 168-pound champion and boxing’s biggest box-office draw. But recent performances have birthed new skeptics. His loss to Dmitry Bivol last May cost him a yearslong hold on the top spot of most pound-for-pound lists. He beat Golovkin cleanly but didn’t dominate the way most expected.
For Canelo, the Ryder fight feels like the beginning of a new chapter. A final one, perhaps. He has been the baby-faced newcomer, building a gaudy record while tearing through opponents in Mexico. He has been the rising star, stamped by Oscar De La Hoya as the next big thing, tangling with Floyd Mayweather Jr. at age 23. For the last six years Álvarez has been the face of boxing, collecting titles in four weight classes while dominating nearly everyone put in front of him.
Álvarez is still boxing’s biggest star, but he’s looking up at Terence Crawford and Naoya Inoue on pound-for-pound lists and supporters of David Benavidez will argue (irrationally, mostly) that Álvarez is not even the best fighter in the division. Recently, De La Hoya said Canelo has regressed.
“It makes me laugh,” said Eddie Hearn, before listing off Álvarez’s recent opponents. “He was carrying a horrific hand injury that he boxed the last two fights with. Let’s see what happens this year.”
Álvarez has heard the criticisms. “I’m so excited to prove everybody wrong,” he said. Beginning with Ryder. Ryder isn’t an elite opponent. He has five losses on his record. One of them was to Rocky Fielding, whom Álvarez demolished inside three rounds. But Ryder is coming off wins over Daniel Jacobs and Zach Parker, with the latter earning him an interim super middleweight belt. He has lost once since 2017, a decision defeat to Callum Smith in a fight many believed he won. Ryder, said Hearn, “has had his ups and his downs. And now he’s on a big up.”
A win sets up a bigger challenge. Álvarez reiterated Thursday that he wants a rematch with Bivol. He prefers the fight to be at 175 pounds—where Bivol holds a title—though Hearn will likely try to convince him to force Bivol to squeeze down to 168. It’s not the most marketable fight—Benavidez, should he defeat Caleb Plant next Saturday, would generate the most interest—but it’s one Álvarez has obsessed over since his defeat.
Said Álvarez, “The rematch with Bivol is my goal.”
A risky one. Bivol soundly defeated Álvarez last year. He followed it up with a lopsided decision win over unbeaten Gilberto Ramirez six months later. Between 154 pounds and 168, Álvarez has proved to be close to unbeatable. At 175 pounds, Bivol may simply be better. Still, said Hearn, Álvarez’s thirst for revenge will be what gets that fight done.
Álvarez will begin this next stage of his career where it started. It has been more than 11 years since he last fought in Mexico. He will face Ryder in his hometown, Guadalajara, in Akron Stadium, a 50,000-seat venue that will be overflowing on fight night. He will take a significant pay cut for fighting outside of the U.S.—50% of some of the best offers, according to Hearn—and doesn’t care. At a press conference there earlier in the week, Álvarez smiled at the sight of family members in the crowd. “Unbelievable moment,” said Álvarez. He warmly greeted reporters that covered him from the beginning. The timing for a return, he said, is “perfect.”
“It will be one of the best moments in my career for sure,” Álvarez said. “The fight with Billy Joe Saunders in [AT&T Stadium in] Dallas was amazing, one of the most enjoyable fights I’ve ever been in. I think in Guadalajara it will be the same or even more.”
If Álvarez wins, he is not old, but he’s aging—not faded but perhaps fading. He is approaching two decades as a professional and is coming off the most significant injury of his career. As a young fighter, he answered questions about his abilities by taking on the biggest challenges. As an older fighter, he will have to do it again.
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