The year 2020 in the Boxing world came to a close with the return of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez as he dethroned previously undefeated WBA Super-Middleweight world champion Callum Smith on December 18th in San Antonio, TX winning both Smith’s WBA crown as well as the vacant World Boxing Council (WBC) world championship in the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division. Of course, much of the latter part of last year centered on the battle that Alvarez had with both his former promoter Oscar De La Hoya as well as his broadcaster DAZN, who has broadcast his bouts since signing with them in 2018. While all the circumstances of the now settled dispute were covered by this observer prior to Alvarez’ bout with Smith, the renewed relationship at least between Alvarez and DAZN has shown that impasses in the sport of Boxing can be resolved if parties are willing to work together. It has also resulted in a relatively quick turnaround as Alvarez will return to the ring on February 27th when he faces current WBC number one contender Avni Yildirim at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, FL.
In some ways, the Alvarez-Yildirim bout, which will be broadcast on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN, is refreshing. It is important to remember that Alvarez is regarded by many as Boxing’s current top draw and in the recent era of the sport fighters who hold such distinction are not always active in the sense of competing every couple months as opposed to once or twice in a calendar year both due to their standing in the sport as well as the economics that are involved.
Alvarez for his part has said that he wants to compete multiple times this year. While some may say that this is due to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic and the fact that both due to the circumstances of the crisis as well as the situation that developed late last year between Alvarez, his former promoter, and DAZN that he is looking to regain time in the ring that he lost in 2020, it was not uncommon for the top fighters in the sport to compete regularly during a calendar year in between fights that most would consider marquee attractions many years ago. An argument should be made that it wasn’t until the economics for the elite level fighters in the sport improved that Boxing’s marquee stars chose to reduce their overall activity in the ring during a twelve month period. Although there are other factors that obviously can contribute to a fighter’s inactivity regardless of their standing in the sport, the economics that are involved in the top fighters of the sport often competing for millions and millions of dollars each time they enter the ring cannot be ignored.
By choosing to not only fulfill his mandatory obligation as far as the WBC’s concern, but also intending to compete more frequently during 2021, it will not only be a benefit to Alvarez himself, but more importantly will also benefit Boxing and it’s fans who have clamored for Boxing’s top attractions to compete more frequently. It is also an arguable point that in terms of the business side of the sport, it will benefit both Alvarez and DAZN as they continue their working relationship after a bump in the road.
In Avni Yildirim, Alvarez will face a veteran of twenty-three fights who is also a former world title challenger that will be challenging for a world championship for the third time in his career. Yildirim has twenty-one victories in those twenty-three professional bouts, but what some who have been critical of this fight had planned to as a red flag is in his two losses, Yildirim lost to two of the best fighters he has fought in Chris Eubank Jr. and Anthony Dirrell. The two previous world championship bouts in Yildirim’s career. An additional criticism some have pointed out is that Yildirim was named the WBC’s mandatory challenger, despite the fact that he lost his last fight to Dirrell in February 2019.
The political issues that often plague the sport notwithstanding, the more pressing question at least in my mind as this fight approaches is what effect will over two years of inactivity have on Yildirim as he prepares to face a fighter regarded by many of the top fighter in the entire sport. While this does have an appearance at least to some casual Boxing fans as merely a “Stay Busy” fight for Alvarez, there is always a danger.
A danger in a marquee star potentially looking past the opponent standing across the ring from them and towards more lucrative opportunities. It is common knowledge that Alvarez has a unification bout lined up for May of this year against undefeated WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders. As someone who prides himself on being an “Old School” Boxing aficionado, this does have the potential to not go as planned as has been the case throughout the history of the sport when a marquee fighter takes a fight in between marquee attractions. While this does not always occur, there is the danger and if Alvarez is not prepared, this could be an ideal scenario for Avni Yildirim to pull off a surprise.
One may look no further than what happened in June 2019 when then undefeated unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua entered the ring for his United States debut to defend his title in Madison Square Garden against top contender Andy Ruiz, who took the fight on short notice, as to what can happen when a fighter is treated with little regard and the fight is viewed by some as a mere afterthought. Ruiz stopped Joshua to become a world champion. While there are certainly other examples throughout Boxing history of a fighter upsetting the Apple card, that is perhaps the most recent example. Although Joshua defeated Ruiz in a rematch in December of that year, the potential of a fight for the Undisputed Heavyweight championship of the world was for a time halted for Anthony Joshua.
How can Avni Yildirim pull off an upset in this fight? Yildirim is not known as a fighter with punching power having scored twelve knockouts in his twenty-one career wins, but it is crucial that he find a way to get Alvarez’ respect early. In his last bout, Alvarez battered Callum Smith for the majority of twelve rounds, despite Smith having a significant height and reach advantage over him. Simply put, Smith was not able to make use of his physical advantages nor was he able to land anything that would discourage Alvarez from coming forward and controlling the tempo of the combat.
While Yildirim will have a three inch height advantage over the 5’8 Alvarez, Callum Smith stands 6’3 and the mere aspect of height will not be enough to combat Alvarez. Yildirim needs to find a way to set the tempo of the fight from the outset and make Alvarez uncomfortable in order to have success in this bout. The one thing that could be a confidence booster for Yildirim and his supporters is that he has only been knocked out once and that was against Chris Eubank Jr. in October 2017. Yildirim’s loss to Anthony Dirrell came as a result of a technical decision as the bout was stopped in the tenth round due to a cut over Dirrell’s right eye that was caused by an accidental clash of heads earlier in the bout. Although some may say that Alvarez has simply faced a higher caliber of opposition overall, it can be a confidence boost to a fighter being viewed as a mere opponent going into a fight like this.
Although it is safe to assume that the odds will be heavily and Alvarez’ favor come fight time, there is always the element of the unknown and it will largely fall upon Avni Yildirim to show that this will be more than a “Stay Busy” fight for Alvarez. We will see what happens in Miami on February 27th.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
Alvarez vs. Yildirim takes place on Saturday, February 27th at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, FL. The entire card can be seen globally on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN (Excluding Mexico) beginning at 7PM ET/4PM PT (U.S. Time). For more information about DAZN including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices/platforms/Smart TVs, availability around the world, and to subscribe please visit: www.DAZN.com.
In Mexico, the card can be seen on TV Azteca 7 beginning at 9PM Local Time. For more information about TV Azteca please visit: www.tvazteca.com.
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