‘He never believe in my skills’ Canelo out to prove that he’s still elite

Boxing

LAS VEGAS — Canelo Alvarez sized up his next opponent during two separate faceoffs Wednesday and, in between, vowed to show Jermell Charlo “my real skills.”

Emphasis was placed on real, a tacit admission that Alvarez’s form over his past three fights wasn’t quite his best.

When he’s at the top of his game, it’s easy to see why Alvarez is an all-time great. He can counterpunch with the best of them off a back foot. He can apply nonstop pressure and cut off the ring with a punishing body attack, as he displayed in the Gennadiy Golovkin rematch.

Alvarez possesses many layers to his game and an educated boxing mind, as evidenced by his strategy to target Callum Smith’s left arm to neutralize his jab. The result: a detached bicep for the Englishman.

Alvarez remains the singular face of boxing, a global superstar and ESPN’s No. 4 pound-for-pound boxer. And he’s eager to put that trio of lackluster performances (by his standard) behind him.

Three days ahead of his third defense of the undisputed super middleweight championship, Alvarez oozed confidence that he would eliminate all the whispers that at 33 and after 63 pro fights, he was on the decline.

“I agree that a couple fights I don’t look the same, but that doesn’t mean other things,” Alvarez told ESPN on Wednesday. “I feel fresh, I feel young and I feel strong. I feel in my prime, and you will see Saturday.”

Alvarez was ESPN’s top pound-for-pound boxer after he scored an 11th-round TKO of Caleb Plant to collect all four belts at 168 pounds, one of four weight classes where he’s won world titles. That was November 2021.

Alvarez returned for a second fight at 175 pounds for a May 2022 fight against Dmitry Bivol and was soundly outpointed by the slick-boxing Russian. The setback was Alvarez’s first since his 2013 defeat to Floyd Mayweather and knocked him off the pound-for-pound pedestal.

Alvarez returned four months later to conclude his trilogy with a 40-year-old Golovkin in a unanimous decision, but Alvarez again didn’t look like himself. He faded down the stretch and didn’t seem to fight with his trademark ferocity and relentless combinations.

Alvarez revealed afterward that he faced both Bivol and GGG with a badly injured left wrist and underwent surgery in October. He returned to Guadalajara for a Mexico homecoming win over John Ryder in May, his first fight following the procedure on his wrist.

Ryder is a solid if unspectacular fighter, and he proved to be tough as nails as he absorbed a broken nose and a knockdown during the 12-round beating. But the Englishman held his own in exchanges with Alvarez and left the Mexican star with a marked face.

“He’s not that easy, look easy, but he’s a little tricky,” Alvarez said. ” … I’m happy with what I did in that fight.”

Alvarez was rehabbing his surgically repaired hand ahead of the clash with Ryder and that meant he couldn’t train as intensely as he liked. Now confident his lead weapon is 100%, Alvarez has amplified his training regimen ahead of Saturday’s fight with Charlo.

Instead of training full-time near his home in San Diego, Alvarez moved camp to the mountains of Truckee, California, near Lake Tahoe for the last eight weeks, according to trainer and manager Eddy Reynoso.

“We have left behind the injuries and all the setbacks that we had before,” said Reynoso in remarks translated from Spanish. “Now we’re 100 percent and … we’re going to prove to you just how motivated we are by giving the fans a great show, a great fight.”

Alvarez realized the benefit of training in altitude during his one month in Guadalajara before he faced Ryder. He replicated the effect with Truckee, 5,000-plus feet above sea level, to improve his conditioning ahead of the fight with Charlo.

Charlo is in his prime, a 33-year-old resident of Houston, and the undisputed junior middleweight champion. He’s skilled and has an explosive counterpunch. Charlo has defeated every fighter he’s ever faced, with stoppage wins in rematches with Tony Harrison and Brian Castano.

“Canelo is a different type of fighter that you just don’t take for granted,” said Charlo, who will be stepping up to the first elite opponent of his career. “He’s done everything in the sport of boxing. He has nothing to prove, everything to gain to me.”

Charlo, though, has been inactive. He hasn’t competed since May 2022, when he stopped Castano in Round 10. And Charlo is coming off a serious hand injury of his own. He was slated to fight rising Australian star Tim Tszyu in January before he underwent surgery to repair a broken left hand.

Charlo also has never competed above 154 pounds and will move up two weight classes for a shot at boxing’s top star. It’s a chance for Charlo to end Canelo’s run at the top of the sport and an opportunity for Alvarez to prove that injuries, not decline, led to those off nights.

“He’s calling me out for a long time, for 10 years maybe, and he never believe in my skills,” said Canelo, who is nearly a 5-1 favorite. “These kind of fights, big fights, motivate myself.

“… When everybody feels my power, they are surprised. … I think he can handle the weight, too, because he’s taller. He’s strong. … I think [the extra weight] is going to be good for him. … Maybe he struggled to make 154.”

Jermell wasn’t even the original Charlo opponent. It was his brother, Jermall, who was first tabbed as Alvarez’s foe for the first of his three-fight deal with PBC.

The bigger twin brother, the WBC middleweight titleholder, hasn’t competed since June 2021 as he dealt with a personal matter, so Jermell stepped in.

“They look the same,” Alvarez said. “Same size, same everything. I don’t really care which Charlo brother it is.”

If Alvarez can dominate Jermell Charlo and stop him, it will be hard to doubt that he’s still in his prime. But if Alvarez struggles, the whispers will grow louder than ever.

Not that Alvarez has anything to prove at this stage of his career, with hundreds of millions of dollars earned and his Hall of Fame legacy secure.

“I think right now I feel 100 percent confident with my hand, and that’s all matters,” Alvarez said. “And when you feel confident, it’s something else. And you will see Saturday night because I can say a lot of things right now, this and that, but at the end of the day, Saturday, you’re going to see.”

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