Matchroom Boxing

Until a recent change in the buildup to this weekend's super middleweight title unification bout, when pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez began speaking publicly in English and largely stopped pulling punches of any kind regarding just about everything, interviewing the Mexican superstar had become a typically predictable affair. 

Sure, the 30-year-old Alvarez was always polite and cordial. With his red hair and action hero looks, the native of Jalisco in Guadalajara befit the role of boxing's leading man in nearly every category. Yet his interviews were bland, short, direct and, once again, extremely predictable. 

The one constant Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) would hammer home each time was how willing he was to face the toughest opponent possible each time out, regardless of network or promotional affiliation, in order to back up his claim that he's the best boxer in the world. 

Lucky for boxing fans, Alvarez actually meant it within an era where boxing/businessmen like Floyd Mayweather wielded a ton of leverage and control, flaunted it at every turn and ultimately relied upon on it to strategically face his toughest challenges on a timeline most favorable to his advantages. 

For the majority of his career as a pay-per-view headliner, which began with a loss to Mayweather in 2013 at the age of 23, Alvarez has carried himself differently. Despite a few missteps -- from waiting out Gennadiy Golovkin an extra 18 months before their first fight to failing a pre-fight drug test for tainted beef ahead of their rematch -- the good Alvarez has done as the face of the sport in the post-Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao era has far outweighed the bad. 

This is a point best hammered home in the details of Saturday's three-belt unification at 168 pounds against Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs), which will take place in front of 70,000-plus fans inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (8 p.m. ET on DAZN, sign up now). 

Alvarez, who will defend his WBA and WBC titles against Saunders' WBA belt, could to the casual eye be facing merely yet another faceless U.K. name with a glossy record and no chance of unseating his throne. Recent opponents from the same region like Callum Smith, Rocky Fielding and Liam Smith brought various level of challenges on paper to Alvarez -- none of which were able to be materialized inside the ring against him, however. 

But the 31-year-old Saunders is a different type of cat altogether, which makes Alvarez's willingness to seek him out all the more impressive given that he could fight just about anyone he wanted and still demand a life-changing financial purse for his efforts. 

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Saunders, a native of Hertfordshire in Great Britain, is a southpaw with a distinctly unique boxing style and the willingness to operate in the kind of frustrating style that is hard to look good against at times and even harder to defeat. 

For as hard as Saunders, a stablemate of WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, is to hit cleanly inside the ring, he's even harder to pin down on the negotiation table or stand across from at a press event and not expect to be trapped inside some kind of mental game. 

Those deception skills came to the forefront this week when Saunders successfully negotiated for a larger ring that would better help his chances for victory by being able to box on the outside by using movement. How did he do so? Saunders publicly threatened to pull out of the fight if he didn't get his way and whether he was ultimately willing to do just that or this was more of a publicity stunt mixed with a bit of gamesmanship, the brash Brit proved successful. 

And yet, true to form of his character, all Alvarez would say publicly after the near-debacle was figured out is that the ring size doesn't matter. Not bad for a fighter who went out of his way to fight someone who other stars simply aren't lining up to do the same against in a bout that has legitimate opportunities to become a trap fight for the sport's biggest star. 

The reasons behind Alvarez's true motivation are as clear as they are noble. Having found 168 pounds to be the perfect weight for this stage of his career where he can retain speed and power without giving up too much size or having to drain himself, Alvarez has made it his goal to unify all four recognized titles at super middleweight. Saunders has one of the belts he desires so they must fight -- simple as that. 

Should Alvarez prove successful and continue to get his way when it comes to matchmaking (spoiler alert, he likely will), he hopes to become the division's undisputed champion this fall (against IBF titleholder Caleb Plant) and then wants to return a fourth time in December to close out the year with five fights in total over a 13-month span. 

Again, big-name fighters simply aren't doing this. Some aren't talented enough and even more aren't willing. But Alvarez is a promotional free agent because he fought to be one by taking both DAZN and his former promoter, Golden Boy, to court for digressions made in his eyes that Alvarez could no longer stand for. 

After settling out of court, Alvarez is now even more willing to maximize his prime and fight as often as he physically can in order to find out how great he can be. And where might he go after this should a full super middleweight unification get completed? Alvarez's trainer and co-manager Eddy Reynoso has recently changed his tune and said he would now support a move back up to 175 pounds to face unbeaten unified champion (and general destroyer) Artur Beterbiev. 

None of that is possible, of course, without a victory over Saunders first. And not a single part of this title fight is expected to be easy. But reminiscent of when a young Canelo at 154 pounds went against the advice of his promoter to seek out title unification bouts against difficult style matches like Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara, only to come away with close and competitive decision wins, Alvarez continues to show he's different than everyone else. 

Alvarez also said this week that future fights at 168 pounds against rising stars like WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo and former two-time WBC super middleweight champion David Benavidez also provide interest to him. 

Just as Alvarez has never let his humbling loss to Mayweather define him, he doesn't ever appear afraid to risk taking on a second one. And that has become the difference between Alvarez simply being great and now being on his way to becoming all-time great.