If four-division champion Canelo Alvarez offers anything to the sport of boxing -- besides being its biggest draw and current pound-for-pound best fighter, of course -- it's a refreshing outlook on the responsibility of a fighter armed with so much leverage given everything he has accomplished.
At age 30, entering the 16th year of his remarkable pro career that is very much still in its absolute prime, it would be difficult to criticize Alvarez (54-1-2, 36 KOs) had he copied the journey once taken by the only man to defeat him, Floyd Mayweather, and looked exclusively for the biggest purse for the lowest risk each time out.
Instead, Alvarez isn't taking on a string of smaller fighters or waiting out his more difficult foes until the time is strategically right. Despite knowing he could demand huge paydays simply for showing up, it's Alvarez's goal-oriented pursuit of greatness that is defining both his plans for 2021 and his era as the face of the sport.
"I feel happy to be the best and constantly achieve my goals and constantly trying to make history," Alvarez told CBS Sports on Wednesday. "Right now, one of my short-term goals is trying to unify the titles at 168 pounds and I'm just going to keep trying to make history."
In order to complete that goal of becoming the first undisputed super middleweight champion (in either the three- or four-belt eras), Alvarez must adhere to boxing's often complicated (and unnecessarily confusing) rules surrounding the various sanctioning bodies by passing a test this Saturday that is seen as nothing more than a stay-busy hurdle on the road to bigger things.
Fresh off unifying the WBC and WBA titles at 168 pounds in December by handing Callum Smith his first defeat in a wide decision win, Alvarez will defend his belts against WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim (21-2, 12 KOs) in the first of a two-fight deal Alvarez signed with promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport.
To offset the idea that this fight, in reality, appears to be nothing more than a waste of time for someone of Alvarez's caliber and star power, the Mexican icon has done his best to try and make this short turnaround a big event by staging the bout at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida (DAZN, 8 p.m. ET), home of the NFL's Dolphins, in front of an expected 15,000 socially distanced fans.
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The reality of Yildirim, who took step-aside money in order to allow Smith to face Alvarez last year, even being in this spot is puzzling and part of what is wrong with the sport of boxing as a whole.
A native of Turkey, the hard-charging yet extremely limited Yildirim, 29, hasn't fought in two years and is fresh off a technical decision loss to Anthony Dirrell in their vacant WBC title bout. Not only are fans and critics alike giving Yildirim even less than the obligatory puncher's chance, William Hill Sportsbook has installed Alvarez as an almost embarrassing 40-1 favorite.
To criticize Alvarez in this spot, again, would be difficult. Should he refuse to fight Yildirim, a former sparring partner of his ahead of his 2018 rematch with Gennadiy Golovkin, Alvarez would be stripped of his WBC title. And it's not as if Alvarez isn't already in the midst of what is expected to be an ambitious 2021.
Along with such a quick turnaround following the win over Smith, Alvarez has already shared plans to unify with WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders in May before being hopeful return twice more later this year (in September and December) with an eye on facing IBF champion Caleb Plant to corral all four 168-pound belts.
"The truth is there is always going to be critics and in December, I beat the best at 168 pounds and was still criticized," Alvarez said. "In boxing, anything can happen and I'm going to give Yildirim the respect he deserves."
Alvarez doesn't like to speak much specifically about whether we are operating within "the Canelo era" of the sport post-Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, or where he might rank historically. But he does acknowledge a hope to be remembered one day as the greatest fighter in Mexico's rich history -- a spot many feel is currently occupied by Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. -- as continues his strategic assault on carving out his own legacy.
"I like challenges, I like big challenges. I like to make history and I like to fight the best," Alvarez said. "I like the history that I'm making. As one of the best, that's how I want people to remember me. At the end of my career, my numbers will speak for themselves and people will see what I did.
"I will be among the best and will be making my story. I'm not trying to be like anyone else, I'm just trying to be like myself and make my own story."