He may already be the most-followed boxer on earth, but Canelo has an insatiable hunger for more
A fight is not a popularity contest but if it were, then no boxer in the world could lay a glove on Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
The Mexican, who fights Billy Joe Saunders on Saturday night in Texas in the biggest boxing event of the year, is the golden boy of the ring; rated as not only the best all-rounder on the planet but the most followed icon in the sport. When he takes on Saunders, with a raft of super middleweight belts on the line in front of 70,000 fans, a nation will grind to a standstill.
Were Canelo, the youngest of seven brothers from Jalisco, Guadalajara, British, he would have the public profile of Wayne Rooney and the adoration held by Princess Diana. He is not just sporting royalty; he is as close as it comes to the real thing.
It has been quite the journey for the red-headed son of an ice-cream vendor who turned professional aged 14, against his parents’ wishes. From those humble beginnings, the cinnamon-haired boy (‘Canelo’ is the Spanish word for the spice) is now one of the richest sportsmen in the world.
Witness the £250 million contract with digital broadcasters DAZN – who will show this contest – for 11 fights, which the boxer has already re-negotiated for even greater spoils. The fight with Saunders will bring him at least £21.5 million, with more to come depending on sponsorship and global sales of what promises to be a riveting contest against the unbeaten, slick southpaw Saunders.
The ‘out’ column on his balance sheet is just as impressive, with a £12 million 100ft Sunseeker superyacht, a collection of cars including a top-of-the-range Rolls Royce, a £2million Bugatti Chiron and a huge property portfolio. Further horsepower comes in the form of a stables at home on his favoured ranch in the outskirts of Guadalajara, where he worked from the age of five helping his father sell ice creams to passing trade.
Those days on the dusty roads are long gone and the boxer’s heavy hands, robust, resilient physique and dedication to his craft have transformed not only his life, but his family’s around him, including the five children he has with five different mothers.
His record now stands at 58 fights, 55 victories, two draws, and one defeat on points to Floyd Mayweather Jr (now retired at 50-0) eight years ago, as a raw 23-year-old. He is a dedicated poker player, too, in spite of investing his wealth intelligently in both property and technology.
His aim is to become a billionaire, and in an interview with the Mexican media group La Reforma he revealed that his management of the extraordinary sums he has already earned parlays his estate with a return of £1 million per month. “I know that the more money a man has, the easier it can be for him to lose that money,” explains the Mexican, as he readies himself for the tricky skills of Saunders.
Money aside, Canelo makes utter sacrifice to his ring skills, and your correspondent has had the privilege of being invited into his camp in San Diego to watch him train from a few feet away. His thick neck and powerful arms and legs would not see him out of place in the front row as a hooker in a rugby team.
His work ethic in the gym is legendary and, for that reason, he has already won world titles in four weight divisions, from 154lbs to 175lbs, light middleweight to light-heavyweight. It helped, explains Canelo, that he was the youngest of seven brothers. It motivated him, made him grow up faster and gain experience earlier than he might have done.
“I learned plenty from my brothers, I fought with them often. They say the youngest always learns the best, so that’s what happened to me. All seven of us boxed on one card one night,” he reveals. “Four of us won, me included. Three lost but famously we are still in the Guinness Book of Records as the most brothers to fight on the same night.
“I learned a lot from them, just as I learned much from losing to Mayweather,” says Canelo recalling that night in Las Vegas eight years ago when the American produced a defensive masterpiece, gliding out of range as the young fighter hit air with his threshing, slashing punches to body and head. That loss, he has always insisted, taught him so much.
“With hindsight, I wasn’t quite ready for Floyd. But that fight taught me how to deal with defeat. Accept it. Absorb the lessons and move on. Above all, realise that one loss is not the end of a career.
“As I’ve punched harder, I’ve been able to take my power up with me. Now, at super-middleweight, I have the chance to make more history by becoming the undisputed world champion. One of the few Mexicans to do it in any division.”
And that entails adding Saunders’ WBO belt to his WBC, WBA and Ring Magazine titles. The plan, with victory, is to unify the entire division with a challenge against IBF champion Caleb Plant on Mexican Independence Day in September.
Saunders has seemingly climbed into his head this week in Texas, taunting Canelo about a failed drugs test three years ago – the claim being that it was from eating tainted Mexican beef – but the Mexican insists he is prepared for the mental, as well as the physical, test.
“I am ready for him. I expect it to be a very competitive fight. I always trained for the best and I hope people will enjoy the fight for his style.
“I’m ready for his movement. Ready for a hard fight which I expect to be difficult in the early rounds. Ready to beat him.”
Saul Canelo Alvarez vs Billy Joe Saunders is live on the DAZN digital platform on Saturday night.