After nearly a decade training in San Diego, Saúl Álvarez opted to prepare for his next bout in Guadalajara, Mexico, where it will take place.
The sentimental part of Álvarez, a Guadalajara native nicknamed Canelo, welcomed the homecoming for his prizefight Saturday against John Ryder. Before he started boxing, a grade-school-aged Álvarez sold Popsicles for pocket change on the city’s streets. At 32 , he returns as the undisputed champion at 168 pounds, and one of boxing’s most bankable stars. He treasures the chance to perform in front of the people who watched him grow up, he said.
The competitor in Álvarez also loved the move. Guadalajara sits at nearly a mile above sea level, unlike the beachside San Diego. It is slightly less elevated than Denver, but high enough to prompt athletes to take the time to acclimatize.
Álvarez’s lungs hated his initial week back home. “It was tough at first,” said Álvarez, who is 58-2-2. “I needed oxygen those first days.”
As one of the sport’s elite pound-for-pound performers, Álvarez is already used to performing in rarefied air.
Since turning pro in 2005, Álvarez has won world titles in four weight classes, from super welterweight to light heavyweight. He is a free agent who makes short-term deals with promoters for big-money bouts. For his two bouts last year, both with Matchroom Sport, which is based in England, Álvarez earned a reported $60 million in guarantees.
Álvarez went 1-1 in those fights. Last May he jumped to the 175-pound weight class to challenge Dmitry Bivol for the World Boxing Association title. Bivol won a close decision. And in September, Álvarez defeated Gennadiy Golovkin in the third bout of their trilogy. Álvarez won by unanimous decision, but the fight seemed lackluster in contrast to their first two meetings.
For most fighters, those results and paydays would constitute a fantastic year.
But for Álvarez, who has only lost to Bivol and Floyd Mayweather, they qualified as a slump.
So if his homecoming bout unfolds according to plan against Ryder, a rugged challenger from London who is chasing the super-middleweight title, it will serve as a rebound after a 2022 that was disappointing by Álvarez’s high standards.
“I’m doing it because I love it. I like challenges,” Álvarez told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday. “I want to leave a great legacy that motivates others to beat it.”
Where Álvarez will rank among great boxers born in Mexico will always be a matter of debate. He may never be able to prove he’s better than Julio César Chávez, unbeaten in 90 straight bouts to start his career, or Salvador Sánchez, the featherweight virtuo so who died in a car crash in 1982.
But among contemporary Mexican stars, Álvarez is the most recognizable to mainstream North American sports fans, with fame in his home country comparable to that of Oscar De La Hoya, who was born in Los Angeles and is of Mexican descent.
Álvarez tends to fight twice a year — on Cinco de Mayo weekend, and on Mexican Independence Day weekend in mid-September. His bouts anchor those holidays the way NFL games do Thanksgiving and NBA games on Christmas Day.
Organizers figure US viewers will pay a premium to see Álvarez, no matter whom he faces. Saturday’s card will retail for between $55 and $85, depending on the provider, and whether the buyer is subscribed to DAZN, the streaming service producing the broadcast .
The site for Saturday’s fight, Estadio Akron, seats 48,071 fans, and is expected to sell out. Nearly everyone present, aside from Ryder and his team, are likely to be vocal Álvarez supporters.
At his best, Álvarez is a calculating boxer with heavy hands. In May 2021, he shattered Billy Joe Saunders’s orbital bone with a strong right. Six months later he dealt a methodical boxing lesson to Caleb Plant, becoming the undisputed champion after an 11th- round stoppage.
“We know what Saúl brings to the table, and what a threat he is,” said Ryder, who is 32-5.
But Ryder’s trainer, Tony Sims, promises to draw the champion into a close-quarters rumble.
“He won’t be going on the back foot,” Sims told reporters of Ryder. “He’ll be standing in front of Canelo.”
Ryder, 34, has three opponents in common with Álvarez. Both boxers defeated Daniel Jacobs by decision, while Ryder lost to Rocky Fielding and Callum Smith, both of whom Álvarez defeated handily. Four years ago, on the undercard of Álvarez’s win over Jacobs, Ryder knocked out Bilal Akkawy, then a rising middleweight contender and a longtime Álvarez sparing partner.
Still, the subplots for Saturday’s bout revolve mainly around Álvarez, and the high-stakes matchups that become possible if he wins.
Álvarez has said repeatedly that he wants a rematch with Bivol. If that bout does not materialize, the super-middleweight contenders David Benavidez and David Morrell are both undefeated, and angling for an Álvarez bout.
Any of those matchups could prove lucrative, and none of them are likely to happen in Mexico. Álvarez said he hoped for at least one more bout in his native country before he retired, but would not commit to one.
“The truth is, we have to enjoy this night. We have to enjoy this moment,” he said Wednesday. “It took me 12 years to get back, so I don’t know.”
Eddie Hearn, the head of Matchroom Sport, said that Álvarez insisted that this fight be staged in Guadalajara, rather than in other cities that showed interest. Álvarez acknowledged that fighting at home most likely shrunk his payday, but told reporters that the chance to perform in his hometown was its own form of compensation.
“What I want is to fight in front of my people,” he said. “And here I am.”