Saul “Canelo” Alvarez validated what was considered a foregone conclusion.
The prohibitive favorite, Alvarez took care of his ring responsibility Saturday night. Alvarez’s technical knockout victory over Turkey’s Avni Yildirim lasted briefly but South Florida, at least for one evening, became the center of the boxing universe.
The native of Mexico’s bouts are events and headlining the first boxing card at Hard Rock Stadium attracted spectators beyond the sport’s hard-core base. Simply being identified by first name or nickname, as in Alvarez’s case, is synonymous with needle moving.
The pro-Alvarez crowd, which was announced at the stadium’s limited capacity of 15,000, didn’t mind that the super-middleweight title fight ended after challenger Yildirim failed to answer the bell for the fourth round. Alvarez making a local appearance proved sufficient satisfaction.
For the 30-year-old Alvarez, becoming one of the sport’s most recognizable faces also creates the proverbial bull’s-eye every time he steps into the ring. Yildirim, a 40-1 underdog, predicted an upset of Buster Douglas-like proportions. He talked about the support from his compatriots back home lifting him to the unexpected victory over Alvarez.
But Yildirim quickly learned that Alvarez doesn’t downplay opponents with the longest of shots. Yildirim failed to unleash the arsenal he predicted and became the latest stepping-stone of what Alvarez hopes will be a historic year.
“That happens with the majority of my opponents,” Alvarez said. “They throw a punch, it doesn’t land, I counterpunch and they feel it. After that, they’re scared of being hit.”
Midway through the third, Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) scored with a lead left jab and follow-up right to the head that sent Yildirim to the canvas. Yildirim (21-3) quickly reached his feet but Alvarez pressed him on the ropes and landed additional combinations to the head.
Instead of allowing his outclassed fighter to absorb additional punishment, Yildirim’s trainer Joel Diaz instructed referee Telis Asimenios to stop the fight in the minute’s rest between rounds.
“I felt his power while blocking his punches with my arms,” Alvarez said. “I had to be aware of that as well as head butts. Honestly, I fought as planned. But in boxing anything is possible and a punch can change everything.”
Alvarez established pace from the opening bell, peppering Yildirim with lead left jabs to the head and combinations to the body. In the second round, Alvarez shortened punching range and stunned Yildirim with left and right uppercuts.
“I came and did what I had to do,” Alvarez said. “I feel I’m at my best moment, and I’m taking advantage of it 100 percent.”
The selection of Yildirim as Alvarez’s opponent had its skeptics because of his two-year inactivity. Moreover, Yildirim lost a technical decision in his last fight.
Alvarez’s goal, however, is to unify all super-middleweight titles and sanctioning body politics factor in his aspirations. Mexico-based World Boxing Council recognized Yildirim as mandatory challenger. Alvarez retained his WBC and World Boxing Association belts with Saturday’s win.
“People want to understand what they want,” Alvarez said of the critics who objected to Yildirim landing the title fight. “They enjoy being against me. It is normal.
“I’ll just keep making my history and at the end of my career you will see the numbers.”
Now that he’s vanquished Yildirim, Alvarez said he will take a week off before resuming preparations for his next fight against World Boxing Organization champion Billy Joe Saunders on May 8. The title unification match was officially announced during a post-fight news conference.
“He is a totally different fighter with an awkward, difficult style,” Alvarez said of Saunders. “We are aware of his skills. Plus, he’s a talker. But we are ready for all of that. I am very experienced and adapt to any style.”
In Saturday’s other bouts: McWilliams Arroyo won the WBC interim flyweight title by TKO when opponent Abraham Rodriguez failed to answer the bell for the fifth round; heavyweights Zhilei Zhang and Jerry Forrest fought to a draw; super-middleweight Diego Pacheco won a unanimous decision over Rodolfo Gomez; super-middleweight Alexis Espino scored a fifth-round TKO over Ashton Sykes; super-lightweight Aaron Aponte won by unanimous decision over Harry Gigliotti; super-featherweight Marc Castro scored a second-round TKO over John Moraga; lightweight Keyshawn Davis scored a second-round TKO win over Lester Brown.