Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is on a mission.
The 23-year-old Mexican former world champion will return to the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on July 12, facing WBA junior middleweight champion Erislandy Lara on a Showtime pay-per-view.
Lara, who has a reputation for being one of the most avoided fighters in the sport, has been calling Canelo out for years. Many boxing observers, fans and media settled into the belief that this was the one fight that Alvarez and his people would seek to avoid.
But that belief doesn’t account for the motivations—both personal and professional—which are at the core of what makes Canelo tick. He’s possessed by a single-minded determination to achieve one thing and one thing only—to be the very best.
He won't duck anyone along the way.
“I’ve always wanted to fight the best and I believe that Lara is one of the most, if not the most, dangerous fighters at 154 [pounds],” Canelo told Bleacher Report on Tuesday.
“A lot of people wanted to see it. My goal is to give the fans what they want to see, and that’s the best fights. The best fighting the best. And that’s my philosophy. That’s what I want to do.”
Last September, Canelo participated in the richest fight in boxing history, losing a majority decision to pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather in a fight that wasn’t as close as the official scorecards would indicate.
There were some questions about how a fighter—particularly one as young and hyped as Canelo—would be able to handle such a decisive defeat on boxing’s biggest stage.
Some fighters would have crumbled under the weight of expectations unfulfilled, but Canelo instead opts to take the high road, emphasizing what was gained and not what was lost.
“I learn from every fight. Every fight gives you a learning experience. In that [Mayweather] fight, I gained my experience and will show it in the next few fights,” Canelo said.
“That’s the important thing. You learn in every fight and you have to improve in every fight going forward.”
"Improve" is an important word for any fighter.
In boxing, you either get better or you get out.
Canelo returned to the ring in March, relentlessly attacking the usually dangerous Alfredo “Perro” Angulo, stopping him on an uppercut in Round 10 of a thoroughly one-sided affair.
He literally didn’t give Angulo a second to get comfortable in the fight, using his superior speed and power to put pressure from the opening bell. Even though most, if not all, in the boxing world felt that Canelo would win the fight, the shocking ease with which he did it was quite impressive.
Angulo earned his shot against Canelo, ironically, off an impressive performance against Lara.
He didn’t win the fight but put the Cuban on the mat twice, and he was ahead on one scorecard and narrowly down on the others when the fight was stopped due to grotesque swelling over his left eye in Round 10.
Lara was hit more than we’re accustomed to seeing on that night, and one wonders if Canelo—a more refined fighter than Angulo by a mile or better—could draw any lessons from that performance.
“I’ve always said that styles make fights and these are two different styles. But I will use as a reference that Angulo—with his style of coming forward, throwing punches but also receiving punches—was able to halt him and drop him,” Canelo said.
Angulo is a straight-up slugger, though. He comes forward, attacks, hits and gets hit.
That’s never been Canelo’s game. He’s more technically sound, boasting the high boxing IQ and ring intelligence to tell him when to attack and when to wait back.
Those characteristics, he hopes, will give him the ability to draw on what Angulo accomplished, rework and refine some parts to fit his strengths, and use it to finish the job.
“Now imagine my style, which is going to be aggressive, which is aggressive, but smarter and more intelligent. Boxing and moving. Not getting hit. That’s going to be a good reference and that’s what we’re working on,” he said.
Lara, a tricky southpaw who is technically sound and difficult to hit, was elevated to full world champion status by the WBA back in March. However, his championship won’t be on the line in this bout.
Canelo took that same title from Austin Trout last year but dropped it to Mayweather, who remains the legitimate champion—even if the WBA has declared him a super champion so they can collect sanctioning fees for two belts at the same weight.
There has been a great deal of talk, particularly since Miguel Cotto took the middleweight championship from Sergio Martinez earlier this month, about Canelo making the full-time move to 160 pounds in the near future.
This fight will take place at a maximum weight of 155 pounds, one above the junior middleweight limit, and will be the second consecutive fight that has technically been contested within the realm of the middleweights.
But Canelo says that a permanent move isn’t in the offing—at least not yet—and the reason for the catchweight is simple.
“I feel very comfortable. I feel very good at 154. Obviously it’s not for a title, and there’s no reason to make the limit of 154 if there’s no world title at stake. With Angulo, remember, I had been out of the ring for a while, so it was a little bit more difficult [making weight],” he said.
Will he move up eventually?
“When the time does come, when my body basically tells me that it’s either unhealthy or I’m uncomfortable to make the limit, then, yes, a jump to 160 will be done. But I see myself being here [154 pounds] for the next two to three years,” Canelo said.
If that’s the case, Canelo has a real chance of becoming the dominant force at junior middleweight in the years to come.
Beating Lara would be a tremendous first step in that direction, and it would be a huge step toward climbing back up the pound-for-pound ranks.
It would also help to solidify his position in Mexico, where he is already the boxing-crazed nation’s biggest star.
Seem like a lot of pressure? For most people it probably would be, but for Canelo it’s just extra fuel on the fire.
“I’m very motivated, very happy. Obviously it [being Mexico’s biggest star] comes from a lot of hard work and dedication. All fighters and athletes aspire and work hard for it. And that’s what we’ll continue to do. We’ll continue to work harder and grow to be a delight for the fans.”
Kevin McRae is a featured boxing columnist for Bleacher Report, and you can follow him on Twitter @McRaeBoxing. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand from a one-on-one interview.