By CARLOS RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Fighting in his native Guadalajara for the first time in 12 years has presented some different challenges for Saúl Álvarez, like finding out just how many tickets he needs to accommodate family and friends.
“Canelo” Álvarez is one of the best boxers in the world and he will return home on Saturday to face British rival John Ryder at the Akron Stadium in the western Mexican city. He hasn’t fought in Guadalajara since June 2011, when he defeated British fighter Ryan Rhodes.
Back then, Álvarez’s career was on the rise. In March of that year, he won his first world title, the World Boxing Council welterweight belt.
Now he comes home as a more mature boxer who has already won world titles in four different weight classes and was the unified champion at three of those.
That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising that the bout at the Akron Stadium sold out in a matter of hours, leaving Canelo with the prospect of both preparing himself for the fight and attending to his family’s ticket requests.
“It’s crazy. It’s a difficult part, let me tell you, because everyone wants to go. They’re all from here (Guadalajara),” the 32-year-old Álvarez said in an interview with the Associated Press. “It’s complicated, but you try to do everything you can and have as many as you can.”
Álvarez has three brothers —all of them were fighters— and a sister.
In addition to the ticket requests, Álvarez has had to adjust to Guadalajara’s altitude of 5,138 feet above sea level as opposed to San Diego, California, where he usually prepares for other fights at an altitude of only 62 feet.
“It has been different especially because of the altitude because we had to adapt to the routine in Guadalajara, but so far everything is going very well as always you have to try to do everything 100 percent despite the circumstances,” Álvarez said.
One unknown ahead of Saturday’s fight is how well Álvarez will respond to the surgery on his left wrist that he underwent after closing the trilogy against Gennady Golovkin last September.
“I feel very good, the preparation has been excellent, and I am now ready to train at 100 percent. That makes me more motivated to train hard in Guadalajara,” Álvarez said.
Leading up to the fight, Álvarez has also had to deal with criticism because he chose to fight at home, including a strong jibe from former world champion Juan Manuel Márquez, who considers Ryder a “regular fighter, from medium level to below.”
The 35-year-old Ryder holds the interim World Boxing Organization super middleweight belt, which he won in November by beating Zach Parker.
“All of that is part of this. There was always criticism in the past and there continues to be criticism,” Álvarez said. “It has always been a split between the ‘haters’ and those who support me, which fortunately there are more.”
After the Ryder fight, Álvarez will have a decision to make for his next fight, probably set for September. Many fans and commentators, including Márquez, want him to fight David Benavidez, but Álvarez will probably go for a rematch against Dmitry Bivol.
Although his career polarizes opinions in his country despite his achievements, Álvarez is revered by the majority in Guadalajara.
“The phenomenon of Canelo Álvarez is incredible. I had never seen anything like it, someone who has so many detractors when all he does is getting victory after victory,” said Mauricio Sulaiman, the WBC president. “After losing to (Floyd) Mayweather he could have fallen, but he matured, he had the strength to come back and conquer the world.”
For years, Álvarez has tried to give something back and decided to invest part of the fortune he has earned as a boxer in local businesses. Álvarez owns a chain of convenience stores, a sports nutrition line, tequila-based drinks, gas stations, and a bus line where, as a child, he used to sell popsicles.
“I am growing in business and believing in my country, but starting with my city. For me it is important to give employment to many families, it is something that fills me with pride and happiness,” the Mexican boxer said.
Álvarez was born in Guadalajara but grew up from the age of five in Juanacatlán, Jalisco, a rural town located about 25 miles from the stadium where the fight will take place. Inspired by his brothers, he began fighting at the age of 13 and made his professional debut at 15.
“It is special after 12 years and everything I have achieved to return to my land as the best and be able to offer this experience,” Álvarez said. “I feel happy and grateful to the people because they saw me grow here and now coming back as the best in the world and giving the fight is an honor for me.”