I didn’t want to fight with El Canelo. Well, the truth is that no one wants to fight Saúl “El Canelo” Alvarez. At least, of course, unless they are paid many millions of dollars.
Like Caleb Plant, who will face him Nov. 6 in Las Vegas. And even then, no one wants to be on the receiving end of his punches. His right jab and left hook are legendary. Unforgettable. Destructive.
I wanted to understand El Canelo, not fight him.
I had been trying for a long time to interview the boxer, who has won 56 fights, 38 of them by knockout. He lost only one, in 2013, when El Canelo was very young and Floyd Mayweather was at the peak of his career. “I don’t see that as a loss,” he told me from his gym in San Diego, California, before a training session. “The truth is, I see it as a learning session. I was very young, had very little experience.”
Today, El Canelo – his red hair and very white skin makes it unnecessary to ask him about his nickname – is in a different place. He is, without a doubt, one of the best boxers in the world. The best, according to his fans. And he seems to have it all – money, health, reputation and family. He married in May in a super wedding that went viral on social networks.
“What are you missing?” I ask him. “Why are you still fighting?” He answered quickly. “I love boxing, love what I do,” he told me. “I am someone who, if I am going to do something, I do it 100 percent. If not, it’s better that I don’t do it.”
But there’s danger. And I remind him of the grave brain damage suffered by boxing great Mohammad Ali. “You don’t think about that,” he said. “Only God knows what can happen in the ring. You can go up there, and you don’t come down. That is reality … It is a very dangerous sport.”
Then he let me in on a secret. “I always say good by to my family before each fight, because you don’t know if you’re going to come down. But in the end, what I tell them is not to worry, that I will die happy because it’s what I love.”
It wasn’t always that way. As the youngest of seven brothers and one sister, he sometimes had to sell ice cream and popsicles from trucks in Guadalajara, where he was born. But he soon realized it was easier to box, and more lucrative. Today he can buy a lot of popsicles, and anything else he wants. Many times over.
But does he fear losing it all? “I am not afraid,” he told me. “But I worry about the future because it’s the same story as always … especially in boxing. They have a lot, and in the end they wind up with nothing … thank God I have been managing my businesses, to make everything I sacrificed in boxing worth it.”
I push a little more. What’s his philosophy on money, especially because he had so little of it as a child. “Everything has its moment. There’s time for everything, something for everything,” he explained. “And I believe you should enjoy yourself, because that’s why you work, no? I believe you should treat yourself, and if you fancy a car or a watch, well you can buy it, no?”
Among his treats is golf. But like everything El Canelo does, it’s more than a hobby. Four years ago he thought it was “going to be very boring, for older people.” But a friend took him to play one day and he’s become “somewhat addicted.” “I don’t play or practice one day and I barely sleep that night,” he confessed. “For me, that is another big passion.”
El Canelo lives very close to the border with Mexico, but on the American side. He once had to negotiate the release of a brother who had been kidnapped. But he doesn’t like to talk about that. “That’s over, and it’s something that is talked about once and not repeated,” he told me, offering no details.
What worries you about Mexico? “More than anything the lack of security,” he said. “Lately, since three or four years ago, there’s been a lot of insecurity.” Do you feel safe in Mexico? “Me, personally, yes. But it does feel a little odd. You feel an odd vibe. I feel safe, but I don’t feel at ease.”
El Canelo doesn’t like comparisons, least of all with boxer Julio César Chávez. “In his time he was the best,” he said. “I just want to make my own history and leave behind a legacy.”
What distinguishes you from other boxers? “Discipline,” he said quickly. “What sets me apart is the discipline, the desire to continue learning day in and day out … I don’t conform. I always want more. I want to learn more. I want to continue winning titles. I want to continue making history.”
At the age of 31, is it time to think about retiring? Not yet. “I feel I am at my best,” he told me. “Right now, the truth is I am not thinking about retirement … I think seven more years in boxing, and maybe it ends for me … One never knows.”
What we do know is that El Canelo will fight in a couple of days, and that Caleb Plant knows what he’s getting into. El Canelo’s punches always leave their mark.