Team Canelo overcomes 'vultures and rats' for shot at history vs. Kovalev

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Canelo Alvarez, of Mexico, poses after his win against Daniel Jacobs in a middleweight title boxing match Saturday, May 4, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

There have been many talented boxers over the years who were good enough to win a world title or to achieve the ultimate honor and make the International Boxing Hall of Fame who didn’t do it.

They failed because they didn’t push enough, didn’t dream big, didn’t dare to be great.

Canelo Alvarez will be in the Hall of Fame one day not only because he was blessed with most of the physical gifts a boxer could ask for, but also because of attitude.

He always dreams big, but this time, he’s dreamed bigger than ever. He demands a lot out of those around him but demands even more of himself.

And that’s why, on Nov. 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he’ll look to join an exclusive group of boxers who have won world championships in four different weight classes when he makes the final, and perhaps hardest, jump and goes to light heavyweight to challenge Sergey Kovalev for the WBO title.

He shunned a third fight with archrival Gennadiy Golovkin that would have paid him oodles of dollars.

To do it, he had to withstand pressure from executives at DAZN, who wanted a trilogy fight with Golovkin, as well as from media and fans. He had to listen to Golden Boy president Eric Gomez, who expressed doubts at his choice.

And he had to suffer through a torturous negotiation that Gomez described as his toughest in more than 20 years in the boxing business.

“Getting this done has been so, so difficult,” Gomez told Yahoo Sports. “There were a lot of vultures and rats involved who tried to mess things up. Once we got rid of them, we were able to get a deal done with [Kovalev promoter] Kathy Duva fairly quickly, but there were so many outside influences who were trying to sabotage this fight, I almost can’t believe it.

“We’ve worked on this for two, 2 1/2 months. I thought the Golovkin negotiations were difficult, but this beats them all.”

Through it all, though, Alvarez stood firm and insisted he wanted his shot at history.

In addition to the opportunity to become just the fourth Mexican to hold belts in four weight classes, Alvarez would join another exclusive group if he were to win. His first world championship was at 154 pounds, and he’s since added 160- and 168-pound titles to that.

If he beats Kovalev to become the light heavyweight champion, he’ll be only the fourth ex-154-pound champion to win a light heavyweight title. The others are all Hall of Famers: Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Mike McCallum.

Unlike his super middleweight title victory over Rocky Fielding in New York last year, in which Fielding was badly overmatched, such is not the case this time. Kovalev is past his prime, but he is coming off a compelling potential Fight of the Year victory over Anthony Yarde.

Kovalev will be highly motivated to fight Alvarez, though his trainer, Hall of Famer Buddy McGirt, doesn’t believe size and punching power will be the factor that most seem to believe it will. Gomez said Kovalev’s physical advantages are one reason he didn’t like the fight when Alvarez brought it up to him at first.

“Canelo saw something and like the greats, they see things sometimes the rest of us don’t,” Gomez said. “I feel his best weight is middleweight, but he’s the kind of guy who wants to try to take on the toughest challenges he can.”

Anthony Yarde (L) and Sergey Kovalev in their WBO light heavyweight title bout at Traktor Ice Arena. (Getty Images)

McGirt said even though the Yarde fight on Aug. 24 was grueling, he’s not concerned about the relatively quick turnaround. Kovalev is already in shape and McGirt said they can spend time focusing on strategy, as a result.

“People underestimate Sergey’s boxing IQ,” McGirt said. “He’s got a good boxing IQ, and he’s not just a guy whose only chance to win is to go out and knock someone out. He’s got the ability to make adjustments and fight different ways.

“He had that nickname, ‘Krusher,’ and I think in some ways, he felt he had to try to live up to it. When I started to work with him [last year], I told him it was OK to be the ‘Krusher’ as long as it was the ‘Smart Krusher.’ And I think you’ve seen in his fights that he’s a smart guy.”

Alvarez is plenty smart, too. Gomez said that in his 20-plus years in the business, only four previous times did he recommend a champion not take a fight the champion wanted to take.

He said he advised Shane Mosley against fighting Antonio Margarito, though Mosley went on to dominate. He advised Bernard Hopkins against bouts with Kelly Pavlik and Antonio Tarver. And he advised Alvarez against a super welterweight bout with Lara.

The fifth time was when Alvarez first brought Kovalev’s name up.

“A lot of people were saying a year ago when Canelo first brought Kovalev’s name up that he was just using his name and trying to pump himself up,” Gomez said. “But he wasn’t kidding. The greats all have that inside of them they want to do things people think they can’t do, and this is another time Canelo’s trying it.”

McGirt gave a tip of the cap to Alvarez as well.

“Canelo is one of the top guys out there, without question,” McGirt said. “I don’t look at the size, I look at whether someone can fight and Canelo can fight. We respect Canelo and what he’s able to do. That’s why I can’t stress this enough: We’re not looking to be the bigger man that night, we’re looking to be the better man that night. We’re going against a really good fighter here and we’re going to have to be sharp for this one.”

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