Canelo Alvarez and Avni Yildirim are set to square off tonight at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida on DAZN. This will be Alvarez’s first defense of his WBC Super Middleweight Title and is largely viewed as a tune up following his December win over Callum Smith to take the title and a warm up for a unification with WBO titleholder Billy Joe Saunders. I wrote about this proposed fight back in the summer of 2020 when Canelo was pitching this fight to DAZN while threatening to get out of their contract. At the time I said this fight was a big mismatch and not an interesting match up. With Canelo stating he wants to fight three or four times in 2021 that would create a scenario where he fights five times in a twelve month span which is unheard of for a fighter of Canelo’s stature as a pound for pound figure and money maker. With all of that in perspective a fight like this is forgivable considering his plan for activity and the list of opponents he is lining up with Saunders and also IBF titleholder Caleb Plant. Also it is nice to not have to pay out the ever pricier PPV charges that boxing fans got used to during the Mayweather-Pacquaio HBO-Showtime price gouging that saw fans shelling out $59.99 to watch Manny Pacquiao fight Brandon Rios. In this article I hope to address the following points: Yildirim’s chances, Yildirim’s status as a mandatory challenger, and my prediction.
Why is Avni Yildirim the WBC mandatory challenger at 168 lbs.?
The simple answer: His performance against Anthony Dirrell where he lost a technical decision when the fight was stopped in the tenth round due to a cut suffered by Dirrell from a clash of heads. There was controversy surrounding the stoppage based on the severity of the cut and the scorecards given it was a split decision. Yildirim was the number two ranked contender and the WBC decided to make him a mandatory challenger.
The complicated answer: Usually something controversial has an immediate rematch, that was not the case in this scenario. David Benavidez got the shot at Dirrell next and won the title before sitting out nearly a year before losing the title on the scales when facing Roamer Alexis Angulo. Since Yildirim never got his mandated shot he was left in the running while remaining inactive since his 2019 encounter with Dirrell. Initially Canelo was going to face Yildirim to get in line for the Smith fight but he wound up getting the direct shot while Yildirim once more sat on the sidelines waiting for his shot.
My opinion: It is reminiscent of the Fres Oquendo scenario where Oquendo sued the WBA following a title fight loss to Ruslan Chagaev on the grounds that he felt the judges’ decision was unjust. This resulted in a title limbo that left Oquendo as a cloud hovering over the WBA that left him as a mandatory though he never got another shot as he froze the title picture. Yildirim did not cause a log jam like Oquendo but it is the result of an organization listening to the cry of foul and trying to do the right thing but not acting in a swift manner. At the time of the stoppage many fans felt there was reason for Yildirim to get another crack at the title. Boxrec.com has a fan scoring average of 96-95 Dirrell and Eyeonthering.com has the fight listed with a 50% controversy rating meaning half of the scores submitted disagree with the Dirrell victory. My gripe is that if the WBC was so moved to give Yildirim another shot it should have been done a long time ago. Now Yildirim is in position for a title fight that nobody outside of his camp or Turkey feel he deserves or has much of a chance of winning.
Avni Yildirim’s Chances?
ESPN+ did their weekend of the fight expert predictions and they are not optimistic for the underdog. Timothy Bradley, Teddy Atlas, Marco Antonio Periban and Claudia Trejos all picked Canelo Alvarez and none signaled any feeling of uncertainty or difficulty that Yildirim may provide. The Boxing Rant Podcast was telling its viewers to bet the house on the under and to consider betting on a knockout in the first three rounds. Atlas was a little more conservative but picked the eighth or ninth round as the round where Yildirim would give under the pressure. All analysts cite the difference in speed, power, and overall ability with others citing the uppercut as a key weapon for Alvarez. William Hill has this fight listed as a 40-1longshot which is reminiscent of the famous Tokyo heavyweight championship tilt between Mike Tyson and James Douglas. Looking through the list of opponents for Yildirim shows only one meaningful win over Marco Antonio Periban and a win of name value only with a victory over Glen Johnson who was far removed from his prime. Yildirim is 21-2 and only has 12 KO’s and has been stopped before against Chris Eubank Jr. which has lead to much criticism of this fight.
The Dirrell fight? What do we make of this fight? Obviously Dirrell is not on Canelo’s level but he is the only fighter on Yildirim’s resume that could be called elite and he held his own and more than a few observers felt he did enough to win. As I predict this fight I have to weigh exactly how significant this performance was. He was able to stand up to the hard punching Dirrell and maintained constant pressure throughout the contest. He threw a wide assortment of punches including a straight right hand, an overhand right, a right uppercut, and a left hook to the body. He moved forward with a high guard but did employ ducking and slipping when in close and could roll into hooks. The only issue with trying to analyze this fight in reference to the Canelo fight is the layoff. We have seen more than a few fighters come out of the COVID layoffs and training camps flat or off their game. This is also just one fight where he performed at a high level.
Yildirim has a style that plays into Alvarez’s hands. While Gennady Golovkin did push Alvarez to the ropes in the first fight and outwork him to what should have been a decision in his favor, Yildirim does not have the same tool kit. Golovkin has a thudding jab, quick feet, and a great skillset built from the amateurs that saw him master distance and work Alvarez into the corners. We have seen Alvarez tear apart pressure fighters like James Kirkland and Alfredo Angulo with relative ease as they come right to him and provide many counter opportunities. The vulnerability to the uppercut was on full display versus Eubank Jr. and to a lesser extent against Dirrell. Alvarez has a very good uppercut and it is hard to see him not capitalize on the punch. Yildirim employs a defensive posture that keeps his head between his gloves looking through which protects well against a hook from either side but gives him nowhere to go if an uppercut comes through. Also, Alvarez is a devastating body puncher and Yildirim’s high guard has his elbows above his ribs when at midrange. This will expose him to the powerful hooks Alvarez has employed throughout his career and led to an early knockout of Rocky Fielding at 168 lbs. Yildirim’s strengths of pressure and physicality look to play into Alvarez’s hands.
Joel Diaz and his work with Yildirim: Avni Yildirim has employed well known American trainer Joel Diaz for this bout. Diaz is best known for standing in the corner of Timothy Bradley when he upset the massive superstar Manny Pacquiao. Of course that decision was hotly disputed and Yildirim is nowhere near the level of Bradley but it shows that Diaz is able to take a big underdog to victory against and extremely talented and popular fighter. Besides his vulnerability to the uppercut and his exposed midsection, speed and explosiveness are two other major factors working against Yildirim here. While he did duck and slip and use that momentum to throw his own hooks he did not do it with quickness or explosive power. He appears to go offense then defense and defense then offense rather than timing the two together to create more devastating shots and counters. He makes a defensive move before and offensive move seeming to stop between and throwing his punch. I think this is going to result in Alvarez beating him to the punch repeatedly and with thudding power. From footage released by Fight Hype Diaz has definitely addressed some of these issues with Yildirim showing a little more speed and explosive punching. My concern is whether he can do it under pressure.
X Factor: Headbutts, can he cut Alvarez by leading with his head? Obviously this would be a disappointing result and I don’t advocate breaking the rules but Yildirim has a history of leading with his head and this can most certainly cause a a cut. If Alvarez is cut or frustrated could it cause the fight to get messy and play into the bigger Yildirim’s favor? I don’t think so as I expect Alvarez to win a firefight if it devolves into a slugfest.
I am picking Alvarez to win this fight, for me the winner is not in question here. However, the ending is the only debate I am struggling with. Though Alvarez did stop Fielding and Kirkland early, I feel Yildirim will survive to at least the sixth round in this fight. I have a difficult time seeing this make the final bell. Alvarez is training hard and like Mayweather he does not show up unprepared for any opponent despite his talent difference and financial success. While I don’t think Yildirim “sucks” or is a “bum” I think these long odds are less an indictment on Yildirim and more of an affirmation of Alvarez’s ability. Since the second Golovkin fight I have felt that Canelo entered his prime and continues to improve in every fight and I think we should expect a dominant display in this fight both offensively and defensively.
Footage of Yildirim