Starvation dieting. Running in the freezing cold light of dawn. Spartan two-month training camps. Brutal sparring. Man-to-man combat despite injury.
Living the life, as they label it. Mostly abstemious. Often celibate.
The sacrifices made by boxers – especially elite boxers – are legion and legend.
For the greatest prize-fighter of this generation, the most vexing imposition has been the interruption of his other sporting love affair.
Not least since it has occasioned a rise in his handicap. And with it a pause in the pursuance of ‘what everyone tries telling me is a near impossible dream’ of moving on one day from undisputed world titles in the hardest game to a second career on the more pastoral PGA tour.
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is preparing for a homecoming bout this weekend – and has had to put aside his primary passion as a result
The Mexican prize-fighter, considered among the greatest of all time, has found a new obsession to occupy him outside the ring
Canelo has ambitions of becoming a golfer on the PGA Tour – revealing he managed to get his handicap down to six – but it has since risen to 10
Golf is the latest obsession of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. Occupying as it does almost every minute left over from complex family duties and the demands of preparing for fights like the one against John Ryder here this May 6 in defence of all the super-middleweight crowns, to a 60,000-plus fanfare in a football stadium.
‘My handicap was down to six,’ he says ruefully. This 32-year-old poster boy for manliness whose warrior instincts make him the idol of Mexico, across all this country’s social and economic divides. ‘Now it’s up to ten.’
All because ‘I’ve had to take very seriously’ an opponent barely-known outside the UK but who has worked diligently throughout his career to make himself the mandatory challenger for one of his belts.
‘I’ve hardly played any golf in the last few weeks,’ says Canelo. ‘I still love boxing – the doing not so much the watching – but golf is an addiction I have to break before fights. I got my handicap down during the covid lockdown and while building my recovery from hand injury.’
Also, as a patriot, he is acutely aware of the importance to his country of his first fight in Mexico after almost 12 years campaigning in the US. Home-coming as he will on the weekend of national celebration of an historic battlefield victory over the Spanish
All the more so in this 200th anniversary year of Mexican independence.
So as well as little or no golf of late, there has been no galloping on his stable of white horses. No mad-cap 200 mph wheelies on his racing motor-bikes. No flat-out hurtling for fun in his off-road vehicles across the acres of his ranch (Jeremy Clarkson eat your heart out).
‘I can’t take those risks before a fight,’ he says. ‘Can’t afford even a small accident.’
Not when he admits an ambition of become boxing’s first billionaire. (Floyd Mayweather with an estimated nett worth of $450 million eat your heart out).
His most recent victory over Gennady Golovkin set him up for a glorious homecoming
Not when he has taken a cut of at least ten million dollars from his regular purses so as to bring boxing home to tequila-ville from the pay-per-view treasure-chest of America’s Sin City.
Canelo makes mere mortals who claim to be arch-competitors pale into snow flakes. His billion-dollar itch, for example, is driven by the self-nick-named ‘Money’ Mayweather being the first of only two opponents to have defeated him in the ring.
‘Floyd was in his prime when we fought,’ says Alvarez. ‘I was still young and a bit naïve despite my success. It would be very different if he made a comeback and we did it again. Competitive, me? Si. Competitive at everything I do in my life.’
Starting as a five-year-old when he strove to sell more ice-cream popsicles than anyone else in the dusty streets of his small home-town outside Guadalajara, so as to boost the frugal family income. Competitive all the way to the multiple world titles which harvested a fifty-million-dollars-per-fight contract with the DAZN subscription TV network.
Above all when in it comes to sport. From picking up rosettes at the refined equine artistry of dressage when astride those off-spring from the white Lipizzaner stallions of the fabled Vienna Riding School, to pounding his way to the pinnacle of prize-fighting. Even more so now on the golf course, because of its intricate difficulties.
‘This is the hardest game ever,’ he says. Tougher than being punched in the head in search of glory, really? ‘Well, golf is harder for me. I’ve boxed since I was a kid. Comes easy to me. It is harder to be consistent at golf. One shot can be great but the next terrible. One round great, next day horrible. One tiny alteration in making the shot can mean a big difference.’
Hence watching his idol occupies so many of his countless hours tuned to the Golf Channel that his beloved wife Fernanda has to turn to television in another of the many rooms in the chandeliered mansion he built to replace a traditional ranch-house.
‘I study Tiger’s swing,’ says Canelo. ‘Perfection. Only ever changes for a reason like some specific shot. I would love to play a round with Mr Woods one day.’ Playing with other Americans has improved not only his game but his previously halting English.
He speaks with eloquence as well as pride about winning a celebrity tournament sponsored by BMW in South Carolina. Of recording his lowest competitive round of 74. Of coming within inches of a hole-in-one at the intimidating 17th at fabled Pebble Beach, during a pro-am.
Such talk has given a former idol of the Mexican ring, whose promotion company he left in far from amicable circumstances, an excuse to criticise.
Oscar De La Hoya blames his former protege’s second ring loss, to accomplished Russian stylist Dmitry Bivol a year ago, on him ‘spending all his time on the golf course.’
This is Canelo’s gut response: ‘I don’t care one bit about Oscar. I don’t listen to a word from him. I don’t care about anything he says about me. He’s a whoosh. (We can draw our own conclusions at to what that means). He lives inside some strange bubble of his own. Away from the real world.’
Canelo has studied some of the game’s greatest – including Tiger Woods – in a bid to become as skilled at boxing as is at golf
Oscar De La Hoya blamed Canelo’s loss to Dmitri Bivol on him spending too much time on the course
Canelo fired back – claiming he does not care what De La Hoya says and that he lives in a ‘bubble’
That said, he returns to the matter of his forthcoming responsibility to his people. Among whom he is the only prominent redhead. A distinction which gave rise to the name Canelo, which is Spanish slang for cinnamon but which he can only explain by making fun of himself, saying: ‘Maybe there is some great-great grandfather back in our family tree who was Irish’
He is aware that he is following in renowned footsteps. When Joe Louis, the iconic world heavyweight champion of the 1940s and 50s turned to golf after boxing he inspired thousands of Afro-American boys to trade the mean streets for green fairways.
Says Canelo; ‘Louis did something amazing. I hope seeing me play golf will go the same for youngsters in my country. There are signs of a similar impact on youngsters here .’
Of Mexico at large, he eulogises with fiery Hispanic passion. He is far too intelligent not to be aware of Mexico’s problems. Of the drugs cartels. Of concerns about a extremist left-wing president. A diplomat, too, he says: ‘I prefer not to talk politics.’
What he does articulate are his delights in Mexico: ‘Mine is a country of great people. Great traditions. Great culture. Great music. Great beaches. Great cities. Great scenery. The greatest food.’
Also, by way of a clever aside to lurid American exaggeration of gang violence, he says: ‘Mexico is one of the great places in the world for tourists to visit.’
And, oh, by the way: ‘Great boxing.’
So ask him to rank the greatest Mexican fighters ever, himself included, the first name to his lips is that of his personal hero Julio Cesar Chavez. The phenomenal original, that is, not the son. Canelo is honoured that Chavez passed the all-time torch to him recently, somewhat ceremoniously, in Guadalajara. But in his response he said: ‘Julio Cesar, you will aways be the greatest.’
The Mexican is serious about reaching the top of the game – as evidenced by his hours practising
Canelo reviews the listing now with honourable mentions for Vicente Saldivar, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marques, Ricardo Lopez and Erik Morales. Then pays sentimental tribute to the genius of Salvador Sanchez, who would surely have become the greatest in featherweight history had he not been killed in a car crash at 23.
No mention here of De La Hoya, we notice, who is also among cynics questioning whether macho-man has lost his mojo after Bivol. Amir Khan and Callum Smith among them – he confirms will be his ensuing opponent on Mexican Independence weekend this September, assuming he makes Ryder his eighth English victim, Amir Khan and Callum Smith already among them.
He has been warned against the rematch. Or, if he does take it, advised to insist on bringing Bivol down to super-middleweight rather than go again after the Russian’s world light-heavyweight titles. Says Canelo: ‘I don’t want to hear any excuses about him being weight drained. Last time I was short on training because of my hand injury and was still carrying damage into the fight. I can and will beat him. I feel I am in my prime. As always. Muhammad Ali was not defined by the occasional defeat. Nor am I.’
Saul Alvarez the greatest of his time? The proof is in the numbers, even though the likes of Tyson Fury, Olexsandr Usyk and Terrence Crawford are staking claims. World champion in five weight divisions, including undisputed at super-middle. Fifty-eight wins in 62 bouts. There are two draws on a record which omits a stack of victories between 14 and 16 years of age in unlicensed fights for money, often in the back room of tequila saloons.
All those figures, plus the rebuttal of De La Hoya evident in his latest golf handicap. Distractions have been further minimised by the cutting of his losses with the resale of a recent indulgence. The £12 million British-made Sunseeker super-yacht with its four double cabins and a master stateroom – all with en suite bathrooms – was bought two years ago. Initially to host the after-fight celebration which followed a victory in Miami.
The MV Canelo hove to at moorings kept for the wealthy few with reservations at the hottest restaurant in town. Docked in Miam, it has remained. His explanation for letting it go for a million or few less: ‘I rarely if ever go to Florida. It was a very expensive one-night party venue.’
A $15 million dollar collection of the costliest and raciest cars – including the £2.2 million Bugati Chiron and a Rolls Royce – are still in the eight vehicle garage. For the moment at least.
He has competed in ProAm’s in the United States and beyond and is cutting distractions elsewhere
Perhaps his most expensive indulgence was a British-made Sunseeker super-yacht
‘Three or four’ more years of legacy-defining work in the ring before full attention turns to finding greens and fairways
Canelo does not shy from tough decisions. The four children upon whom he dotes all have different mothers. Mexican machismo, indeed. Except that all those involved are well taken care of. And they will all be at ringside for his 63rd professional fight, as usual.
That includes his youngest, five-year-old Maria. ‘Boxing can come as a a bit of a shock for the kids,’ he says. ‘Maria does get a little nervous for me. But it’s important they all see and understand that this is what their father does for a living. For the family.’
The viewing will become somewhat gentler if, as and when he takes to the fairways full time, ‘after three or four more years boxing so I can add more to my legacy before my place in the sport is judged by others.’
‘We’ll see,’ says as engaging a superstar as you could wish to meet. One who is polite, charming and courteous as can be with those who give him their respect in return. ‘It would be amazing if I could make the Tour. Fantastic if I ever got to play in a major. Almost everyone says it can’t be done because I started the game so late.’
Not the new Masters champion, Jon Rahm, with whom he has played and who says: ‘Canelo is great at one sport and can be great in a second sport. It’s just not fair.’
Canelo chuckles and says: ‘Jon is a friend. I love him for saying that. And I have to say I put so much into everything I do that I actually believe I can be great at anything.’
Way to go, macho-macho man.
Canelo Alvarez v John Ryder for the undisputed world super-middleweight title will be televised late Saturday night May 6 on DAZN