Ringside Seat: Can Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders turn boxing's attention back toward 'real' fights?

Canelo Alvarez, left, and Billy Joe Saunders made weight for their super middleweight unification fight. Al Bello/Getty Images

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The prefight antics between Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders have given their upcoming title clash a bit of normalcy for a boxing fight week, compared to recent events.

Saunders threatened a boycott of Saturday's super middleweight unification bout at AT&T Stadium over the size of the ring they will fight in. His camp chided Alvarez early and often, whether it was in the hotel lobby or at Tuesday's faceoff, when Saunders stepped toward Alvarez while wearing a blue Versace robe with gold trim.

But those shenanigans pale in comparison to the circus surrounding the current era of YouTuber boxing. Recently, the sport's most visible cards have been headlined by the likes of Jake and Logan Paul, the brothers who have leveraged their social media followings into pay-per-view boxing spectacles.

That's what makes this weekend's Alvarez-Saunders fight so important. Those mocking the sport for letting its ineptitude create a path for social influencers to run amok and overshadow the rest of the boxing world have valid points.

Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) is arguably boxing's greatest draw. For years, the Mexico-born fighter has been one of the sport's top superstars. On Saturday, he is fighting for the third time in the past six months. And yet, even he's being overshadowed. The sport's headlines have been dominated by the Paul brothers; Jake Paul is coming off a knockout win over retired MMA fighter Ben Askren, an event that included the likes of Justin Bieber and SNL cast member Pete Davidson.

It's a trend that Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn helped accelerate when he promoted a bout between Logan Paul and fellow YouTuber KSI in 2019.

"When I was doing the press conferences, part of me was dying a little bit inside," Hearn said.

But the numbers, he said, showed why it was worth the headache. And it was an opportunity to introduce younger fans to the sport.

Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs), who holds the WBO belt, was on the undercard of Logan Paul-KSI. So was Devin Haney, the current WBC lightweight champion.

Fights between YouTubers and non-boxers have sparked similar events between retired boxers, or hybrids of the two ideas, including an upcoming exhibition pitting Logan Paul against the retired Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Canelo, whose only professional loss came to Mayweather in 2013, couldn't escape his old rival's shadow this weekend. Paul and Mayweather held their first news conference on Thursday, the same day Alvarez and Saunders met with reporters for the final time this week.

Alvarez told ESPN he wasn't upset with Mayweather for participating in that type of event.

"He's already made his story," Alvarez told ESPN through an interpreter. "He's already made history. Now he just wants to make money, and it's his right to do so."

Now comes the moment when boxing has to cash in on any new eyes on the sport who are interested in seeing what else boxing has to offer. With Alvarez, ESPN's No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter, fighting in front of a potential crowd of 70,000 people, it's a chance to show what boxing is supposed to be at the highest level.

The Mexican champion's fight against Saunders is a chance to cleanse the palates for fans and those in the boxing industry and prove there's profitability beyond celebrity exhibitions.

"I know we've got the reality stars and all this kind of stuff," Hearn said. "We have to show people that boxing is a powerful sport. And you only do that with fights like this and events like this and a crowd like this and an atmosphere like this."

Hearn believes Alvarez, who officially doesn't have a promoter, is the only one who can create the kind of noise required to disrupt the current fad.

"Without these kinds of events, boxing is f---ed," Hearn told ESPN. "So that's why this is so important. And to do it as a record-breaking event, to do it as that kind of statement is what's so great, where we can say, 'Boxing did that.'"

Teddy's take

Saunders is tailor-made for Alvarez. Saunders isn't great at any particular area. He needs a strong ability in at least one area to test Alvarez, and I don't think Saunders has a "great" ability. He's solid in many areas -- he's well-rounded, and technically, he is pretty responsible, pretty good. But he doesn't stand out in one area like quickness or speed, power. You need to check one of those boxes if you want to beat Alvarez at this point.

Saunders is not that fast with his feet, he's not utterly elusive. He's there. And being that one of Alvarez's fortes is going to the body, that will serve him well against Saunders. Alvarez is going to navigate Saunders into a position where he can go to his body and have success there, maybe even hurt him to the body. -- Teddy Atlas

Pressure's on for Saunders

After fight week controversies surrounding everything from the three judges who will score the fight to the size of the ring, Saunders faces a tall task on Saturday against Alvarez. With the odds seemingly stacked against him, read Nick Parkinson's story about how Saunders is feeling in the lead-up to the bout.

By the numbers

47.3: Percentage of power punches landed by Canelo, according to CompuBox -- second most among all active fighters (just .2% behind No. 1 Miguel Berchelt). Canelo also lands 37.4% of his total punches (also second to Berchelt).

4.6: Power punches landed per round by Saunders, third lowest among all tracked active fighters by CompuBox.

54.2: Percentage of Saunders' landed punches that are jabs, highest among all active fighters, according to CompuBox.

6-0: Canelo's record against British boxers. Four of those fights ended in knockouts, with only the first (against Matthew Hatton in March 2011) and most recent (against Callum Smith in December 2020) going to the scorecards

Boxing's Cinco de Mayo weekend tradition

While there has been pushback against the way Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated as a holiday in recent years, the weekend has become a cornerstone of the boxing calendar -- especially in the past 20 years, dating back to Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Terrence Ali in 1993. Two of the top three grossing boxing pay-per-views in history -- Floyd Mayweather vs. Oscar De La Hoya (2007, 2.4 million buys, third all-time) and Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao (2015, 4.6 million buys, first all-time) took place during this weekend.

Canelo has fought on this weekend six times, winning all six bouts.

Full card

AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

  • Title fight: Canelo Alvarez vs. Billy Joe Saunders, 12 rounds, for Alvarez's WBC and WBA super middleweight titles and Saunders' WBO super middleweight title

  • Title fight: Elwin Soto (18-1, 12 KOs) vs. Katsunari Takayama (32-8, 12 KOs), 12 rounds, for Soto's WBO junior flyweight title

  • Kieron Conway (16-1-1, 3 KOs) vs. Souleymane Cissokho (12-0, 8 KOs), 10 rounds, junior middleweights

  • Frank Sanchez (17-0, 13 KOs) vs. Nagy Aguilera (21-10, 14 KOs), 10 rounds, heavyweights

  • Christian Alan Gomez Duran (19-2-1, 17 KOs) vs. Xavier Wilson (11-2-1, 1 KO), 8 rounds, welterweights

  • Keyshawn Davis (2-0, 2 KOs) vs. Jose Antonio Meza (6-4, 1 KO), 6 rounds, lightweights

  • Marc Castro (2-0, 2 KOs) vs. Irving Macias Castillo (9-1, 6 KOs), 6 rounds, featherweights

  • Kelvin Davis (1-0, 1 KO) vs. Jan Marsalek (8-2, 7 KOs), 4 rounds, junior welterweights