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The unique ability that has Canelo Alvarez on top of the boxing world

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5-min read
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The reason that Saul "Canelo" Alvarez has been so successful was plainly obvious during a lengthy interview he did recently with Graham Bensinger. It came during a part of the conversation that had nothing to do with boxing.

Alvarez told Bensinger that his brother was kidnapped days before he was to fight Rocky Fielding in New York in the first bout of a lucrative deal with DAZN that, at the time, was being hailed as the richest in sports.

It goes without saying that it was a traumatic moment in Alvarez’s life. It was even worse, though, because Alvarez was basically on his own. In the U.S., the police and the FBI would be involved, and while still stressful, there is a feeling that at least you have the best people involved working on your behalf to recover your loved one.

Alvarez, though, didn’t have that. His brother was kidnapped in Mexico, and he said he suspected that police were involved. Asked if he contacted the police, Alvarez’s response was stunning.

“No, no, never,” he said. “Because, it’s even hard in Mexico because maybe they were involved in that situation.”

Alvarez, who on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, DAZN) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, meets unbeaten Billy Joe Saunders in a super middleweight title unification bout, was as any of us would be, gravely concerned for his brother’s safety.

[Watch Canelo-Saunders on DAZN: Sign up now to stream the fight live]

Alvarez, though, didn’t pull out of the Fielding bout, which would have been a killer for DAZN. DAZN had debuted in the U.S. a few months earlier but Alvarez was its best hope to add subscribers (and, as it has turned out, pretty much its only draw in that regard).

Mexico's Canelo Alvarez, left, fights England's Rocky Fielding during the second round of a WBA super middleweight championship boxing match Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in New York. Alvarez stopped Fielding in the third round.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Mexico's Canelo Alvarez fights England's Rocky Fielding during the second round of a WBA super middleweight championship boxing match Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in New York. Alvarez stopped Fielding in the third round.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Nobody could have blamed him if he withdrew, but not only did he go ahead with the fight, he negotiated with the kidnappers for his brother’s release while maintaining all of his media obligations. And then he went out and destroyed Fielding in less than three rounds.

It showed a remarkable ability to compartmentalize and to focus. You hear fighters talk about focus all of the time, but we don’t pay much attention to it. We know they’re not sitting in their rooms the days before the fight doing nothing but meditating about the fight.

But they need to hit a state in which they block out distractions and come into the ring at their best. That’s hard enough to do even in the best of circumstances. When your brother has been kidnapped and his life is at risk, it’s all but impossible.

Except, Alvarez proved it’s very possible. He doesn’t allow what is happening in one aspect of his life to spill over into another. That’s not a simple task. If you have a fight with your spouse, or one of your children is ill, or you have a serious court case coming up, it’s going to distract you to a large degree from your work.

When your work involves a highly trained and skilled professional fighter punching you in the head, that’s dangerous business.

“For three days I negotiated with those assholes so that they would let him go. Three days,” Alvarez told Bensinger. “And in addition, I had to fight that Saturday and do 1,000 interviews and everything and no one ever knew anything about this. They see me up there and they say, ‘Wow, it’s very easy.’ But nothing is easy in this life. Everything is difficult.”

Alvarez has that rare ability to zero in on what’s important at any given moment and push everything else aside. It’s why he’s improved so much as a boxer under the tutelage of Eddy Reynoso.

Alvarez made a lot of money at a very young age, and it’s a tough task for even a seasoned money manager to take care of it. But Alvarez did that when it was time and when it was time to train, he gave his undivided attention to Reynoso. Whether it is making technical adjustments in his technique or drilling the game plan, Alvarez is unique in his ability to hyper-focus on the words he receives from his coach.

When you look at Floyd Mayweather, it’s easy to see the astounding quickness and deft feet he has. With Mike Tyson, it’s hard not to notice his quick-twitch muscles and how they lead to his power.

But there is no obvious physical trait that makes Alvarez great. The whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s also what makes him so hard to beat. There is no one obvious area to concentrate on and neutralize.

His ability to compartmentalize and focus means you get the best out of him each time. To beat him, an opponent has to exceed what he has, not expect Alvarez to make mistakes.

Lord only knows what Alvarez may be keeping from us as he prepares for the unification fight on Saturday. But if there is one thing we should have learned by now, it’s this: There are no guarantees in life, but the closest thing there is to one is Canelo Alvarez being mentally and physically prepared to do his best come fight night, no matter what else may be going on in his life.

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