LAS VEGAS — Canelo Alvarez often uses the first three or six minutes of a fight to study his opponent and find the best method of attack, the same way an elite quarterback would look at how a defense is lined up and audible to the play that works best.
What he’s looking for is the simplest way to lands those withering body shots he throws. What they do is bruise the muscles, sometimes break the bones and slowly but methodically suck the life out of most every opponent.
Eventually, when it gets too much to take, Alvarez will switch his approach and go upstairs, relying on the tried-and-true boxing theory that if one attacks the body the head will eventually fall.
It’s what he will try to do on Saturday against Caleb Plant when they fight on a pay-per-view card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena for the undisputed super middleweight championship.
You know it. I know it. Alvarez knows it. And Plant knows it.
For Plant to have a chance, he’ll have to disrupt that simple but so effective formula. Maybe he sticks a jab in Alvarez’s face, turns him and uses his excellent footwork to slip out of danger after connecting. Maybe he shocks Alvarez and forces him to fight going backward, an unfamiliar position for Alvarez.
He and trainers Justin Gamber and Richie Plant, the fighter’s father, have a massive challenge. Alvarez is widely regarded as the best fighter in the world and his trainer, Eddy Reynoso, is similarly regarded as a trainer.
BetMGM has Alvarez a -1000 favorite, meaning that risking $100 on Alvarez to win would return a $10 profit. Ring Magazine surveyed 20 journalists, fighters, trainers, managers and promoters. All 20 of them picked Alvarez, 16 of them picking him to win by KO. Three picked him by decision and one didn’t pick a manner of victory.
Plant, though, is unusual among Alvarez opponents. He doesn’t seem bothered or intimidated and he’s not making this more than it is.
“We don’t feel it’s us against the world,” Plant told Yahoo Sports. “We feel it’s us against Canelo Alvarez and it’s the best out of 12 rounds. That’s what it is. There’s no need to make it bigger or any more complicated than that because anything else is just not factual. Saturday night when we get in the ring, we know what the game plan is and we know what we gotta do. Now, it’s just up to me to go and do it.”
Alvarez is usually a guy who is talking about the game plan and the respect for his opponent. But this fight has, unusually, turned personal for Alvarez.
Maybe it’s because of the attacks Plant made at the kick-off news conference in Los Angeles, when Plant talked about how many of Reynoso’s fighters had issues with performance-enhancing drugs. Alvarez wasn’t pleased when in a face-off, Plant called him a motherf***er. English is Alvarez’s second language and he thought Plant was attacking his mother.
Whatever it was, Alvarez got his dander up, and it increased his motivation. Now, he not only aspires to become just the sixth male and the first Latino to become an undisputed champion in the four-belt era, but he also wants to hurt Plant, as well.
Early in Muhammad Ali’s career, when fighters would call him by his birth name, Cassius Clay, instead of his new name, he’d become enraged. When he fought Ernie Terrell, he would back off when he hurt Terrell, not wanting the fight to end early.
When he backed off, he’d shout, "What’s my name?" angrily at Terrell.
When asked if he’d do something similar to an opponent he dislikes, such as Plant, Alvarez didn’t hesitate in saying yes.
And while most boxers do their best to avoid fighting angry, Alvarez has no problem admitting he does.
“It’s good to fight angry,” Alvarez told Yahoo Sports. “You just need to be smart to do it.”
"Will you try to hurt him, though?" he was asked.
“For sure,” he replied. “You will see.”
They don’t need much more motivation other than what is at stake. Alvarez has always tried to move things up from what he did in the past, and gaining the undisputed title would be an example of that.
For Plant, though, it would be a validation of sorts. Virtually no one is giving him a chance. The bettors are rushing to the window to back Alvarez.
But Plant won’t be the biggest underdog to win if he manages to shock the world on Saturday.
Mike Tyson lost twice as a much larger favorite. He was 42-1 over Buster Douglas and 25-1 over Evander Holyfield and lost both times. So while it’s unlikely, it can happen.
And Plant said the long odds are not because he’s not talented enough but because he hasn’t been featured enough and he’s being widely overlooked.
“There have been a lot of guys in my position,” Plant said. “A guy who doesn’t have a big name on his record and they step up and face the guy. They said the same thing about them that they’re saying about me now. But then they step up and beat them and they become that guy, you know? For all fighters, you haven’t faced anyone until you’ve faced somebody.”
He’s facing a somebody on Saturday. If he wins, his life is going to change dramatically overnight.
For Alvarez, a win will be business as usual. For Plant, it will be vindication and a life-altering moment.
The stakes are massive. The words are done.
The only thing left is to see who is right.