The small, daring font on the backside of a full-page unfold within the Feb. 2 version of Fanatik, a daily sports newspaper in Turkey, posed a easy query: “So who’s Canelo Alvarez?”
The question was accompanied by a brief paragraph and an unremarkable, expressionless headshot of the Mexican fighter. It precisely described Canelo as a four-division champion and the world’s most successful active boxer and famous his 54-1-2 file.
On the high of the web page was a large outsized headline that includes a quote from Avni Yildirim: “I wish to shock the world.”
Protection like this for Saturday’s struggle at Laborious Rock Stadium in Miami is an outlier. That ratio is reversed in virtually all different media, if Yildirim is acknowledged in any respect. Many within the boxing world are already trying previous Yildirim to Alvarez’s summer season unification struggle in opposition to Billy Joe Saunders, which has already been announced.
Those self same individuals would additionally pretty justify this stance by saying that Yildirim, the obligatory challenger to Alvarez’s WBC tremendous middleweight title, has struggled in opposition to opponents whom Alvarez, ESPN’s No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter, would seemingly don’t have any downside dominating. Yildirim misplaced the 2 largest fights of his profession in opposition to Chris Eubank Jr. and Anthony Dirrell.
However in Turkey and amongst Turkish expatriates, Yildirim has ascended to superstar standing, with the possibility to grow to be a sports activities icon amongst his individuals by engaging in the seemingly inconceivable: upsetting Alvarez to grow to be a world champion.
Even securing this struggle is a landmark second for sports activities within the nation. Turkey’s athletic success has largely been present in wrestling and weightlifting on the Olympics. Maybe the biggest triumph on a worldwide stage up to now has been the Turkish nationwide males’s soccer crew’s third-place effort at the 2002 World Cup.
In fight sports activities, Gokhan Saki is a kickboxing legend, multiple-time champion and present UFC fighter, and Volkan Oezdemir challenged Daniel Cormier for the UFC gentle heavyweight title in a co-main occasion at UFC 220 in 2018. In boxing, there have been a handful of newbie Turkish world champions, totally on the ladies’s facet — most lately Busenaz Surmeneli in 2019 — and solely a few skilled Turkish boxers have beforehand challenged for a world title.
Probably the most notable boxer in Turkish historical past is the late Sinan Samil Sam, who as soon as fought former heavyweight world champion Oliver McCall and impressed a era of Turkish boxers, together with Yildirim — a lot in order that Yildirim has mentioned that he wish to carry the championship belts to Sam’s grave as a present of respect, if he wins.
Yildirim and his crew clearly perceive the importance of what he is getting into in opposition to Canelo, and why it is larger than him.
“It is a particular struggle. That is not like something we have ever seen,” Yildirim’s promoter, Ahmet Oner, mentioned at a information convention on Feb. 11. “This is able to be like [Turkish soccer club and perennial underdog] Sivasspor dealing with Barcelona in a Champions League closing.
“[Yildirim] says he’ll shock the world, however for him to even get up to now, he has already shocked the world. As a result of on the opposite facet, it is Canelo Alvarez. It is like dealing with Ronaldo or Messi in soccer. For a Turkish boxer to look on a stage like this, perceive that he’s proficient. In Turkish sports activities, we’ve got by no means been in a position to get to a place like this.”
Born in Sivas, close to the geographic heart of Turkey, the 29-year-old Yildirim developed a eager curiosity in boxing as an adolescent.
“I fell in love with boxing at 13 years previous,” Yildirim advised ESPN. “My hero was Sinan Samil Sam. My father and I watched one in every of his fights in 2004 and I immediately turned hooked. The following day I knew I needed to grow to be a boxer.”
Yildirim would rise by the ranks, finally turning into a nationwide champion and representing Turkey on the newbie stage. There, he found the sense of satisfaction that got here with competing on behalf of his nation.
He made his skilled debut in March 2014, and he is additionally fought in Germany and the USA in an effort to construct his identify on a worldwide scale.
He’ll get that chance on Saturday — an introduction to the plenty. However it will not be an introduction to Alvarez, who introduced Yildirim in as a sparring accomplice within the lead-up to his 2018 rematch with Gennady Golovkin.
Yildirim mentioned that the similarity in types between him and Golovkin was one of many most important causes he was requested to hitch Canelo’s coaching camp, and that each fighters had a very good rapport on the time. “However we’re opponents now,” he careworn.
Yildirim is nicknamed “Mr. Robotic,” a nod to his come-forward model within the ring. With the dynamic challenges offered by Alvarez, Yildirim has enlisted the companies of world-class coach Joel Diaz.
“When Avni got here to me for the primary time, I used to be shocked [by] his boxing capacity,” Diaz mentioned.
“He had no protection by any means — he was a simple fighter, taking punches to present punches. We devoted time to him to show him extra protection, extra offense, extra motion. … [But] I seen that he was prepared to study. He by no means complains within the health club. I put him by among the most excessive workout routines and he by no means says no, he by no means complains. He is mentally centered. He is aware of, in entrance of us we’ve got a troublesome job. With group preparation, we will grow to be victorious. I’m with him 100% from starting to finish.”
Yildirim is a large underdog going into the struggle. At Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill, Canelo was listed as a 40-1 favourite as of Monday night. By comparability, Mike Tyson was a 42-1 favourite to beat Buster Douglas earlier than Douglas pulled off essentially the most well-known upset in boxing historical past. Anthony Joshua was favored 24-1 to greatest Andy Ruiz Jr. of their first conflict, earlier than Ruiz shocked the boxing world.
Many will possible take a look at this matchup and proclaim that Yildirim would wish to search out lightning in a bottle with the intention to even stand an opportunity in opposition to Canelo.
A proud Turkish fan would possible reply, “It is a good factor, then, that Yildirim interprets to ‘lightning’ in English.”
“No one is giving an opportunity to a Turkish boxer, however we’ll stick it of their faces,” Yildirim mentioned. “All collectively, we’ll reside this pleasure and this triumph. We put a number of laborious work into making ready for this struggle, a number of wrestle, and hopefully the following time we meet, I will be carrying gold.”