SATURDAY’S Canelo Alvarez vs Caleb Plant super-middleweight championship fight is that rarest of things: a fight in which the two men involved have already exchanged blows despite this being their first scheduled and regulated bout.

It has worked out this way because in September, when goading each other at a press conference, Plant, after being pushed, attempted a left hook, only for Álvarez to counter with a combination, a flashpoint captured on various phones by the trigger-happy and click-hungry. The cost of this incident was a cut to Plant’s cheek, which led to concerns the real fight was in jeopardy, while the reward was some fresh spice added to a fight previously interesting but never much more than that.

What we have now, as a result of Álvarez and Plant starting early, is an uncompetitive fight, on paper, which at least boasts some backstory and needle and gives the impression of bragging rights being up for grabs. It may not be enough to have people believe Plant will do what only Floyd Mayweather has done to date – that is, beat Canelo Álvarez – but it does at least separate Plant from most who line up to face the Mexican and seem defeated before even touching gloves.

For Plant, if nothing else, appears up for the fight. At 29, and with 21 straight victories (12 via stoppage), he is either in his fighting prime or approaching it and has been calling for this opportunity for some time now. Whether that long-held interest stems from a genuine belief he can win or a greater desire to bag a life-changing payday is for you to decide, but, as with all Canelo Álvarez opponents, we must grant him the benefit of the doubt.

So far, too, the signs are good. He has said all the right things, he has put Álvarez on the back foot, at least verbally, and he has put his own neck on the proverbial chopping block. At this stage, with Álvarez so dominant and his opponents so passive and underwhelming, that’s the best we can hope for.

“There have been some guys who lost before the bell even rang against Canelo and I think that’s why he’s so irritated with me,” said Plant. “Some guys just come in and are there to hand over their belt, get their cheque and leave. Anyone who knows me, they know I’m only here for those belts.

Canelo Alvarez vs Caleb Plant
Amanda Westcott/Showtime

“I’m grateful and appreciative of this opportunity, but I’m not here focusing on building my name. I’m here for those belts and for that win. That’s all I’m focused on.”

Of all the things Plant has said to Álvarez in the build-up to Saturday’s fight, nothing stung, nor enlightened, quite like his comments regarding Álvarez’s failed performance-enhancing drug test in 2018. As a barb, it was, quite frankly, perfect. It was perfectly timed and, moreover, Plant, as Álvarez’s next opponent, was perfectly entitled to raise the point.

It was a point he chose to make at a press conference and it was delivered at a time when the entire world appeared to be at Álvarez’s mercy, content to forgive and forget, happy to view him as some Marvel superhero ruling a world of mere mortals. Just when nothing seemed real anymore, Plant cut through the grandstanding and hyperbole to stain the Mexican’s silk pyjamas on a public stage. Better yet, in bringing up that failed test rather than denying it to himself, Plant revealed a certain inner strength and an acceptance of his own reality. He, after all, knows of Álvarez what everyone else knows of Álvarez, including his former opponents. Yet it is Plant, and not them, who has confronted Álvarez about this matter, constantly hammering it home, and decided not to shirk from it or pretend he is facing a man this weekend with a clean and unblemished history.

Plant, in bringing up his earlier transgressions, is saying to Álvarez, ‘I know what you have done in the past and it won’t matter if you do it again.’ He is approaching the fight expecting the worst and is willing to take it nonetheless, sweetened, no doubt, by the immense payday he stands to receive as a result.

Which, it could be argued, is the main issue and grey area concerning any superstar who fails a PED test at the peak of their powers. For them, these men so important to both the boxing business and the livelihoods of other fighters, there will always be a significantly reduced chance of them being blacked out or banished from the sport when so many people depend on them sticking around and fighting. Even if chastised, they are still wanted and needed.

Not only that, in the case of Álvarez, we are looking at a man whose superhuman feats also happen to be wildly entertaining and compelling to watch. Already a legend to some, he is motoring through the weight classes, he is staying unusually busy, and he is essentially beating up whoever he is told wants a piece of him. However he’s managing it, his form and his performances cannot be called into question. He is, in modern-day boxing terms, as good as it gets right now.

“I hope he has a good chin because he’s going to need it on fight night,” warned Álvarez, 56-1-2 (38). “I’m always ready. I just can’t wait. I feel strong and fast. With all of the talk, it’s become personal. He crossed a line. But I have to remain focused, because this is a very important fight for me.
“Caleb has good boxing skills. He has good movement and a good jab. But it’s nothing new for me. I know what I need to do. I need to be patient in the early rounds and then start doing my job.”

Chances are, given all Álvarez has seen and experienced in a boxing ring since turning pro at 15, someone like Caleb Plant will not bring anything to Saturday’s fight he hasn’t previously encountered. By now, Álvarez has an answer for every style he comes across and, as proven against Billy Joe Saunders in May, he has an answer for even the styles he is told will give him problems.

That night, against Saunders, Álvarez was as imperious and impressive as ever. He made a slick fighter appear terribly easy to hit and he made a self-proclaimed fighting man quit due to damage accrued after eight rounds. In the process, he made a mockery of every Saunders boast, every Saunders claim, and every prediction implying the fight would be in any way competitive. It was in fact scary how simple Álvarez made the job look, just as it was scary seeing the way he dealt with Callum Smith, another man he was told would present a challenge, last December. On top quickly, he sucked the anticipation and hype from both those fights within a matter of minutes.

The same could happen on Saturday, of course. With Plant’s accusations ringing in his ears, he could go for the American early, keen to make a statement, and he could render Plant’s role in the fight as redundant as that of Saunders and Smith before him. It could, quickly, become the Canelo Álvarez show all over again, the opponent irrelevant, silenced, just another body.

Plant, naturally, doubts the likelihood of this. “He says the first few rounds will be tough, but I’m saying all the rounds are going to be tough for him,” he said. “He’s got a tall order in front of him. Me and my team are focused and ready. This is the best shape I’ve ever been in. You have to train like a world champion, even before you are one, and that’s what I’ve always done. I’m peaking at just the right time. The moment isn’t going to be too big for me. The closer we get, the smaller the moment feels.”

There is no confidence quite like that of a fighter weeks, or even days, from fight night. It gets them through training, it gets them through the nights, and it gets them to the fight, this wholly unnatural thing they have to somehow convince themselves is normal and an integral part of their life. Their punishment for this inflated confidence is then the disappearing act it performs on fight night, when what they are about to do suddenly comes into focus and feels never more real or terrifying.

Canelo Alvarez
Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions

With Álvarez, these feelings are likely exacerbated tenfold. With Álvarez, there is a temptation for all his opponents, with the images seared into their brain, to think of the victims who walked before them and remember how their words and their past form counted for very little when the first bell rang.

“Everyone knows what I’m going to do in the ring,” said Álvarez. “When something is personal with me, it’s different. I have something special in my mind and I’m going to make it a great night for us.

“Even harder than getting to the top is staying there. That’s why I try to get better each and every day. That’s what I’ve been trying to do from my first fight up until now.”

One interesting aspect to consider going into this fight is how Álvarez’s willingness to meet undefeated fighters on their way up could, depending on what happens in years to come, ultimately backfire on him. If, for instance, history isn’t kind to the likes of Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders, and Caleb Plant, there is every possibility each of these fights, considered good ones at the time, will be looked upon as fights against men unproven and untested at the highest level.

Because the truth is, ‘world champions’ or not, Smith’s best win came against a shop-worn George Groves, Saunders’ best wins were against Andy Lee and Chris Eubank Jnr at middleweight, and Plant’s best win is a toss-up between José Uzcátegui and Caleb Truax. Which is to say, the greatest risk for Canelo, in a sense, is choosing to take on undefeated fighters who are also questionable ‘champions’ and entirely unproven at an elite level. The risk, for him, lies not so much in the danger of the undefeated record but how, in the future, the unproven label attached to some of these opponents will reflect poorly on the victory he secured against them.

If a concern, that can wait. For now, we must give Álvarez credit for not only battling men who don’t know how it feels to lose but also doing so in a manner that feels efficient, refreshing, and in many ways uncommon. Rather than waiting around, and milking the fact he is picking off the unbeaten fighters around him, the 31-year-old happens to be treating belt-holders like tune-up opponents and rattling through them at a rate of knots. This, in an era in which the emphasis seems to be on waiting and delaying, is a heartening thing to witness, particularly given Álvarez’s status as the sport’s premier attraction.

Undeniable at this point, Álvarez is the superstar the sport needs only, as his next opponent delights in reminding us, one, sadly, with an asterisk against his name. It’s a small one, granted, one easy to overlook and, if invested in his rise, explain away, but it’s an asterisk all the same, one as relevant – or maybe more so – than some of the ‘world titles’ he has paraded over the years.

Irrespective of that, Caleb Plant’s job now, as his opponent rather than moral compass, is to try to ignore this asterisk and focus instead on applying a second ‘L’ to the Canelo Álvarez record. It is that, after all, which counts for everything. It is that the fans will remember. It is that, ultimately, all anyone cares about.