Canelo Alvarez seizes 'historic moment' in return to Mexico

Canelo Alvarez ended his return to Mexico with an incredible victory to defend his undisputed championship. Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- A full mariachi band, with 25-plus members on each side of the massive entrance ramp, serenaded Canelo Alvarez to the ring. It was a hero's welcome for the boxing star's first fight in his native country in nearly 12 years.

Fireworks lit up the sky at the open-air Akron Stadium, home of Chivas soccer club, with 51,000-plus screaming fans chanting his name: Ca-ne-lo! Ca-ne-lo! Ca-ne-lo!

At long last, Alvarez returned home Saturday to the place where it all started 20 years ago; the city where Saul Alvarez, a red-haired, freckled boy grew into simply Canelo, a mononym synonymous with boxing the world over.

From the humble Julian Magdaleno Gym to the No. 5 spot on Forbes' highest-paid athletes list at $110 million in earnings last year, Alvarez has accomplished it all during his legendary career. But he delivered those triumphs in the U.S., or mainly one place: Las Vegas.

What Alvarez really wanted, with his legacy secured, was to deliver a fight in his prime as the best fighter in the world rather than a farewell fight. The 32-year-old vowed to push for a knockout in his undisputed super middleweight championship defense against John Ryder but settled for a unanimous-decision victory.

"It's a historic moment for me," said Alvarez, ESPN's No. 5 pound-for-pound boxer. "I'm glad to be here with my people who supported me from the beginning. I'm very thankful to be here and very thankful with my people.

"[Ryder is] a very strong fighter, man. And when he's going for everything, they turn it on. [The opponents] are more difficult than usual, but I knew that. I'm in this position a long time ... and I respect my opponents because I know they're coming for everything."

Alvarez was able to break Ryder's nose in Round 2 and dropped him hard in Round 5. He wobbled him several times in the ninth but wasn't able to get the stoppage.

Ryder, with a towel pressed into his bloody, bandaged nose, offered that despite the beatdown, Alvarez is past his best days.

"He couldn't get me out of there," Ryder said. "His plan was to stop me. He didn't."

The victory -- Alvarez's eighth against a British fighter without a defeat -- was his first since left wrist surgery in October. And it was also his first following an underwhelming and disappointing campaign. In May 2022, he suffered the second defeat of his pro career when Russia's Dmitry Bivol routed him. In September, Alvarez closed out his trilogy with rival Gennadiy Golovkin with a decision victory where he didn't look his best.

Throughout the buildup of this fight, Alvarez maintained his goal: a Sept. 16 rematch with Bivol at 175 pounds, instead of 168 where he remains the undisputed champion. But after the way Bivol outboxed Alvarez the first time, and the way Alvarez has looked in his past two fights, revenge appears to be his toughest challenge yet.

"I think I'm better than him -- that's it," Alvarez told ESPN on Thursday. "If you see the first five rounds, six rounds, I dominate the fight. But then I get tired, of course, because I don't train at my 100 percent."

Now, Alvarez said he knows his left hand is good to go after 12 rounds with Ryder. But after 63 pro fights, a pro career that started at the tender age of 15 in Guadalajara, there will be those who question Alvarez's form in this unforgiving sport.

Not just Ryder, but perhaps even Bivol, who told ESPN's he's only interested in a rematch at 168 pounds for Alvarez's four titles after he already soundly defeated him at 175.

"Why should I even do the rematch at 175?" said Bivol, who's never weighed less than 173 pounds for a fight. "What is the challenge or what is the motivation for me if I've already beaten him at that weight class? ... He might have a better chance at 168 because he said that that's his weight class."

But all these weight matters and debate over Alvarez's prime will wait for another day. Alvarez rightfully pointed out that every opponent is coming with their best when standing across the ring from boxing's top star. David Benavidez, a volume-punching Mexican-American, is waiting in the wings and said he wants to take Alvarez's prized weekends -- Cinco De Mayo and Mexican-Independence Day -- away from him.

Alvarez said it's easy to say that and another thing to do it. He remains the face of boxing until further notice and no matter what happens, owns an argument as Mexico's best boxer of all time, even greater than Julio Cesar Chavez. Alvarez's longtime trainer, Eddy Reynoso, believes Alvarez has already surpassed Chavez, but there are plenty of detractors.

What's clear: Alvarez is beloved by his people who lined the streets outside the Degollado Theater on Friday for a ceremonial weigh-in, just hoping to sneak a look at their idol in the flesh after he left the venue.

Young and old, they overcrowded block after block, pushing and shoving and chanting his name. In this boxing-crazed country, one man -- one name -- stands above the rest, even atop the Chivas soccer club that only allows Mexicans on its team: Canelo.