Canelo Alvarez is the iron Mexican and WBC champion standing in Amir Khan’s way… and he has been fighting all his life

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Everybody calls him Canelo, the iron Mexican who Amir Khan dares to rise up and challenge for the world middleweight championship here this Saturday night.

Anyone who follows the fight game knows that is not his real name.

Santos Saul Alvarez Barragan, to give him his full form of address, is the holder of the WBC, Ring magazine and lineal titles in boxing’s classic division.

Canelo Alvarez prepares to shadow box prior to a media workout at the House of Boxing Gym last month

Canelo Alvarez prepares to shadow box prior to a media workout at the House of Boxing Gym last month

The Mexican returns to the ring to face Amir Khan in Las Vegas on Saturday for the world middleweight title

The Mexican returns to the ring to face Amir Khan in Las Vegas on Saturday for the world middleweight title

Canelo, which is Spanish for cinnamon, is the soubriquet given him by his trainer, Eddy Reynoso, when he was a boy because it was kinder than the names he was being called in the dusty streets of his country.

Names like freckle-head and carrot top with which he was taunted so cruelly by the other kids that he had no option but to answer with his fists. From the age of five.

Alvarez is the youngest and only one of a family of six brothers and one sister who has red hair.

As he prepares to meet Khan in the new T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip he recalls: ‘I was taunted because I was different. I had to fight. In Mexico you have to defend yourself and your honour. Anyway, if you are a real fighter it is in the blood.’

Might that be Irish blood? That is the tantalising possibility. 

That one of his ancestors hails back more than 160 years to a battalion of fighting Irishmen who went to battle for Mexico in the War of Independence against America.

The 25-year-old Alvarez has had an impressive career so far having won 45 of his 48 fights

The 25-year-old Alvarez has had an impressive career so far having won 45 of his 48 fights

The Mexican smiles for the cameras as he arrives at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Tuesday

The Mexican smiles for the cameras as he arrives at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Tuesday

It is a theory to which Alvarez himself subscribes. The members of that unit were dubbed Los Hijos de San Patrico, which in turns translates as The Sons Of St Patrick , and Canelo says: ‘There might well have been an Irish great-great-grandfather of mine back then in the 1800s.’

To add weight to this hypothesis Barragan derives from the old Irish name Berrigan.

There can be no doubt that Canelo could handle himself on a rough-and-tumble late night in a Dublin hostelry.

His record of 48 fights, 46 wins, one defeat and one draw is astonishing for a 25-year-old. And there is even more. 

That does not include the ten bouts which Reynoso knows were omitted from his early statistics, all of which he won, nor all those street fights.

Even in a nation whose manhood is rooted in the macho culture, that is extraordinary.

Canelo’s potential for boxing greatness was spotted early. When he was five he was taken to watch his eldest brother Rigo make his professional debut.

Alvarez delivers a punch into the jaw of James Kirkland during their super welterweight bout in May 2015

Alvarez delivers a punch into the jaw of James Kirkland during their super welterweight bout in May 2015

Alvarez lands a left hook into the side of Erislandy Lara's face during a junior middleweight bout in July 2014

Alvarez lands a left hook into the side of Erislandy Lara’s face during a junior middleweight bout in July 2014

He says: ‘I fell in love with the sport but my brother left home for a while and it was not until I was eight that he came back and gave me my first pair of gloves.’

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Rigo waxes lyrical about the first time he saw his kid brother in a ring, using Canelo’s hair colouring to paint the picture: ‘When you saw cows in a field and they are all black except for one which is red, you look at the red one. Then, when you find it gives the sweetest milk, hallelujah.’

That analogy hints at their background. For all his fighting spirit, Canelo does not come from the typical boxer’s impoverished upbringing. 

Alvarez attempts to duck out of the way of a right-hand punch from Floyd Mayweather during their 2013 bout

Alvarez attempts to duck out of the way of a right-hand punch from Floyd Mayweather during their 2013 bout

His parents moved from the city of Guadalajara to the tiny town of Juanacatlan, where they worked the farm on which he took to horseback riding.

When the family returned to the city, they opened ice cream shops.

Canelo, meanwhile, began his amateur career at 13 and won the national championship at 15, the year in which he not only turned pro but his girl friend at the time gave birth to his only child, thus far.

That was also the age – anything but tender in his case – at which he began sparring with some of Mexico’s full grown world champion men.

When asked if Khan, four years his elder, may have the edge on him in not only speed but experience he smiles disarmingly and says: ‘Look at my life and I think you will see I have enough experience. 

‘As for everyone calling this a fight between his speed and my power, opponents don’t realise how fast I am until they get in the ring with me.’

Alvarez insists he has been ready for his showdown with Khan for a month ahead of their title fight on Saturday

Alvarez insists he has been ready for his showdown with Khan for a month ahead of their title fight on Saturday

There is also a history of smaller men with speed beating bigger men with strength in major fights. Again the smile as this most courteous of young gentlemen says: ‘That does not concern me. I have a noble body. 

‘It adapts to all I ask of it. We have made adjustments for this fight and this body has responded . I have been ready for Khan for a month.’

Not that he holds his British challenger in anything less than absolute respect. He says: ‘Khan does have speed and good elusive movement. 

He is never in a boring fight, partly because of his valour. He has been knocked down occasionally but when that happens he always has the courage to get up and come fighting back.

‘I expect a tremendous fight with him, although I also expect to win.’

Canelo’s only defeat was inflicted by Floyd Mayweather almost two years ago.

Canelo insists he has improved as a fighter since suffering his only defeat at the hands of Mayweather

Canelo insists he has improved as a fighter since suffering his only defeat at the hands of Mayweather

Alvarez insists he does not feel any pressure at being a national icon in his homeland of Mexico

Alvarez insists he does not feel any pressure at being a national icon in his homeland of Mexico

Now he says: ‘I have improved since then, in many ways. More experience, more confidence, more maturity, technically better.’

At the moment the mantle Mayweather has laid down as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world flutters between Alvarez and his middleweight rival Gennady Golovkin.

With typical humility, in contrast to Mayweather who describes himself as The Best Ever, Alvarez says: ‘That is not for me to say. That is up to the public and the commentators to decide.’

What he does recognise is his place as the successor to the finest of the countless warriors in the history of Mexican boxing. 

He says: ‘I don’t feel any pressure about being the national icon. What I do accept is the great responsibility passed down by the history of boxing in my country.’

The United States of Mexico could not ask for a more dignified sporting ambassador than Canelo Alvarez. Then again, in the person of Amir Khan, nor could the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

May the very best man win.

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