Avni Yildirim has the chance of a lifetime on Feb. 27, when the 29-year-old native of Istanbul gets a crack at Canelo Alvarez’s WBC and WBA super middleweight titles, and the chance to derail a lot of big plans.
Alvarez (54-1-2, 36 KO) is expected to win without any trouble, as Yildirim (21-2, 12 KO) has never been considered a legitimate top contender at 168 pounds, and is frankly only here because the WBC installed him as mandatory challenger.
He also hasn’t fought in two years, following a debatable technical decision loss to Anthony Dirrell in Feb. 2019.
But the bottom line is, he’s here now. He’s got his shot. And trainer Joel Diaz — who began working with Yildirim in Oct. 2019 — says the fighter won’t be the same one we saw against Dirrell or getting blown out against Chris Eubank Jr in 2017.
“He’s a completely different fighter. I said to him, ‘You are a physically stronger guy than Dirrell but you had no defense,’” Diaz said. “That’s why they called him ‘Mr. Robot,’ but there’s no robot in him now, I can tell you.
“I made a complete transformation because I dedicated time to him. The COVID situation helped him in a way because there was nothing to do, there were no fights, so just to keep him busy we would go to the gym and work on technique and making him a better fighter.”
This won’t change the fact that Canelo will be an enormous favorite. There are already plans to pit the Mexican superstar in a three-belt unification with WBO titlist Billy Joe Saunders on May 8, and the idea after that, should Canelo beat Saunders, would be to chase the IBF belt, currently held by Caleb Plant.
If Yildirim is going to have any chance whatsoever, even a tiny one, at the upset on Feb. 27, he better hope Diaz isn’t just supplying a good quote here.