Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez faces a tall order when he fights for the first time in 13 months on Saturday, taking on the undefeated Callum Smith in a pre-Christmas treat for boxing fans.
No longer with Golden Boy Promotions, Canelo is back campaigning at super-middleweight in what is an intriguing bout between two world champions at the limit.
The Mexican superstar was last seen in the ring against Sergey Kovalev at light-heavyweight, stopping his Russian opponent with a stunning knockout in the 11th round in November 2019.
Now Alvarez drops back down to face a fighter regarded by The Ring magazine as the best at 168 pounds. So, has he bitten off more than he can possibly chew this time around?
The head-to-head pictures taken ahead of the bout show the size of the problem: Smith towers over his opponent, giving him a huge advantage for the main event at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Canelo’s ??????? Test Yet. pic.twitter.com/XVwugsqz4j— DAZN Boxing (@DAZNBoxing) December 17, 2020
Canelo has fought bigger guys before, of course. In his previous outing at super-middleweight, back in December 2018, he demolished another British boxer, Rocky Fielding, inside three rounds.
Still, Smith produced the same outcome in less than three minutes when he fought Fielding in a domestic title fight earlier in his career, one of 27 straight victories for the youngest of four boxing brothers from Liverpool.
He is not the first in the family to take on this particular challenge, either. Liam Smith failed in his bid to beat Alvarez in September 2016, though 'Beefy' could not lean on the same physical advantages his 'little' sibling will have this weekend.
Callum now gets his turn, the WBA 'Super' champion finally securing a huge fight over two years on since being crowned the winner of the World Boxing Super Series thanks to a superb stoppage of George Groves. To dangle a further carrot, the WBC has confirmed its vacant belt will also be on the line.
If he can make his height and reach advantage count, the 30-year-old Smith could produce an upset. However, Canelo does not take on such tasks without having a plan for success, which is why the contest should make for such a fascinating watch at the end of what has been a frustrating year for the sport.
Canelo became a four-weight world champion by beating Kovalev, furthering his legacy in the process. What appeared set to be a close result on the judges' scorecards ended up as a spectacular stoppage.
That was the second of two outings in 2019, as earlier in the year he had record a unanimous - but still close - points triumph over Daniel Jacobs in a unification fight at middleweight.
As for Smith, he also fought twice last year. In the first, he emphatically stopped the experienced Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam in June.
However, his most recent appearance, against John Ryder, was much, much closer. The final scorecards (117-111, then 116-112 twice) were criticised, considering the challenger had done such a good job of getting in close to bother Smith, who was cut. Canelo and his team will no doubt have taken note while doing due diligence on their next foe.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Height: 5ft 8ins (173cm)
Weight: 168 pounds
Professional record: 53-1-2 (36 KOs)
Major career titles: WBA, WBC & WBO light middleweight, IBF, WBA & WBC (Franchise) middleweight, WBA super-middleweight, WBO light-heavyweight
Height: 6ft 3ins (191cm)
Weight: 168 pounds
Professional record: 27-0 (19 KOs)
Major career titles: WBA, WBC (Diamond) super-middleweight
Christian Alan Gomez Duran meets Angel Hernandez in an eight-round contest at welterweight, though the latter's 17-15-2 record suggests it is less of a fight and more a foregone conclusion.
Middleweight Austin Williams will aim to maintain his perfect record when he makes his seventh outing as a pro against Isiah Jones, while undefeated featherweight Raymond Ford takes on Juan Antonio Lopez over six rounds.
Meanwhile, someone will have to deal with a first loss after the clash between unbeaten duo Alexis Eduardo Molina and Robert Greenwood at featherweight, plus there is a pro debut for Marc Castro.
WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY...
Alvarez on the task he faces: "I'm fighting the number one at 168 pounds so these are challenges for me and I continue to bring challenges forward and I like the risk of it. I like challenges to continue making history."
Smith out to upset the odds: "I understand I'm the underdog, you look at social media, a lot of people don't really give me a chance in this fight but I've been here before, I was the underdog in my world title fight. If anything, it gives me a little bit more motivation, a little bit of a point to prove to prove my worth."
Joe Gallagher, Smith's trainer: "This has all the makings of a great rivalry, one that could become a trilogy between the two fighters."
Chris Eubank Jr, to Sky Sports: "Canelo is a better, more advanced version of Ryder. Smith will have a lot of trouble in this fight. I don't see him being effective."
Eddy Reynoso - Alvarez's trainer - on the presence of a reduced-capacity crowd at the venue: "Mexicans are very loud and enthusiastic, so it will sound like there are 100,000 fans in there."