Rocky Fielding says he will relish the chance to upset the odds and silence doubters when he takes on Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez at a venue he could once only dream of competing in.
The Briton, 31, faces Alvarez at New York’s Madison Square Garden in the early hours of Sunday and BBC Sport’s pundits believe only a lack of focus from the formidable Mexican can offer Fielding hope.
Fielding will put his minor version of the WBA world super-middleweight title on the line against the highest-paid fighter in boxing in a contest which shocked the sport – and the Liverpudlian – when it was announced.
“He doesn’t make many mistakes but it’s boxing. He could make one and I could get to him,” said Fielding.
“I was here three years ago, sitting high up watching the New York Knicks, dreaming one day of fighting here. I have put so much work in, had setbacks and kept positive – and here I am with my name all around the arena.”
Alvarez – beaten once in 53 bouts – starts as 1-20 favourite for a contest which will be covered in a live text commentary on the BBC Sport website from about 02:00 GMT on Sunday.
Fielding needs Canelo slip – Analysis
BBC Sport boxing correspondent Mike Costello:
This is an unbelievable chance for Rocky Fielding, who owns the minor version of the WBA title, with the main version held by Callum Smith.
You get the sense that all Fielding can hope for is a lack of motivation or focus, that Canelo has greatly underestimated him.
BBC Radio 5 live analyst Steve Bunce:
Some of the greatest upsets in boxing history have needed the under-estimation factor with someone in one corner who gets it wrong. It has happened before. Rocky needs a bit of luck but he wouldn’t be the first.
Twitter trolls and Canelo’s house
When asked if the fight could be billed as ‘Canelo v Rocky’ rather than feature his surname, Fielding simply replied: “Sound, do what you want.”
Likewise he chose not to complain at the fact his name did not come first on the billing, as is the norm for a champion. Both instances point to the focus and hype attached to Alvarez, who returned from a six-month doping ban to earn a win against Gennady Golovkin in September which highlighted his vast skill set.
Indeed, Fielding’s promoter Eddie Hearn has even spoken of his disgust at some of the social media abuse his fighter has received from those who believe he has no chance against a 28-year-old who has only ever been beaten by Floyd Mayweather.
Alvarez, who has knocked out the likes of Britain’s Amir Khan and Liam Smith, will move up to the 168lbs super-middleweight division for the first time. And he faces some pressure in the first outing since signing a remarkable $365m five-year fight deal which his promoters say makes him the highest paid athlete in all of sport.
“This new phase in my career I’m happy and motivated,” said Alvarez, who still holds two of the four world titles in the 160lbs middleweight division. “I like the challenge and know we are going to make history.”
A win – albeit for a minor world belt – would see him become a three-weight world champion, a prospect he has spoken of fondly. It would bolster his hopes of one day being viewed among the finest fighters to come out of a country steeped in boxing history.
And expect him to be roared on with thousands of Mexicans turning out in what his promoter Oscar De La Hoya warned will “feel like Canelo’s house on Saturday”.
Conquering defeat and a flawless foe
A key hope for Fielding rests in his natural size advantage – he is around five inches taller than his rival. And he does have momentum following a stunning win over the undefeated Tyron Zeuge on away soil to win the WBA belt in Germany in July.
Fielding added: “I went to Germany, no one gave me a chance and I took it with both hands. No one will give me a chance here but I believe in myself. Champions win and defend it wherever they need to defend it.”
Fielding took the Zeuge bout at five-weeks’ notice and capped a fine run of form since his sole loss to fellow Liverpudlian Callum Smith – who is now a world champion – in 2015.
“Defeat is a huge barrier to overcome,” Fielding’s trainer Jamie Moore told BBC Sport. “We have seen many fighters with massive potential, they lose a first fight and mentally can’t come back. They lose an aura.
“I don’t think we have scratched the surface, so for the next three years or so we can see an unbelievable fighter.
“It’s not every day you get a phone call being offered the biggest fight in boxing.
“As soon as the call came I fancied it and I knew Rocky would jump at the chance to test himself. As a trainer I was relishing the chance to set a game plan out to beat someone who is pretty much flawless.”
Taylor’s Garden test
Ireland’s Katie Taylor also takes up her place on the card in an eye-catching bout as she defends here IBF and WBA World Lightweight titles against Finland’s Eva Wahlstrom.
On paper, it appears to be the toughest test of the 32-year-old’s career because Wahlstrom holds a world-title a weight division lower and has not lost in a 22-fight career.
Former world champion Bernard Hopkins – part of the promotion – urged Taylor and all those fighting to “leave their DNA” on a historic venue which has hosted the likes of Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Evander Holyfield.
“I’ve been lucky enough to fight in some iconic venues since turning pro but I’m not sure there’s any more iconic in a boxing sense than Madison Square Garden,” Taylor said. “I think every fighter dreams about stepping in the ring there and I’m no different.”