It’s been more than 12 years since Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’s lone other ring appearance in Miami, though the city has always held a special place in the hearts of the fighter and his team.

Guadalajara’s Alvarez (54-1-2, 36KOs) hits South Beach as the sport’s reigning pound-for-pound king and unified WBC/WBA super middleweight titlist. All of that is at stake in this weekend’s clash with mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim (21-2, 12KOs), which airs live on DAZN from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

The venue will be filled with as many fans as social distancing will allow, with the event to dominate headlines throughout fight week and beyond the show’s conclusion. It’s a far cry from when Alvarez first hit town as an 18-year old prospect, fighting in the United States for the just the second time of his career at the time of his Dec. 2018 appearance.

“After several years, we are thrilled to return to Miami where you don’t see boxing fought at the highest level like this,” Eddy Reynoso, Alvarez’s head trainer told [Two-time middleweight titlist Gennadiy] Golovkin fought in the area a few months ago, he’s at that level but it was (an event without fans). This will be the first high level with fans and we are proud to be the [main event] for it.”

Alvarez made his stateside debut in California in Oct. 2018, before heading to the other side of the country two months later. The moment didn’t last long, as Alvarez needed just 2:30 to rid himself of Raul Pinzon in their Dec. 2018 Telemundo headliner.

It would be another 17 months before Alvarez would return to the states, scoring a 9th round knockout of Jose Miguel Cotto in May 2010. Alvarez would go on to capture major titles in four weight divisions, including the lineal championship at junior middleweight and middleweight. If he has his way in 2021, the 30-year Mexican superstar will blaze a path leading to the undisputed super middleweight championship.

A first step was taken in collecting two belts in a 12-round unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Callum Smith last December. With a victory on Saturday, Alvarez will look to a three-belt showdown with WBO titlist Billy Joe Saunders. Another win and his sights will be set on IBF titlist Caleb Plant.

Of course, the most important step comes this weekend as he still has to win the fight in front of him. The bout is Alvarez’s second in a span of just over two months, both with fans in attendance during the pandemic. The hope beyond this weekend is that it will be much sooner than another dozen years before this part of town once again plays a significant role in the career of boxing’s biggest active star.

“We are honored to bring big time boxing back to Miami and with fans in attendance,” notes Reynoso. “Hopefully this is the first step towards bringing future big events there.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox