“Iron sharpens iron” is often the phrase used by boxers when they spar world titleholders, contenders or prospects. It is no different for Felix Alvarado, who hopes to unify a competitive junior flyweight division in 2021.

First things first, the IBF titleholder must get by Deejay Kriel Saturday night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. The 12-round bout will precede the main event bout between unbeaten lightweight Ryan Garcia against Luke Campbell (DAZN, 3 p.m. ET/ 12 p.m. PT).

Alvarado (35-2, 30 knockouts), who resides in Managua, Nicaragua, will be making the second defense of the IBF title he won in October 2018, stopping Randy Petalcorin of the Philippines in round 7. In his last bout on May 2019, Alvarado defeated Reiya Konishi of Japan by unanimous decision.

The 31-year-old was scheduled to face Kriel on April 25 of last year in Indio, California, which also would have streamed live on DAZN, but the Golden Boy Promotions card was postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

For Alvarado, it world be a sense of relief to return to the ring, especially having to overcome the challenges of finalizing a place to train during the pandemic.

“This fight has been pushed back because of the pandemic and I’m glad the fight is finally happening,” Alvarado told BoxingScene over the phone in a recent interview. “Earlier this year, Nicaragua began closing airports so Golden Boy told myself and (twin brother and WBA Regular junior lightweight titleholder) Rene (Alvarado) to leave the country right away. We settled in Las Vegas to train.

“I train alongside my brother, but I have sparred regularly with (WBO strawweight titleholder) Wilfredo Mendez. Sparring here (in the United States) is on another level than what I would normally get back home in Nicaragua, which isn’t as strong. It’s better here in the United States. I learn more and it sharpens me a lot, especially for sparring.”

Alvarado will face a fighter in Kriel (16-1-1, 8 KOs), who resides in Boksburg, South Africa. Kriel last appeared in the ring in November 2019 in a stay-busy fight in Tijuana, Mexico, knocking out journeyman Jose Fernando Aguirre in the opening round.

Kriel is best known for his previous fight in February 2019, rallying from a deficit to knock out Carlos Licona in the final round to win the IBF title at 105 pounds. Kriel claimed he was unable to continue making weight and relinquished the IBF title.

Alvarado understands the challenge Kriel presents and is not overlooking him.

“We’re taking him seriously,” said Alvarado, who, like Kriel, will be fighting for the first time in the United States. “He’s a former world champion. We’ve prepared very well in camp. He’s a strong fighter. The question is can he withstand the pressure?”

Alvarado has had the fortune of sharing a training camp and fight card with twin brother Rene, who will be defending his WBA title against Roger Gutierrez. Rene Alvarado faced Gutierrez before back in July 2017, stopping him in round 7.

While Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez has received plenty of recognition and press over the last several years, Felix Alvarado believes he and Rene have seen their popularity increase due to being able to relate with the people in Nicaragua.

“Being able to train alongside and live with Rene has helped a lot,” said Alvarado. “We grew up together since we were little. We talk about boxing and we push one another in the gym. When one of us sees an error or mistake the other does in the gym, we tell each other and we don’t get mad.

“I think we’re loved in Nicaragua because of our success. We’ve suffered as children. We’ve arrived to where we are because of the hard work and discipline we put into the work we do in the gym. People recognize the hard work we’ve put in. People in Nicaragua are proud of us.”

Should Alvarado pull out the win Saturday night, he is hopeful to land a unification fight against the other world titleholders at 108 pounds. He signed a promotional deal with Golden Boy last year, which he hopes opens up more opportunities.

Fighting on a card with a solid main event in Garcia-Campbell is a start, especially fighting on the same card with Rene, but he hopes for a big fight in 2021.

“Golden Boy has paid attention to myself and my brother and it means a lot to put us on a great card like Garcia-Campbell.

“I don’t think of myself as the best fighter at 108 pounds. I’ve only defended my title once. I do hope for fights down the line against the likes of (WBO titleholder) Elwin Soto or (WBA Regular titleholder) Carlos Canizales. A unification fight against (WBC titleholder) Kenshiro Teraji would be great to see who is the best.”

Francisco A. Salazar has written for BoxingScene since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at santio89@yahoo.com or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing