The last time Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fought on the same day, at the same time, over 70% of the Mexican TV viewing public tuned in to boxing. This time, with Mexico’s two biggest stars matched directly against one another, that number could climb up to 75 or 80%, maybe even higher.
To say that Canelo-Chavez has captured the hearts and minds of Mexican fight fans would be an understatement. In a lot of ways, the high-profile May 6 clash at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas is all about the future of the Mexican fight game, or at least its immediate future. It’s about instant redemption for one of two native sons pegged as the nation’s next boxing legends who have been detoured along the way with bad publicity of the “where did these kids go wrong” variety.
Alvarez, who is by far the more accomplished of the two Mexican stars, has been taken down a peg or two by persistent bad press involving a so far unsigned middleweight bout with Gennady Golovkin. The perception in some quarters is that the 26-year-old is ducking the Kazakh KO artist and whether that perception is reality, a negative narrative involving business-first cowardice is still poison in the mega-macho world of professional boxing.
Perspective shows us that Alvarez, sporting a resume featuring names like Mayweather, Cotto, Lara, Trout– and legitimate pursuit of challenges like Paul Williams as well as a still-relevant James Kirkland, three years before blowing away a bloated, disinterested version of Kirkland in 2015– actually has a pretty solid, sophisticated body of work behind him. This is especially impressive considering that most of his career heavy lifting has been done before his 25th birthday. But, still, after two years’ worth of Amir Khans and Liam Smiths and non-stop public relations lynchings, Alvarez is no longer the heir apparent to the next slot on the Mt. Rushmore of Mexican Boxing as much as he’s just what he is– a solid fighter with drawing power. He also finds himself wearing a big target and the weight of living up to a macho Mexican fairy tale idealism that may or may not be possible in this day and age in the wealth-heavy middleweight weight range where tens of millions of dollars are at stake.
Meanwhile, the son of Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez has little more than money to boast about in his fourteen years as a pro. Julio Jr.’s career high water marks have come in wins over Andy Lee and Peter Manfredo Jr. and in a ninety-second span during the twelfth round against Sergio Martinez where he almost managed to knock out the tired, but well-ahead-on-the-scorecards Argentine.
But while El Hijo del Gran Campeon Mexicano has become a punchline for many jokes, to take him as a laughingstock would be a mistake. Jr. is a physically strong fighter with legitimately heavy hands and a solid chin who has often responded to adversity by showing hints of the fire and bravado that made his father a beloved figure in Mexico. Despite being buried in the “he’s a joke” narrative, Julio Jr. has shown glimpses of fighting like a real fighter with something to win or lose. One has to actually look beyond the raging case of entitlement he displays as well as his bludgeoning of sporting convention (failed drug tests, disregard to weight caps), but there is something in Julio Jr. and with the stakes being as high as they are in the Canelo showdown– national pride in a last-chance main stage showcase– fans may see Jr. at his very best and most defiant.
Stylistically, Alvarez is the better all-around fighter of the two. The Jalisco native has worked on his footwork and all-around mobility in recent years and, while not exactly acquiring high-end proficiency, is a lot more solid in those areas than critics generally care to acknowledge. His power is thudding, but not explosive, depending greatly on raw physical strength and leverage. Canelo can box, just not at an elite level, and one gets the feeling from looking at his overall skill set that his success is due to equal parts matchmaking and sheer force of character.
The 31-year-old Chavez is the lesser-skilled of the two Mexican prodigal sons, fighting flat-footed and stiff after years of opposition specifically chosen to make him look like a killer. Jr’s assets center around his raw physical strength, size, and punching power that is most effective when focused around an underrated body attack.
It’s hard to imagine Alvarez choosing to be a boxer in this one, although he probably could cruise to an easy decision if he chose brain over brawn. What makes this fight interesting is the fact that Canelo will be bound by pride and a frenzied Mexican audience to exchange– something which gives Chavez his best chance to not only beat, but drop and stop the red-headed star.
Will Canelo have enough firepower to take down a much larger Chavez? Will the push to beat up (and not just beat) his national rival leave him vulnerable to fight-ending shots from the biggest, strongest opponent he has ever faced? Will the high-pressure, high-stakes showdown bring out the best in Chavez, pushing him to a career-defining victory or will it bring out the absolute worst in him, causing a career-ending implosion on the boxing main stage? Will the arbitrary 164.5 lb. catchweight compromise be an issue for a Chavez who frequently finds weight to be an issue?
The smart money is always on the better fighter to win the fight and the official Boxing Tribune prediction reflects that by picking Canelo over Chavez via unanimous decision. But don’t count out Chavez, his power, and the adrenaline that could be flowing through the veins of a young man desperate to prove that his entire professional existence hasn’t been a sham.
The Boxing Tribune will be covering Alvarez-Chavez from press row, live at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Stay tuned for more info and reports.