As I was shuffling through the airport security gate in preparation to fly out to Las Vegas to watch Saul “Canelo” Alvarez face Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at the T-Mobile Arena, a TSA agent noticed my t-shirt and asked me for my prediction on the fight. I gave him my boring mainstream opinion, and he looked down at his feet and shook his head. As I fumbled with my shoes and collected my items from the conveyor belt, he said, “You know the history of Cinco de Mayo, right? The underdog wins!”
Well, history did not repeat itself. Across 12 lopsided rounds Canelo Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs) battered, bashed, and barraged Chavez Jr. (50-3-1, 32 KOs) to a shutout unanimous decision victory. Alvarez was a heavy betting favorite, especially given they met at 164.5 pounds, a weight Chavez Jr. had not made in five years. There was as much ink spilled on whether Chavez could make weight as there was on how the fight would actually play out. He came in at 164 even, and the late money went to Chavez as everyone looking for an angle in Vegas saw Chavez as a smart bet.
However, making weight was a pyrrhic victory, and it turned out to be the only victory Chavez had in the entire conflict. We will never know to what extent the weight actually affected him, but it was clear that Chavez had no pop, no timing, and worst of all, no initiative. When he needed to step on the gas, there was no answer. When Canelo invited him to trade, there was no answer. And in the final round, when his only hope rested on a knockout, he could not summon the will to take the fight to Alvarez. In the post-fight press conference he blamed the gameplan devised by trainer Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, but short of wielding a ball-peen hammer in the ring no gameplan could have lifted Chavez past Canelo tonight.
It was nowhere near the competitive slugfest that was promised. The “zero hour” where both men would meet in the center of the ring and exchange bombs never came. Chavez’s plan was to circle away, maintain distance, and catch Canelo coming in. Amazingly, he stuck to this plan, despite all the whispers that he had no intentions of boxing on the outside. But it didn’t matter how Chavez chose to fight, he simply could not pull the trigger. He was beaten to the punch in nearly every encounter.
As the punishment accumulated, it was as if Chavez wore a sweater with one thread tied to Canelo. As he circled away it slowly unraveled until there was nothing left, and he was completely exposed. Then Canelo took that thread and strangled him with it. After two rounds the outcome was apparent to everyone in the arena. After eight I think they should have stopped the fight.
Chavez circled away, but he was not in full retreat, nor was he boxing off the back foot. His weight was on his front foot, and it was clear that he intended to fire counters when Canelo reached in. He simply had no competitive spark, no killer instinct. The half-hearted punches that he did throw opened him up to sharp combinations, usually punctuated with a left hook to the liver. Chavez threw an average of 25 punches per round, according to Compubox. That seems generous. He never landed more than nine punches per round. I could count the truly effective punches on one hand. A pitiful offensive performance.
The fight fell into a pattern. Chavez would circle away, and Canelo would give chase, closing in but not effectively cutting-off the ring. When Chavez finally hit the ropes, Alvarez would cuff him with a right hand just as he slipped out of range. It felt like Canelo was content with this pattern and knew full well that he could rack up points against an impotent opponent. To his credit, he did try to lay against the ropes and bait Chavez into a more lucrative exchange, but more often than not Chavez would prod a few times and back away, either too smart, too drained, or too broken by the fear of counter punches.
Chavez slowly became more statuesque, a long lean punching bag. His will was completely broken. In round 8 the crowd had seen enough and began openly booing the proceedings. For once, I sympathized. Despite the many dissenting opinions, they were promised an epic. A bolded, highlighted, “tell your grandchildren that you were there” kind of career-defining bout. What they got was the schoolyard bully locked in a classroom with a freshman mathlete.
The post-fight announcement that Alvarez and unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin will finally square off this September 16th rescued what could have been a very flat finish to a Pay-Per-View. While the venue is apparently still being negotiated, the contract is “signed, sealed, and delivered” according to Oscar De La Hoya.
One person likely disappointed by this development is David Lemieux (38-3, 33 KOs), who won a UD victory over a very sturdy Marco Reyes in the final undercard fight. After appearing to injure his right hand in the opening round, Lemieux went on the knock Reyes’ mouthpiece out twice and batter him from ringpost to ringpost. While he failed to stop Reyes, it still qualifies as a dominant win, and his quickest turnaround since 2010. Lemieux scored a Knockout of the Year candidate against Curtis Stevens in their March 11th bout, and his name has been on the short list to fight Canelo in September. If the Golovkin fight gets cancelled, look to Lemieux to be among two or three names for a late replacement.
Earning final recognition is Argentina’s Lucas Matthysse, who came back from a broken eye socket suffered against Viktor Postol and a 19-month layoff to perform his best impression of a junkyard dog in putting Emanuel Taylor away inside of five rounds. Matthysse was expected my some (myself included) to take some time to warm back up to the hurt game, but he had no interest in buying extra rounds tonight.
Chavez Jr. says he intends to fight at 168 pounds. Those extra 3.5 pounds could turn out to be all the difference between the Chavez we saw tonight, and a Chavez that has another title run in him. However, it felt like tonight was a major crossroads for “El Hijo De La Leyenda.” He was a spent force, and he took a real beating. The time, energy, and disappointment spent on tonight cannot be recycled. While Canelo already has his next six months mapped out, the immediate future is uncertain for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.