LAS VEGAS — Mexico, a boxing-loving country with a long tradition of great fighters, has produced many classic battles between countrymen.
Some of the most famous include the epic trilogy between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, the four-fight rivalry between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, and the 1977 battle between unbeaten bantamweight champions Carlos Zarate and Alfonso Zamora.
TV Lineup for the Golden Boy-promoted HBO PPV card on Saturday (9 p.m. ET) at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas:
•Super middleweights: Canelo Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (50-2-1, 32 KOs), 12 rounds
•Middleweights: David Lemieux (37-3, 33 KOs) vs. Marcos Reyes (35-4, 26 KOs), 10 rounds
•Welterweights: Lucas Matthysse (37-4, 34 KOs) vs. Emmanuel Taylor (20-4, 14 KOs), 10 rounds
•Featherweights: Joseph Diaz Jr. (23-0, 13 KOs) vs. Manuel “Tino” Avila (22-0, 8 KOs), 10 rounds
Now put two Mexican stars against one another on Cinco de Mayo weekend and you have yourself boxing’s version of the Super Bowl. That is exactly what fight fans will be treated to on Saturday at a sold-out T-Mobile Arena, where the long-simmering rivalry between Canelo Alvarez, the former junior middleweight and middleweight titleholder, and former middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., son of Mexico’s most beloved fighter, comes to a head.
“This fight, much like the many that have been preceded it, goes beyond just being wars but represent a Mexican pride,” said Eddy Reynoso, Alvarez’s trainer. “It’s always a pleasure to be a part of these fights. It’s going to be a war in the ring. Mexico versus Mexico is one of the greatest fights you can see in the world.”
For several years the collision between Alvarez and Chavez, the only Mexicans to win middleweight world titles, has been talked about and on the wish list of boxing fans, especially Mexican fans. Now they have it as Alvarez and Chavez will finally meet in a heavily anticipated nontitle bout at a catchweight of 164.5 pounds.
“We haven’t had a Mexican showdown on Cinco de Mayo weekend in a very, very long time,” Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya said. “And the demand has been incredible. I haven’t seen anything like it since Barrera versus Morales; since De La Hoya vs. Chavez Sr. This is going to be an incredible weekend for all boxing fans.
“We’re going to see two completely different fighters, fighters that we’ve never seen before inside the ring on (Saturday), and it’s all because of that pride that’s at stake.”
This is your ESPN.com Ringside Seat for the big fight:
Canelo Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (50-2-1, 32 KOs)
What’s at stake
There is no world title on the line, but there are huge stakes — namely supremacy of Mexican boxing and lifetime bragging rights over a bitter rival in one of the biggest all-Mexican fights in boxing history.
“It’s very, very important for both fighters,” Chavez said through a translator. “Yes, it’s very important for him, but the fact that it’s two Mexicans, I think that this is one of the most important fights in the history of Mexico.”
Chavez, 31, who has had ups and downs since losing the middleweight belt, believes a win would serve as something of redemption after many fans jumped off his bandwagon following his losses, positive drug test following his title loss to Sergio Martinez in 2012 and the fact that he often has not trained seriously and has missed weight multiple times.
“It’s a big event, with two great Mexican fighters, and I feel that it’s my last opportunity, and I’m going to take advantage of it and do the best I can,” Chavez said. “I do feel that this fight is the biggest fight of my career, just because it’s a big event, because of who I’m fighting and because of the opportunity. I’m going to take advantage of it and make the best of it.”
Alvarez, who is the favorite (-600 as of Thursday morning), knows a win will add another big victory to a growing legacy that already includes significant victories against Miguel Cotto, Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout, among others.
“Titles are very important to me, but this is above that,” Alvarez, 26, said through a translator. “This goes above a title, any title. It’s for honor, for pride and it’s very important for me to keep making history in my career.”
Worth the weight?
The fight was signed to take place at the unusual weight of 164.5 pounds as a way to bridge the gap between the two fighters. Alvarez has been fighting at 154 or 155 pounds for the past several years and will move up nearly 10 pounds above his previous heaviest weight.
Chavez, whose issues making even 168 pounds are well-documented, will come down to his lowest weight since he left the middleweight division following his world title loss to Martinez five years ago.
Because Chavez is so notorious for his issues making weight, there is a clause in the contract that stipulates that if either fighter is over they must pay the other $1 million per fraction of a pound over. In other words, if Chavez were to come in at 165.6 pounds that would cost him $2 million. Nobody is concerned about Alvarez making weight. Chavez is a different story, even though he has supposedly been training diligently with new trainer Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, the Mexican legend.
“I will make the weight and I know I will make the weight,” Chavez said. “I will be 100 percent. I know there’s a lot of attention for this. I think this is the key to winning this fight, to take care of my body.”
Alvarez said he feels good at the heavier weight and will be ready for a bigger man.
“I’ve been training with sparring partners who are much bigger, who are light heavyweights that are much bigger than me. I’m feeling very comfortable and very strong,” Alvarez said. “I’m not having to dehydrate as much. I’m still having to go down in weight because I’m above the weight that the fight is scheduled at, but I don’t have to dehydrate totally. We’ll see come fight night how I feel, how the body adapts. I’m a fighter that knows how to adapt to the situations, and my body adapts well. I’m just anxious and looking forward to giving the public a beautiful fight, a great fight.”
Golovkin waits in the wings
Alvarez-Chavez is a big fight, make no mistake, but what comes next is even bigger. A clean Alvarez victory would likely be the final hurdle to the huge fight want to see: a September showdown between Alvarez and unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs), who has been trying to get Alvarez to fight him for more than a year while Alvarez and Golden Boy have ducked and dodged to the point that Alvarez relinquished his middleweight belt to avoid a mandatory defense against Golovkin.
But De La Hoya has insisted that they would look to make the fight in September, assuming Alvarez takes care of Chavez. Golovkin, who is coming off a tight decision win against Daniel Jacobs on March 18, elected to pass on a possible June fight, leaving him ready to go in September. There are no promotional entanglements to prevent the fight, no network issues — they’re both with HBO — no weight dispute (160 it is) and a Golovkin team fine with being the so-called “B” side to the promotion as well as taking less than 50 percent of the money. They’d still have to settle on an exact percentage split but Golovkin promoter Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions has a reputation as perhaps the easiest person in boxing to make a deal with.
Leading up to Saturday’s fight Alvarez declined to discuss GGG.
“[Chavez is] a very important fight for me, and I’m not focusing on any other fighter but the fight that I have in front of me.
Chavez, naturally, hopes to upset the apple cart. Should he win, he would certainly ruin the possible proposed showdown. Alvarez has a rematch clause should Chavez beat him, so it could mean an immediate sequel.
Chavez, who was previously offered a super middleweight fight with Golovkin but turned it down while he was in the midst of his nasty break up with former promoter Top Rank, would love to step in to face GGG in the fall.
“After this fight, if all goes well, I’ll fight anyone — GGG or any fighter that makes sense, and GGG seems to be that person. [Alvarez and his team] can talk Canelo versus GGG all they want, but I’m focused and talking about [Saturday].”
Said De La Hoya: “All my focus is on Canelo and Chavez Jr. I actually didn’t even know [Golovkin] was not going to fight in June. That’s obviously a great indication, but all focus is on this fight.”
Alvarez and Chavez clearly do not like each other, although Alvarez reveres Chavez Sr. as his boxing idol like most Mexican boxers and fans. Those bad feelings appear legitimate.
“Yes, there’s a real, true rivalry, and on Saturday night, people are going to see firsthand this rivalry, how real it is,” Chavez said. “Obviously we’re going to show it inside the ring.”
Alvarez has been critical of Chavez’s lackadaisical training habits for past fights, ripped him for his two failed drug tests — he also flunked one for using a diuretic in 2009 — and this week said he has in the past “embarrassed the sport with his lack of discipline.”
“I can’t believe how a fighter like that can say he can represent a country better than me,” Alvarez said. “It is simply his image. His image is not fit to represent a country. Do you believe he is a role model for a child? I have always been someone who is disciplined and focused 100 percent on the sport and always respected it. I have always been clean and I try to be a role model.”
Asked if he wanted to punish Chavez in the fight, Alvarez admitted he felt a little more passion for doing damage in this one than bouts.
“He’s one more of the 50 of all my opponents that I’ve faced,” he said. “I’ve wanted to rip their head off, I wanted to beat them, I wanted to them knock them out. This is a little extra. There’s a little bit more motivation, of course, because of the rivalry, but it’s another one of my fights.”
— Alvarez: Lands 46 percent of power punches, which ranks ninth according to CompuBox
— Alvarez: At least 40 percent of landed punches have been to the opponent’s body in three of last five fights according to ESPN Stats & Information
— Alvarez: Landed 51 percent of punches to the right side of opponents (Alvarez’s left hand) in last five fights according to ESPN Stats & Information
— Chavez Jr.: 41 percent connect rate, highest rate according to CompuBox
— Chavez Jr.: 83 percent of his landed punches are power punches, according to CompuBox
— Chavez Jr.: Landed 52 percent of punches to the right side of opponents (Chavez Jr.’s left hand) in last five fights according to ESPN Stats & Information
— Chavez Jr.: 65 percent of the punches he landed were to his opponents’ head in last five fights according to ESPN Stats & Information
Dan Rafael’s prediction: Alvarez by decision
What do you think will happen?