LAS VEGAS — Mexican star Canelo Alvarez has sure been in some big fights, but none has seemed as personal as the one coming up with bitter rival Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Alvarez had a mega-showdown with Floyd Mayweather, who handed him his only defeat in 2013, but they were generally respectful of each other.
Alvarez fought in front of 40,000 when he unified junior middleweight world titles against Austin Trout in 2013, and he also played to huge crowds for devastating knockouts of James Kirkland and Amir Khan. And, of course, he won perhaps the biggest fight in the storied history of the famed Mexico versus Puerto Rico rivalry when he outpointed Miguel Cotto to win the middleweight world championship in 2015. But those weren’t nearly as rancorous as the buildup for the fight with Chavez.
Within the Mexican community, at least, there is no fight bigger than the one that pits Alvarez and Chavez, Mexico’s most popular active fighters, against each other on Saturday (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at sold-out T-Mobile Arena.
“On my behalf, I’m going to do everything on my side to make this one of the most historic fights in Mexico,” Alvarez said through a translator at Wednesday’s final prefight news conference.
Chavez also knows the magnitude of the fight.
“Every fight is important, and this one especially because it is between two Mexicans fighting each other for the glory,” he said through a translator.
Their animosity is a big part of a fight that has divided Mexican fans. The fight is the big event of Cinco de Mayo weekend and years in the making, as a rivalry between the two that goes back several years will finally come to a head.
“These are the types of fights that take you to a whole new level in terms of your boxing abilities inside the ring. It makes you obviously train harder,” Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya said. “It gives you that extra motivation. If you want to go run 10 miles today, well, guess what — you’re going to run 11 or 12, because you’re just so amped, because this fight is so personal.”
“People know this is an all-out action-packed war. We haven’t had a fight like this in years; it’s a true Mexican civil war.”
Oscar De La Hoya
Adding to the emotion of the event is that Chavez is the son of a legend, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., the all-time great and Mexico’s most beloved fighter. Even Alvarez, who has no love for Junior, freely admits that Senior is his idol.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. is one of the best, if not the best fighter in history,” Alvarez said. “I grew up watching him and learned a lot from him, but that won’t have any influence when I fight his son.”
The anticipation for the fight is palpable and expectations are sky-high for a can’t-miss action fight between the biggest names in Mexican boxing today. The 26-year-old Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs), who has never boxed at heavier than 155 pounds, signed to meet Chavez (50-2-1, 32 KOs), 31, a former middleweight titleholder and the bigger man, at 164.5 pounds. How good of a fight it will be probably depends largely on what Chavez has left after depleting himself to melt down to the contract weight, the lightest he will have been since losing his belt to then-lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez in 2012.
“People know this is an all-out action-packed war,” De La Hoya said. “We haven’t had a fight like this in years; it’s a true Mexican civil war.
“Given the obvious Cinco de Mayo date and the bad blood between the boxers, I think it is safe to say this is the biggest fight in Mexican history. To give you an idea of how big this event is, let me give you some numbers. This will be the most attended indoor fight in the storied Las Vegas fight history, with more than 20,000 in attendance. The fight sold out in 10 days, and we opened up more circuit-viewing theaters for everyone to watch on fight night in Las Vegas at MGM properties. Fight fans in six continents will be able to watch the fight.”
What they will see is a fight between guys who do not like each other. According to Alvarez, the bad blood goes back about 10 years, to when they were both in Guadalajara, Alvarez’s hometown. Alvarez didn’t say exactly what precipitated the ill will, but Chavez has done a lot of talking about Alvarez behind his back that bothered him.
“As a person, I don’t know him well, but just from what I hear from his actions and all, it’s like a guy that just doesn’t sustain what he says. You know, he just says a lot of things. It’s almost like he’s a little kid.”
Canelo Alvarez on Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
“Obviously it motivates me, and I’m just waiting, waiting for [Saturday],” Alvarez said. “I’m building up, because come [Saturday], I’m going to let it all out.”
Alvarez also said he believed that about five years ago, when there was a good chance to make the fight, the Chavez camp backed out, which he did not appreciate.
“As a person, I don’t know him well, but just from what I hear from his actions and all, it’s like a guy that just doesn’t sustain what he says,” Alvarez said. “You know, he just says a lot of things. It’s almost like he’s a little kid.”
Alvarez dug in further on Chavez, saying that he inherited a fan base because of his father’s popularity, whereas Alvarez takes pride in winning his enormous fan base over from the ground up.
“Chavez Jr. has gotten to this point because of his name,” Alvarez said. “He lacks the discipline to be the best. He has had so many highs and lows in his career.
“My fans know that I started from nothing, from the bottom up, from zero, and have worked my way up with a lot of sweat and sacrifices. He has his fans as well. But I think a lot of his fans are more his father’s fans than his, and his fans follow his father, what his father says, because he’s shown a lot of ups and downs in his career, and he himself has not had a real disciplined career.
“He is not a role model for the young children and the young fighters. And you know what, I’ve always said, whether I have 1,000, 5,000, 20,000 or millions, I’m very fortunate. I’m very happy and I’m very appreciative of my fans and I’ll give them 100 percent all the time.”
“I don’t know specifically why he doesn’t like me or this animosity exists. Maybe because I’m the son of Julio Cesar Chavez, I don’t know. That could be one of the reasons. We don’t always pick who we’re going to be, but I can tell you this: I am the son of a legend, but some of — all of — my accomplishments have come from my work. I’m the one who wins these fights, and I think one of the reasons they picked me is because I put on good fights.”
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Said De La Hoya: “The rivalry goes back awhile and it’s felt by both teams. Both Chavez Sr. and Jr., for some reason, don’t like Canelo. Perhaps it’s because he’s been the face of boxing for a while now. He’s going to carry boxing on his shoulders for many years to come. Or maybe they don’t like Canelo because he’s getting more attention for this fight than Junior is.”
Chavez claims not to know the reasons for Alvarez’s bad feelings, but he tried to explain.
“I don’t know specifically why he doesn’t like me or this animosity exists,” Chavez said. “Maybe because I’m the son of Julio Cesar Chavez, I don’t know. That could be one of the reasons.
“We don’t always pick who we’re going to be, but I can tell you this: I am the son of a legend, but some of — all of — my accomplishments have come from my work. I’m the one who wins these fights, and I think one of the reasons they picked me is because I put on good fights. And I’m the type of fighter that people want to see, and they know that this fight with me will generate bigger revenue, and that’s another reason why this fight is happening.”
Last week, Chavez’s younger brother, Omar Chavez, scored a second-round knockout of Ramon Alvarez, Canelo’s older brother, as they evened their rivalry 1-1.
Their brothers are also looking for knockouts to leave no doubt in their feud.
“I feel I can [knock him out]. I feel that I’m a bigger guy,” Chavez said. “I fought at light heavyweight. He’s never fought fighters this size, and because of that, if things pan out and I get the right shot, I think of course it can happen.”
Said Alvarez: “There’s a very high percentage this fight could end by a knockout because of our styles. And obviously a knockout is spectacular, for the fighter, for the fans, and we’ll see. We’re going to give it 100 percent to do everything possible to give the fans what they want.”
Of course, perhaps Alvarez can make Chavez quit, like he shockingly did after the ninth round against light heavyweight contender Andrzej Fonfara in 2015. Making Chavez quit in such a big fight might even be sweeter than getting a clean knockout.
“Everything’s possible in boxing,” Alvarez said. “And as the great Bernard Hopkins once said, ‘Once a quitter, always a quitter.’ So anything’s possible.”