LAS VEGAS – It is difficult for Americans who are not immersed in boxing to fully understand the reverence with which Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. is held by the Mexican people.
It’s sort of like Michael Jordan, but more. Jordan is recognized for his greatness by all NBA fans, but fans, say, of the Knicks or Lakers, may not revere him as much as they do stars from their own teams.
But Chavez Sr.’s popularity in Mexico extends across all demographics, young and old, rich and poor, male and female, educated and uneducated. When he walks into a room, everyone rises, straining for a glimpse of him.
It’s why his son, Julio Jr., has had so much attention during his boxing career.
That passion is what Canelo Alvarez will face on Saturday when he meets his long-time rival in a catchweight bout at T-Mobile Arena which will be available on HBO Pay-Per-View.
Alvarez has become the successor to Chavez Sr. as the face of Mexican boxing. He’s among the most complete fighters in the sport and since the retirement of Floyd Mayweather Jr., he’s become its biggest attraction.
He may soon be usurped in that regard by heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, whose outstanding performance in an 11th-round stoppage of ex-champion Wladimir Klitschko before 90,000 fans in London’s Wembley Stadium and a massive worldwide television audience may have already made him the face of the sport.
But for several years now, Alvarez has carried the hopes and dreams of Mexican boxing fans on his back. Those fans who have passionately supported him in his first 50 fights suddenly have split allegiances.
It’s hard for them to turn their backs on a Mexican fighter, particularly one with a last name that is royalty in their homeland.
“He has his fans and I have mine,” Alvarez said, dismissively.
Alvarez, though, has faced an increasing share of pressure. He’s been accused of dodging a bout with middleweight rival Gennady Golovkin, and now he’s in something of a dispute with the WBC, the Mexican-based sanctioning body whose middleweight belt he surrendered voluntarily last May.
Saturday’s bout has no title at stake, but with the two biggest names in Mexican boxing involved, the WBC somehow wanted to have a presence. And so it created a special belt that it planned to give to the winner.
Alvarez, though, wanted no part of it. He was miffed at WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman, who gave him a two-week deadline last year after his May 7 victory over Amir Khan to agree to fight Golovkin or be stripped of the WBC middleweight title.
Only a handful of days after the fight – and after promoter Oscar De La Hoya made a big scene at the post-fight news conference about calling Golovkin promoter Tom Loeffler to set up the bout – Alvarez voluntarily dropped the belt and said he wasn’t about to be pressured by an artificial deadline.
The issue was that right after the fight, Alvarez and his team, as well as Golden Boy Promotions staffers, had to fly to Miami to defend a breach of contract and unjust enrichment lawsuit brought against them by former promoter Tutico Zabala of All-Star Boxing.
In June, the Florida jury ruled in Zabala’s favor and awarded him $8.5 million. Alvarez and Golden Boy are appealing the ruling.
All-Star has requested a garnishment of Alvarez’s purse on Saturday.
The WBC’s insistence that Alvarez make a decision whether or not he would fight Golovkin so quickly after the Khan fight led to bitter feelings from Alvarez toward the sanctioning body. While no sanctioning body has any significance in the U.S., the WBC is a major force in Mexico, and it is regarded very seriously.
He said Sulaiman tried to create tensions between him and the Huichol people, native Mexicans who made the special WBC belt. Alvarez said there is no title at stake and the WBC wanted to get involved solely because of the significance of the event in Mexico.
“From the beginning, the WBC wanted to get involved with this fight, and when we as a team said, ‘No, it’s not going to happen. There is no WBC. It’s not for a world title,’ we knew that at some point something was going to come up. We spoke to Mr. Sulaiman and told him that he was not going to be involved. He then came up with this Huichol belt and I knew that he was going to use that against me in a negative way, to make me look like the bad guy – that I want nothing to do with the Huichols.
“That is not true; it is quite the contrary. My entire attire is made by Huichols. Since I’ve been 14 years old, I’ve been friends with people from the Huichol culture. All of my fights in Nayarit, they were there. My [ring] attire is being made by them. … This was just to be done to make me look like a bad guy.”
From Alvarez’s standpoint, there are three core issues:
• He was forced to reject the WBC’s two-week deadline to fight Golovkin, because of his upcoming trial. But he believes the WBC made him look timid. That is a big no-no because the Mexican boxing culture is very machismo.
• But intimating he was against the Huichols, he feels he was made to look arrogant, as if he were saying he was better than some of the people who had supported him from his earliest days.
• It all drove a split between him and the many fans of Chavez’s father, whom Alvarez admits was an idol of his when he was young.
“Canelo wants the Triple-G fight,” Golden Boy president Eric Gomez said. “He’s not afraid. That’s [expletive] and it always has been. He’s been telling us he wants that fight. But a fight like that can’t be made in two weeks. It’s a huge business deal and they take time. I met with Tom [Loeffler] in December , right after the [Miguel] Cotto fight to start the talks.
“But after the Khan fight, we all had to go to court. I did, so did Oscar, Canelo, everyone. We had to take care of that first and Mauricio knew it.”
Alvarez knows the pressure he’s facing in going against the Chavez name, but he went to great lengths to point out how he’s managed to do everything the right way.
“Everything I have, I got because I worked hard; blood, sweat and tears,” he said. “I sacrificed over and over for everything. I made it by hard work.”
He then pointed out that Chavez has disgraced himself and his family name by failing drug tests and by repeatedly missing weight.
Despite the tension swirling around him, Alvarez is aware that if he does his job and takes care of business in the ring, all will be forgiven.
Everybody loves a winner, and throughout his career, Alvarez has been the definition of that.
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