A scintillating All-Mexican showdown takes place on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas between Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. (50-2-1, 32 KOs). The fight sold out in a matter of hours and Vegas will be packed with fight fans for Cinco de Mayo weekend, a traditional date for big boxing matchups. Canelo-Chavez pits the two grand names of Mexican boxing against each other in a battle for supreme bragging rights. No title belts will be on the line, just pride. The fight will be contested at a catchweight of 164.5 lbs., with significant penalties for Chavez if he fails to make the contractual limit.
No manufactured drama has been needed in the build up to the fight as the two combatants harbor genuine antipathy towards each other. Chavez, the scion of perhaps the most famous Mexican boxer of all time (Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr.) still maintains the support of millions of fight fans who idolized his father. Canelo, at only 26, is one of the genuine superstars in the sport and fancies himself as the rightful heir to Floyd Mayweather's title as the biggest boxing draw in America. The fighters hail from different parts of Mexico (Canelo from Guadalajara and Chavez from Culiacan) and once upon a time their careers were built on rival Mexican boxing networks. Both want to assume the mantle of the most popular Mexican fighter of this era.
To this point, Canelo's star has shined the brighter of the two. Winning multiple titles at junior middleweight and becoming the lineal middleweight champ (with his only loss coming to Floyd Mayweather, no crime in that), Canelo has beaten several notable fighters during his ascension to the top of the boxing food chain. Chavez did win a belt at middleweight, but he's never beaten an elite fighter. In his last high-profile fight in 2015, he refused to answer the bell for the 10th round against Andrzej Fonfara. Despite considerable talent, his training has frequently been haphazard. He's failed numerous drug tests and has often lacked even the rudiments of professionalism.
A Canelo-Chavez fight had been discussed for many years but several factors, including promotional differences, Chavez's weight escalation and animus between the two sides, kept the bout from happening. However, Canelo, in the midst of avoiding unified middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin (let's call it for what it is), needed a suitable dance partner that could guarantee a large payday; enter Chavez. And although Chavez hasn't appeared to be in top form in recent years, he still possesses the body attack and reach to trouble smaller fighters. Canelo remains a comfortable betting favorite in the fight but Chavez certainly has a vocal minority who believe that he has the attributes to get the job done.
Read below for the Keys to the Fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. Chavez's state of mind
Chavez enlisted Hall of Fame trainer Nacho Beristain to help prepare him for this fight. Beristain, who had such success with the Marquez brothers, Daniel Zaragoza and many others, is not a trainer to be trifled with. His fighters are almost always in great shape and are well prepared in the ring. Beristain is a proud man and surely isn't taking this assignment as a lark. He'll be there to win.
But let's face it: Freddie Roach couldn't control Chavez in training camp and a number of top boxing coaches refused to work with the fighter. Chavez's (lack of) training history speaks for itself. He rarely stays in shape between fights and he's never adhered to a monastic existence during camp.
Perhaps Beristain will be able to reach Chavez. Maybe Chavez will realize that Saturday's fight will be his last, best chance to make a significant impression in boxing. It's possible that the Mexican rivalry will motivate him like never before. However, one must also consider that Chavez has a self-sabotaging streak. It wouldn't be shocking to hear negative stories about his training camp wafting throughout the boxing ether immediately after the fight. In short, we just don't know which Chavez will enter the ring on Saturday and this uncertainly is a large selling point in the match. Sure, Chavez might put forth a listless performance on Saturday but what if he's the same guy who stopped Andy Lee and came within seconds of knocking out former middleweight king Sergio Martinez? That guy has a shot. Right?
2. Size and weight
Prior to this fight, much had been made about Canelo's preferred weight. Even though he had wrestled the middleweight title from Miguel Cotto, Canelo has never weighed in at more than 155 lbs. for a fight. His team insisted that he wasn't a full-fledged middleweight and he dropped down to win yet another title at junior middleweight. But now suddenly he will be fighting on Saturday in the super middleweight division.
Although much of Canelo's weight demands smack of gamesmanship (the term "Caneloweight" was coined to denote this phenomenon), he will have a significant weight disadvantage on Saturday. And although I never believed Golden Boy Promotions' spin that Alvarez wasn't a middleweight (he routinely stepped into the ring around 170 lbs.), he's also not a cruiserweight. Chavez has ballooned to over 180 lbs. on fight night. He has a much larger frame than Alvarez does and he uses his physicality to tire opponents, leaning on them and attacking their body. Chavez will also have advantages in height and reach. His long jab will be a factor and his opponents often make the mistake of believing that they are out of range against him only to get tagged by his probing straight right hand.
However, all of this is moot if Chavez comes into the fight as a dried-out skeleton. He hasn't weighed in at 164.5 lbs. or lower in five years. It's unlikely that he's really sniffed that weight since facing Martinez back in 2012. If he really struggles to make the catchweight limit, all of his advantages will be for naught. He won't have the energy, agility, or endurance to launch a consistent attack. If Chavez does in fact make weight, the question will be did he shed pounds the correct way, or did he have to go on a prolonged hunger strike to get below the limit. This factor will play a large role in how much success Chavez has on Saturday.
3. Canelo against a puncher
You won't find many punchers on Canelo's resume. Erislandy Lara could certainly hit hard, but he spent most of his fight with Alvarez avoiding exchanges. Cotto was a strong puncher at welterweight and below but he doesn't really pack a huge punch at 154. Pound-for-pound, Chavez isn't necessarily a huge puncher. Many of his knockouts have come against overmatched guys and/or smaller fighters. And let's remember that Canelo will certainly be the undersized one on Saturday.
We don't know if Canelo can take a good punch from a guy who could be 185 lbs. on fight night. And forget the head shots for a moment, Chavez can unleash a vicious body assault, with his left hook to the body being his primary weapon. Can Canelo withstand a body attack from a much bigger guy?
Canelo has demonstrated a sturdy chin throughout his career but weight classes do matter in boxing. At a certain point, Canelo's chin could betray him, especially against a much bigger fighter. Will that happen on Saturday?
4. Canelo's boxing skills
Certainly the blueprint for Canelo will be to box Chavez and avoid prolonged exchanges on the inside. He'll have to get in-and-out of the pocket with quick flurries. His jab and right hand to the body will be significant weapons in attacking Chavez. In addition, Canelo needs to be patient. Chavez's footwork can be crude and he often misjudges range, reaching with his punches or even jabbing from too close. Canelo will have opportunities to counterpunch. It's incumbent for him to remain poised in the ring. As he waits for Chavez to make mistakes, he can score with quick single punches and brief combinations. These don't have to be big shots but they just have to land.
Although Canelo isn't necessary fast on his feet, he understands how to use angles to initiate offense and how to cut off the ring (as long as that opponent isn't Mayweather). Canelo will need to use the ring to his advantage on Saturday. He'll have to circle Chavez and must leave the pocket once he's finished his work. If Chavez decides to fight off the back foot (which is a technique that he's used in the past), Alvarez will need to apply smart pressure without falling into Chavez's traps. Again, Alvarez will be best as a counterpuncher on Saturday. His lead punches should be effective but vanilla. His goal should be to force Chavez into making mistakes. Once this happens, Canelo can use his creative combinations to assert his superiority in the ring.
Pride will be a double-edged sword on Saturday. For Chavez, perhaps this fight will inspire him to come into the ring in the best shape of his career. He'll know how much is riding on this opportunity. Should he win, he'll return home to an adoring crowd and will finally get universal respect from the boxing community. For Alvarez, perhaps pride could be a negative factor for this fight. I'm sure that he wants to put on a show for his fans. No doubt it will be important for him to assert his dominance over Chavez. But will these urges lead to taking unnecessary chances and making mistakes? Will he get overeager?
Emotion will probably help Chavez on Saturday. His fans will push him, goad him, force him to dig down. Canelo's supporters will certainly be loud as well. But Canelo will be at his best boxing, taking away the frenzy of the crowd (especially early in the fight). Canelo doesn't want a war and shouldn't let one develop. However, if Canelo gets dragged into that type of fight, you can bet that his sense of pride will have gotten the better of him. Canelo usually runs very cool in the ring but Saturday isn't a typical fight. If he loses his composure in the ring because of machismo, that will provide Chavez with a significant opportunity to win.
The optimist in me says that Chavez will make weight and will be in at least suitable shape for the fight, but I wouldn't bet my house on that. All joking aside, I strongly believe that Chavez will feed off of the crowd and will be most dangerous in the first half of the fight; let's say from rounds three to six. I think that he'll even have some moments where he'll land some authoritative shots – snapping Canelo's head back with the jab, going to his body with the left hook and surprising him with some right hands from range.
Ultimately, this match will be won by the fighter who's acted like a professional throughout his career, the one who's consistently trained and made weight. In the second half of the fight, Chavez's emotional high will dissipate and he'll be left with flagging energy and stamina issues. Although I expect Canelo to have some good stretches early in the fight as well (scoring here and there and winning the ring generalship battle), it's in the back half of the fight where he will really separate himself. Eventually, he'll start to exploit holes in Chavez's defense as Junior tires. As the fight progresses, Canelo will land his scintillating counters with more regularity. I expect him to dominate the final third of the bout. I think that pride will help push Chavez to the final bell but there will be no uncertainty as to whom won the fight.
Saul Alvarez defeats Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. by unanimous decision.