Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.: Lottery winner
LAS VEGAS – Let’s face it: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. won the lottery when he landed a fight with Canelo Alvarez, with one possible payout yet to come.
The son of the legend was in danger of becoming irrelevant after he was pounded into submission by Andrzej Fonfara in a light heavyweight fight in April 2015, which was followed by two nondescript fights against little-known Marcos Reyes and Dominik Britsch.
It was reasonable to wonder whether Junior would ever get another truly big fight. The kid achieved more than many thought he would – including winning a middleweight title – but it seemed as if he had hit his ceiling.
Then Golden Boy Promotions came calling.
Canelo Alvarez first called out his fellow Mexican when Canelo was an 18-year-old welterweight, obviously sensing the value of fighting – and presumably beating – the son of Mexico’s greatest champion. And some buzz began to build.
The problem was they began to drift apart in terms of weight: Chavez eventually climbed as high as 172.5 (in his first fight with Vera) while Canelo had never fought at more than 155. It seemed the window for the all-Mexican showdown had closed.
“That was a fight we always talked about but it went away for a while,” said Eric Gomez of Golden Boy Promotions, which handles Canelo. “Chavez lost to (Sergio) Martinez and moved up in weight; he fought a couple of times at light heavyweight. So we kind of forgot about it.
“It really came back to life early [in 2016], when Chavez weighed [167.9 for his fight against Britsch in December]. That’s when we said, ‘This is a possibility.’”
And it soon become a done deal.
Canelo, who had been fighting essentially as a junior middleweight, was about to move up in weight – possibly to fight Gennady Golovkin – and needed to face a bigger fighter to begin the transition to middleweight.
Chavez was the perfect opponent: big name, good storyline, limited risk, big money. Canelo and Chavez will make a guaranteed $5 million and $3 million – plus a lot more in pay-per-view revenue – respectively when they meet on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, according to the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
And for Chavez it can get a lot better than that. This is an unusual opportunity to completely change the way he’s perceived in the boxing world. If he can find a way to beat this opponent on this massive stage, all the negatives – riding his father’s coattails, perceived laziness, missing weight, positive drug tests – largely go away.
He instantly becomes the biggest star – an “idol,” he called it – in his boxing-crazy country with enormous earning power, which likely would start with a rematch.
“(Junior) told me last September that ‘if (manager) Al Haymon doesn’t get me good fights, maybe I’ll quit boxing,’” said Salvador Rodriguez, who covers boxing in Mexico for ESPN Deportes.
“He was almost finished with boxing. And now he’s in one of the biggest fights in boxing. Yes, I’m a little surprised.”
Chavez (50-2-1, 32 KOs) made reference to the opportunity that fell into his lap – “Yes, it’s an opportunity to show the people what I’m about,” he said on Wednesday – but his deeds seems to indicate that he understands what will be at stake on Saturday.
He worked with legendary trainer Nacho Beristain and fitness coach Memo Heredia in what has been described a grueling two-month training camp in the mountains near Toluca, Mexico, where virtually 100 percent of the focus was on boxing.
It appears to have paid off. Chavez said he weighed 168 pounds on Wednesday afternoon, only 3.5 above the agreed-upon catchweight of 164.5.
“I feel good,” he said. “My body is responding fine. I weigh 168 and I didn’t have a problem going down.”
Most observers believe that Canelo is too skillful for even a fit Chavez, who is a solid boxer but has relied more on his strength and power. The oddsmakers at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas are among that group: Canelo (48-1-1, 34 KOs) was a 5-1 favorite on Wednesday.
Chavez has one advantage, though: natural size. He could weigh close to 190 pounds when he walks into the ring on Saturday night, which might be 10 more than Canelo.
The catchweight is 9½ pounds more than Canelo has ever fought in the past. One could presume that his punches won’t have the impact on Chavez that they’ve had on smaller fighters, although that remains to be seen. And he probably will feel the power of the bigger man.
Chavez said he plans to exploit that edge.
“I’m the stronger guy,” he said. “I will take advantage of this. I’ll pressure him, not give him any space. I will take advantage of my advantages.”
If he can to the extent his hand is raised, his life and the boxing landscape will have changed considerably.