Commentary: Canelo dominates Chavez to set up Golovkin bout in the fall
On Saturday night, in front of a sold-out crowd at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, one of boxing’s hottest attractions, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, faced Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in one of the year’s most anticipated fights.
Canelo, 49-1-1 (34), scored a one-sided, 12-round unanimous decision over Chavez, 50-3-1 (32) with scores of 120-108 across the board.
If Chavez hadn’t been cashing a paycheck for a $3,000,000 the next morning, I’d have almost felt sorry for him…but I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sympathy.
Perhaps not so much for the outcome of the fight (lots of fighters take a licking now and then. It comes with the profession they chose) but for the fact that, merely seconds after HBO’s Max Kellerman got through the obligatory post-fight interview, the media, HBO, and the entire arena turned their attention to the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo bout that was confirmed, right then and there, in the ring.
It was like Chavez had done his part and he was then free to go. Moments after the fight ended, it was clear, despite any pre-fight hype, that he clearly wasn’t a significant player in his own event and probably wasn’t intended to be.
Thanks for coming out!
Canelo-Chavez was all about setting the table for the big “GGG”-Alvarez buffet in the fall and Chavez was just a necessary second pawn played to whet the appetite of the fans.
Saturday night’s fight wasn’t a middleweight matchup; it was an extended preview to the Gennady Golovkin-Saul Alvarez bout in September. Sure, Chavez had the opportunity to pull off the upset and slot himself against GGG in September but it was clear from HBO Boxing’s immediate reaction and then the pre-planned GGG challenge to Alvarez from commentator Max Kellerman, that, short of an upset, Chavez was never really in the plans.
One of the big questions heading into the fight was whether or not Chavez could make the contracted catchweight of 164.5 pounds. With a long history of missing weights and questionable (see: unreliable) training methods before fights, many questioned whether the son of Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez would even hit the contracted number when he stepped on the scale.
Unfortunately, so much had been made of him making weight (or not) that, perhaps, when he hit the required poundage on the scale, Chavez thought he had done his job. Someone forgot to remind him that the other half of the equation, the much tougher task – actually fighting – lay ahead the following evening.
But a dedicated and focused Chavez hit the weight without any apparent difficulty. Fans and media alike were tweeting pictures of Chavez holding up his scale, two days before weigh-in, already on target and Chavez was quoted that he “could have made 160.”
Chavez’s pre-fight camp was also bolstered with the addition of no-nonsense Mexican legend Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, who was hired to prepare Chavez. The feeling was that the reputation and respect Beristain has garnered, and the magnitude of the event, would be enough to keep Chavez focused and on point right up until fight time.
And it did.
Chavez did everything expected of him throughout this training camp. He worked hard and made weight.
Many questioned whether or not Chavez would fold under the pressure of the fight, both in preparations before and during the bout itself, against the talented Alvarez.
Unfortunately it became very clear, early and often, that what he brought to the table was an iron chin and the hope to execute a plan to halt a primed and talented world-class fighter’s continual assault.
But desire and a good chin aren’t enough at that level. One has to be able to execute. Hoping to do something in the ring and actually make it happen are two every different things. A solid set of whiskers and an extensive wish list aren’t going to cut it when a world-class fighter has you dead in his sights.
Perhaps fans felt Chavez would be able to handle the pressure, as pressure has been a factor in his career from the day he decided to follow in his legendary father’s footsteps.
Extreme pressure – from his last name and his boxing-crazed country to lofty expectations – didn’t start with the Alvarez bout and will continue until he retires (and after last night’s bout, that may come sooner than later).
As HBO Boxing’s Jim Lampley said after the fight, “I think we’ve seen Julio for the last time.”
Growing up as the son of a Mexican sports legend and revered boxing idol has its perks. However avoiding incredible pressure and often unrealistic expectations, should you choose to take up boxing, don’t apply.
For every door that was opened for Julio Jr. (because his last name was Chavez), there was equally incredible pressure and an increased sense of expectation that came along with it.
Chavez turned professional in 2003 after only two amateur bouts. Both bouts were against (former world champion) Jorge Paez’s son and were shown on Mexican television. (If Chavez was going to box for a living, it was clear right from the beginning that he was going to be in the spotlight with all the glaring expectations that came with it.)
Julio Jr. was the chosen one.
He was going to carry the huge Chavez name in Mexican boxing. The pressure, none of which seemed to be placed on younger brother Omar, a respectable welterweight at 36-3-1 (24), was intense from the get-go.
And while it’s easy to say it goes with the territory, it doesn’t make the territory, as rugged a terrain as it gets in boxing, any easier to navigate.
Partly due to the name on his trunks, Chavez would attract immediate attention and the perks of signing with boxing powerhouse Top Rank Promotions early in his career. But with that came opponents who were gunning for him each and every time, knowing a win could bolster their future opportunities.
And for every rabid Mexican supporter, happy to see a Chavez back in the ring, there were as many detractors and critics who saw him as a coddled, protected child of privilege.
What is it the kids say these days? Oh, yeah. Haters gonna hate.
In reality, for a young man with limited amateur experience and the weight of the world on him, in terms of expectations, every time he stepped into the ring, Chavez showed a great deal of natural ability and was progressing very well as he racked up win after win against predictable opposition.
And after five years into his career, Chavez had beaten some tough, opponent-level fighters and was soon besting rugged gatekeepers like Matt Vanda, Billy Lyell and prospect John Duddy.
Hope reigned! And then he delivered!
In his 45th fight, in June of 2011, Chavez would beat Sebastian Zbik over 12 rounds to win the WBC world middleweight title. He would then defend the title three times before losing it to highly-respected lineal champion Sergio Martinez in September of 2012.
However, after his impressive run, things would go south after the Martinez loss.
He would fight five times over the next four years, going 4-1, to mounting criticism for his questionable commitment to training and inconsistent efforts in the ring.
Then the Alvarez fight came along.
The bout was more than likely set up as an easy bout for Canelo against a name opponent as the redheaded Mexican star waited for a mega-bout with hard-hitting middleweight king Golovkin, which has now been scheduled for mid-September.
Chavez supporters, still hopeful that their fighter could find the will and skill to deliver a worthy performance, wait with bated breath to see which Chavez would show up at the weigh-in.
And as far as making weight, Chavez did his job.
He showed up on weight (perhaps motivated by a $1,000,000-per-pound penalty) and ready to fight. He did everything asked of him from Coach Beristain in camp.
However, one would wonder why Chavez, when he clearly wasn’t able to box Alvarez from the outside, wouldn’t have gone for broke and just waged war. Clearly his chin could stand the heat of Alvarez’s punches and maybe, in a toe-to-toe slugfest, he would land something of note to turn things around? Win or lose, that route would have delivered an exciting fight for the fans and he would have garnered the respect of his supporters and countrymen for going out on his shield.
But that was an option he didn’t exercise.
During the fight, Chavez’s same patterns trying to find an opening and getting repeatedly assaulted by Alvarez for his efforts played out over and over.
What is that saying about expecting different results when you repeat the same behavior?
It hasn’t been easy to be the son of a legend in a rugged sport that demands so much of its athletes, in front of fans who expect even more.
There was no developing in anonymity for young, Julio upon turning pro. There was no forgiveness for an off-night. The perks and privileges of being a Chavez, from fighting on huge pay-per-view cards to attracting the interest of boxing’s biggest promotional firm early in his career, were equally matched by intense pressure and expectations in a sport that already brings incredible intensity and pressure.
On Saturday night, on the biggest stage of his career, one rife with intense expectations, perhaps those unrealistic pressures and expectations came to the forefront.
Let’s also keep in mind, while Chavez’s chin and size gave his supporters hope, he is three fights removed from quitting against Andrzej Fonfara in 2015. He then followed that loss up with two decision wins against non-descript opposition. Unless your last name happens to be Chavez, that is hardly a resume that nets a seven-figure payday in an HBO Pay-Per-View bout against one of boxing’s best fighters.
At its core, boxing is about passion.
If you want to build a loyal following, you have to show fans what you are willing to risk and ask of yourself, when the going gets tough. And when you find yourself in a difficult spot in the ring, are you going to keep repeating the same behavior that, while safe, is ultimately unsuccessful? Or are you willing to dare to take yourself to the edge, fueled by passion? If not, for the fans who have put down good money, looking to believe, wanting to believe, you will ultimately fail to deliver.
Fans aren’t looking for perfection. They just want to see the passion that fueled their belief in the first place. Win or lose, if you fight with passion and a willingness to go out on your shield, while daring to be great, you will always have the respect of the fans who want to believe in you.
In the post-fight interview, Chavez said he wants to keep working with Beristain and continue at 168 pounds, a weight to which he is more suited.
“I think I am going to stay in the 168-pound division,” said Chavez. “I am going to keep working with Nacho. The strategy of fighting in the center of the ring was a good one but, when (Canelo) went to the ropes, it was just me that didn’t have the strength to do some damage. I feel that Beristain and I did some good work.”
Where does Chavez go from here? Who knows?
Where do fight fans go?
We go to GGG vs. Alvarez in September.
And both fighters, who, very quickly, became the main attractions at the conclusion of Saturday night’s fight, were clearly excited about their upcoming date in post-fight interviews.
“Tonight I showed I could move; I could box. I showed, as a fighter, I can do all things,” said Canelo. “I thought I was going to showcase myself as a fighter that could throw punches but (Chavez) just wouldn’t (engage). I’ve shown I can do lots of things in the ring, anything a fighter brings – I’ve shown I can showcase myself. I wanted to try something new. I never sit down in sparring and I didn’t want to sit here. GGG, you are next, my friend. The fight is done. I’ve never feared anyone, since I was 16, fighting as a professional. When I was born, fear was gone. I never got my share of fear. I’m very happy and the rivalry (with Golovkin) is going to show my skills even more. I’ve had difficult fights and that will no doubt be a tough fight. But I always say Canelo Alvarez is the best because I fight the best.”
And a smiling, always calm and collected Golovkin replied, “I feel very excited. In September, it will be a different style – a big drama show. I’m ready. Tonight, first congrats to Canelo and his team. Right now, I think everyone is excited for September. Canelo looked very good tonight and, 100 percent, he is the biggest challenge of my career. Good luck to Canelo in September.”