The Square Jungle: Alvarez-Golovkin, Chavez Jr., Terence Crawford and Gervonta Davis
It took over a year to accomplish but the Gennady Golovkin-Saul Alvarez matchup – a Make-a-Wish Foundation special for aficionados across the continent – will finally take place on Sept. 16.
As a teaser for one of the most anticipated fights of the last year or so, Saul Alvarez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., was about as successful as the trailer for “Battlefield Earth” was in getting moviegoers to watch John Travolta ham it up in jumbo dreadlocks and tubes running from his nose.
But such is the power of delayed gratification among long-suffering boxing fans that the sideshow antics at the T-Mobile Arena announcing Golovkin-Alvarez threw everyone into a frenzy. In boxing, spectacle has slowly replaced quality matchups over the years, with fights playing third fiddle to wailing announcers, laser light shows, souped-up infomercials, silly “Face-Off” productions, ridiculous Twitter posturing and fiery ring walks that might have required the Grucci Family to arrange. At least the pomp and circumstance surrounding Golovkin-Alvarez at the T-Mobile Arena will lead to something tangible, unlike, say, when an over-the-Big Top Tyson Fury confronted WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder last year in Brooklyn for a sensory overload special.
Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya has been a loud target for The Square Jungle (as well as The Cruelest Sport) for several years but he deserves a certain amount of credit for gambling on Golovkin-Alvarez, especially when you consider the fact that GBP would qualify for not-for-profit status without Alvarez in its stable. However, De La Hoya has learned, through his own experience as a top draw for over a decade, that a loss does not necessarily mean an automatic for-whom-the-bells-toll moment for a fighter with a rabid fan base. After pulling what Don King called his “Chief Running Coyote” act in the late rounds against Felix Trinidad in 1999, De La Hoya remained a supernova. Even after losing to Shane Mosley less than a year later, De La Hoya retained his grinning sheen of stardom. If De La Hoya slipped into part-time fighter status after losing to Mosley, it was only because the “Golden Boy” was unable to resist warp speed on the fast lane until, finally, like the infamous last moments of Two-Lane Blacktop, he practically self-immolated burning rubber.
Because so many poor fights have been underwritten by HBO and Showtime over the years (and because pay-per-view technology, however shaky its model in Periscope age, still allows even marginal fights such as Alvarez-Liam Smith to generate a profit), promoters have little incentive to risk their commodities in dangerous matchups. Unless Alvarez gets demolished or embarrasses himself in the ring (the way Chavez did against him), there is a good chance the Mexican aficionados – far more interested in fighting spirit than their American counterparts – will stick with “Canelo” for the long run. After all, the L.A. faithful never stopped supporting Pipino Cuevas and Lupe Pintor when they went through the motions at the Olympic Auditorium long after their best days were over.
For one of the few times in recent years, De La Hoya has turned his perpetual spiel about “the best versus the best” into something other than what it has been almost without exception: a carny barker routine suggestive of what Charles P. Pierce once wrote in “Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free,” “Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.” To be fair, De La Hoya has never really been loud but repetitious? Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.
Despite the fact that the job of a promoter is, ostensibly, at least, to produce events consumers demand and are willing to pay for, we have reached an age when even the signing of a logical matchup produces congratulations all around. After a slew of sham pay-per-view main events, which allowed him to add an extra zero or two to his account balance while simultaneously keeping Golden Boy Promotions from filing Chapter 11, Alvarez has returned, for the moment, anyway, to being the taciturn man whose aspirations may or may not have actually transcend dominant contemporary prizefight mores.
And if Alvarez manages to defeat Golovkin? Then De La Hoya will have the first post-Floyd Mayweather Jr./post-Manny Pacquiao superstar in North America – and with that, the whip hand in an industry where leverage and its sting mean everything.
As for the fight itself, Golovkin-Alvarez is a world-class affair with, thankfully, nary an asterisk in sight. While Alvarez has already opened as a modest short-ender, some consider Golovkin, now 35 and unimpressive in his last two starts, slightly past his peak. But this is almost certainly a byproduct of facing the best competition of his career. IBF welterweight titlist Kell Brook, whom Golovkin stopped in seven ragged rounds, was certainly undersized but he was a world-class welterweight nonetheless. Jacobs, who dropped a narrow decision to Golovkin in March, solidified his standing as one of the top middleweights in the world with his measured performance. Unlike Brook, who landed several flush shots against Golovkin last November, Alvarez is not a slick stylist, unlike Jacobs, who flustered Golovkin by turning southpaw, Alvarez is not a switch-hitter. These details ought to please Golovkin backers to no end but the plodding modus operandi Golovkin has adopted recently (still advancing, for the most part, but at a much more deliberate pace) resembles the straight-forward style Alvarez has mastered over the years. Even so, the fact that Alvarez was unable to stop Chavez – a whittled version of a fighter whose psyche is brittle and whose talent has often been belittled – means he will have to work double-time to keep “GGG” at a distance. Still, there will be no cute southpaws (such as Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara) or ring wizards (such as Floyd Mayweather Jr.) across the ring from Alvarez on Sept. 16.
After being whitewashed by Saul Alvarez over 12 dull but damaging rounds, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., can finally be considered a memory. At his peak, admittedly a short one, Chavez boosted his modest skills with an accelerated style. In turn, his aggression was augmented with a deadly left hook and a size advantage earned by the judicious use of steam rooms, plastic running suits and the boon of modern weigh-ins, which are often held more than 24 hours prior to a fight. The Freudian underpinnings to his career were not clear until he signed to fight Sergio Martinez in 2012. Now, you would need not only Freud but his acolytes – Ernest Jones, Harry Stackhouse, Carl Jung, whomever – to understand Chavez and the strange fact that his career began tail-spinning roughly two weeks before facing Martinez. That was when Junior, preparing for the biggest fight of his life, was arrested for DUI. From then on, Chavez earned all of the scorn heaped on him from every corner of the fight racket. In a misguided effort to resuscitate a career that had been on a morgue slab since 2013, Chavez challenged Alvarez to a catchweight bout that he hoped would put an end to his reputation as a dilettante. Against Alvarez, who was fighting well above his preferred weight of 155 pounds, Chavez was unable to even make things interesting, something he had rarely failed to do over the last six or seven years.
Ironically, Chavez put himself through hell in preparing for Alvarez. Even his father, “JC Superstar,” seemed shocked by the dedication his wayward son had shown the last few months. “I do not know how Julio has endured, really,” Chavez told La Opinion. “My son has surprised me because, you know, Julio is difficult. He is bipolar; he changes his looks like he changes his jeans and, this time, he has done everything right down to the letter.” But there were signs that Chavez may have been rebelling at the grindstone under trainer Nacho Beristáin. According to ESPN Deportes, Beristáin was ready to desert Chavez a few weeks before the Alvarez fight. Unhappy being sequestered at Centro Ceremonial Otomí in Temoaya, Chavez was looking to pull up stakes in search of another training camp. “That annoyed me a lot,” Beristáin said. “I told him that he was wrong, that we were here for a month-and-a-half and, on a whim, he wants to ruin the work we’ve put in. I’m not playing; I’m a professional. I said, ‘I’m not going to Las Vegas like this.’ He convinced himself that I wasn’t joking and he told me, ‘Fine, whatever you say.’” It is doubtful that Chavez will ever be this agreeable again.’
Indeed, a few days ago, video of a fuddled Chavez cavorting in Las Vegas with some energetic strippers emerged to put an exclamation point on the career of an athlete who always looked at his vocation with a sidelong, albeit bleary-eyed, glance.
Most Olympic gold medalists in boxing receive lavish signing bonuses, fawning media coverage and an often cynical build-up on HBO or Showtime. However Felix Diaz, who challenges Terence Crawford at Madison Square Garden in New York City on May 20 for two slices of the junior welterweight title pie, has been on a decidedly slow train since winning gold in Beijing in 2008. In fact, in nearly eight years as a professional fighter, Diaz has entered the ring a paltry 20 times and only recently against credible opposition. Somehow, the 33-year-old native of Santo Domingo has seen the limelight pass him by, despite being the first – and only – gold medalist in the history of the Dominican Republic. Even the Latino press has had little to say about Diaz. El Nuevo Dia, Primera Hora and El Diario – none of them with recent coverage of a man who toiled in anonymity for years and finally has a chance at boxing (niche) glory.
If the lack of buzz surrounding his fight with Crawford is any indication, Diaz will have to win in spectacular fashion to generate even a jot of notoriety. And that, alas, seems a dream out of reach. Slow ticket sales and minimal local media exposure combine to indicate that Crawford-Diaz will likely spur creative box office figures, post-fight, along with the usual middling ratings, which is a shame, really, since Crawford-Diaz is the first live fight of any significance HBO has aired since WBO junior lightweight titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko stopped Nicholas Walters last November. Not only has Diaz been poorly served by his brain trust – without links to a major promoter and without a base in Dominican strongholds, such as New York or Florida – but his moment in the sun has also been overshadowed by the detached attitude of his opponent.
A low-key figure, when not rampaging in auto body shops or crashing parking lot brawls, Terence Crawford has been so monosyllabic for so long now that he seems at cross-purposes with the very notion of fame. Feuding with the press certainly does not help his cause. So muted has this promotion been that Bob Arum, head of Top Rank Promotions, has made sure to mention WBO welterweight titlist Manny Pacquiao as often as possible, in the age-old strategy of linking one hot name to that of a lukewarm one in hopes of generating a sense of anticipation among consumers. (Never mind the fact that Pacquiao, no longer the attraction he once was and is now on a celebrity farewell tour, has already made it clear that he is not interested in the multi-talented Crawford.) Not even headlining in the media capital of the world seems to offer any spark. It will be up to Crawford, who last fought six months ago, nonchalantly stopping ill-prepared John Molina Jr., to be the match that sets his own career ablaze – in the ring, where everything in boxing matters most.
IBF junior lightweight titleholder Gervonta Davis, the talented southpaw fighting out of Baltimore, Maryland, is only 22 years old but already he seems poised to separate himself from so many of his wallflower peers. First, Davis scored an impressive KO of a fair Alphabet Soup champion, Jose Pedraza, in his first title shot, refusing to coast to a decision, and now, Davis goes on the road to face undefeated Liam Walsh at the Copper Box Arena in London, England, this Saturday to defend his 130-pound kickshaw. Although Walsh has proven himself to be a solid domestic U.K. fighter (with his most notable win coming over jaded Scott Harrison, out of the ring, more or less, for nearly seven years), he seems a bit too straight up to keep Davis from countering with impunity. But the real story here may be this: Gervonta Davis has a very good chance of becoming the first HOP (Haymon Outsourcing Program) fighter to notch a victory outside of the steadily shrinking auspices of the Premier Boxing Champions banner. Until now, HOP fighters have been grossly overmatched so that the PBC can actually take in greenbacks rather than just spending them. Davis-Walsh represents the first pick ‘em affair for an adviser who, more often than not, resembles nothing more than an incompetent manager.
Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing News magazine, Remezcla, Boxing Digest magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World magazine, and Esquina Boxeo. He is also a contributor to HBO Boxing and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization. His stories “A Darkness Made to Order” and “A Ghost Orbiting Forever” both won first place awards from the BWAA.