By Diego Morilla
The picture of the moment suggests that on May 6 in Las Vegas, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will gain access to an otherwise unattainable multi-million dollar payday when he fights Mexican superstar Saul "Canelo” Alvarez for the bragging rights of a boxing-crazy country.
But not long ago, the situation was quite the opposite. Back then, Alvarez was the one perceived to be chasing the money in a fight against Chavez. The son of a legendary champion, Chavez had everything going for him: the fame he inherited from his father, the support of fans, promoters and sanctioning bodies, and much more. But regardless of who's playing what role, the emotional charge of a bout between two Mexican fighters ready to earn the respect of their entire country will take center stage.
While fans may be evenly divided in their support, the press and true connoisseurs of this rivalry know fully well who bears the burden of proof and carries the mission of finally proving himself through this fight.
"We all know that Junior was more dead than alive in boxing," said Ruben Estrada Tapia, administrator of a boxing forum called Boxeo con Respeto. "It isn't for nothing that Oscar De La Hoya offered him this fight, to have the upper hand. At the beginning, the fight was seen as a one-sided abuse, but the team of Heredia, Beristain and Chavez Sr., together with Junior's new-found discipline, gave another dimension to the fight and has finally generated enough interest and intrigue to finally see Canelo facing someone heavier and stronger than him."
The recent few bouts of both fighters have been very different in nature. And so, the "intrigue" that Ruben talks isn't that of a schoolyard rivalry, but one that comes with the buildup created and fostered through the years by certain agents with clear vested interests.
"Ever since they started fighting on network television in Mexico, their rivalry grew a lot, partly because each one represented or was the main figure of one of the two most important TV networks there," says Ismael Munguia, in reference to TV Azteca and Televisa. Munguia, a resident of the northern town of Mexicali, routinely makes the trip to the southern US venues where his compatriots have their big fights. "They were both creating a rivalry to gauge the audience and see who was the most popular among the Mexican fans. If they really have a competition among them it is to demonstrate who is the biggest attraction and who will be the next big Mexican cash machine."
In the case of Chavez, it is impossible not to think about the (figurative) weight he carries over his shoulders and what’s at stake in the legacy initiated by his venerated father. And the way in which those six letters, C-H-A-V-E-Z, tilt the scale for or against him in the mind of the fans is worthy of special analysis.
"I always heard that they just let him get up in the ring out of respect for his father," said Denisse Calixto, a young boxing referee and judge. "That all he was, is and will ever be 'the son of the legend.' But regardless of whether he is good or not, many people expected him to be exactly like his father, a copy of the greatest Mexican boxer ever. They never allowed him room for mistakes since the very beginning. And many people felt disappointed that he was not up to the task of continuing the huge legacy of his dad in a respectable way. And he will never get away from that."
"The comparison will always affect Junior because the fans will expect to see skills that he does not possess," adds Cecilia Martinez, a close follower of the sport born in Michoacan and living in the DF. "It's a tough proposition, because he has not demonstrated that he has it in his blood."
Erasmo Arreola, another hardcore fan from Morelia, adds that "at the beginning of his career, the comparison benefited him, and he used to get fights all the time and make money, but then people started to criticize him for lacking the ability to win fights as convincingly as his dad."
Junior's recent career, plagued by a lack of discipline, unpredictable weight variations and a host of other mostly self-inflicted problems, seems to leave more of negative impression than the impossible standard people measure him against.
"Chavez continues leaving a bitter taste in each one of his fights, because of his lack of passion, commitment and discipline," says Munguia. "His name opened many doors for him, but he continues to disappoint and leaves a lot to be desired with his terrible attitudes."
Cecilia, however, sees a much bigger cross-section of the Mexican boxing faithful hoping to be able to cheer once more the name that has given so much pride to their country.
"A vast majority of people will watch the fight hoping to see him win," she says. "Julio is seen by some as an extension of Julio Cesar, his dad, and the respect that he gets is drawn mostly from that relationship. On my part, I just want to see a fighter giving the best possible performance on every round, demonstrating that he truly loves boxing:"
Regardless of the origins of their dispute or the fight for multi-million dollar contracts and TV ratings, that seems to be the key for most of the fans. They want to see a clear result in the ring – and a career-defining victory for either fighter.
"People, in general, are just hoping that they get up there and kick each other's ass," says Erasmo. "We all want to see a fight between two tough Mexicans beating the crap out of each other without backing up. It's just that easy."