Canelo Alvarez, left, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. pose for photographers during a news conference on May 3. (John Locher / Associated Press)
Like his sport, Canelo Alvarez has taken a few punches on the chin from an audience demanding more intense action.
Competitive bouts this year have lifted the sport back from the negativity of the dreary Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao super-fight staged in Las Vegas two years ago this weekend.
Now, Alvarez aspires to move up nearly 10 pounds to fight Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., son of his legendary Mexican countryman, in a Cinco de Mayo weekend challenge that can set up a dream match against Gennady Golovkin in September.
“That [Mayweather-Pacquiao] mega-fight really hurt boxing … but this is a fight,” Alvarez said Wednesday. “When you have two Mexican fighters in the ring, you’re guaranteed fireworks because we’re both warriors. I’m hoping … we give the people a great fight. … We’ve got more to do.”
The 26-year-old Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 knockouts) disappointed the masses last year by surrendering his World Boxing Council middleweight belt to three-belt champion Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) instead of fighting him.
The disappointment from Mayweather-Pacquiao, which generated a record 4.6 million pay-per-view buys, was compounded as Alvarez’s pay-per-view numbers slipped dramatically from more than 900,000 buys for his November 2015 victory over Miguel Cotto to 290,000 for his September knockout of England’s little-known light-middleweight champion Liam Smith.
This week, however, Alvarez is carrying himself in a mood that might best be described as, “OK, I’m ready.”
Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy Promotions, said he’s prepared to immediately resume negotiations with Golovkin’s team if his fighter beats Chavez Jr.
“We want [Alvarez] to win by knockout,” Gomez said. “That would be exciting and that would get people really interested, but if he has a close fight, like Golovkin did with [Daniel] Jacobs [in March], it still merits a fight with Golovkin.
“If he’s able to knock out Chavez, that’s the fight that we want. It’s a matter of tying up the loose ends and getting it done. If it’s a close fight, we’ll talk to the kid [Alvarez], but the focus has always been Golovkin in September.”
When fight fans reacted with scorn on Twitter by interpreting Gomez’s comments to The Times as wiggle room to avoid Golovkin without a knockout, Gomez tweeted, “Clarification. Canelo wins period, we want 3G in September. Doubt me? Cashme ousside, howbow dah!”
The sport has provided the momentum to continue presenting quality fights.
Since November, there has been a competitive light-heavyweight unification won by Andre Ward over previously unbeaten Sergey Kovalev, a successful revenge by featherweight Leo Santa Cruz in a rematch with 2016 fighter of the year Carl Frampton, Golovkin’s narrow victory over Jacobs and last week’s gripping 11th-round technical knockout victory by heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua over Wladimir Klitschko.
“I’m passionate about this sport,” Alvarez said. “This being a rivalry against another Mexican fighter is more special. It’s personal … a great opportunity for us to show what Mexicans are made of.”
Alvarez reflected Wednesday on his meeting with the great Chavez Sr. as a 16-year-old young pro fighter.
“It happened ringside,” Alvarez said. “He told me, ‘Keep on working hard. You’re on the right track. Keep on doing it and you can go far.’”
Obeying that guidance has been paramount and Alvarez’s work ethic and professionalism is perhaps the greatest distinction between him and Chavez Jr., who has languished through absent stretches and discipline for marijuana use.
When asked the most important reason he has emerged as the most popular fighter in his sport, Alvarez said, “The key’s been discipline … taking it serious is why we’re at this point.”
HBO executive vice president Peter Nelson, whose network will broadcast the bout for $59.95, said he’s hopeful that the timing is right for the sport to stamp its recovery from the Mayweather-Pacquiao backlash.
“We’re just starting to see that interest in the sport beginning to fructify now … this fight is bankable,” Nelson said. “You know it’s going to be money well spent based on the styles.
“For people to whom Cinco de Mayo has significance, this is the perfect event to tether to that holiday. For people who care about sports events of magnitude, this fits that profile. This fight is about the American dream in a lot of ways … Canelo is challenging himself, Chavez has an opportunity to redeem himself — proving the line that there are no second acts in America false.”