By Jake Donovan
In terms of relevance, a showdown between Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. would be to Mexico what a Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr matchup would be to the rest of the boxing world – the biggest possible fight to be made.
Something else the two budding rivalries have in common for the moment – a constant battle of ‘whose is bigger’ could forever delay it from ever becoming a reality.
The question is inevitable whenever either fighter steps into the ring. Chavez Jr. fielded as many questions about Alvarez as he did about his actual fight with Peter Manfredo, and that was in the buildup leading up to last weekend’s HBO headliner in Houston.
As Alvarez heads into his own HBO main event this weekend against Kermit Cintron (Saturday, 10:30PM ET/PT, live from Mexico City), the popular Mexican is forced to respond to as many questions about his countryman as he is about a fight that serves as arguably his toughest test to date.
The closest either has come to suggesting that an actual fight will ever take place came over the weekend when random weights were thrown around. Alvarez – through co-promoter Oscar de la Hoya – insisted that the buildup could eventually reach a collision if Chavez Jr were able to squeeze down to 156 lb.
Some took the suggestion as opportunistic considering that Chavez Jr showed up in pristine condition last weekend for a middleweight fight, meaning that dropping down any lower could prove unhealthy.
Chavez Jr’s handlers, chief among them co-promoter Bob Arum, countered with a request that the fight take place at 158, which would be four pounds above Alvarez’ heaviest weight. The 21-year old has only begun taking fights at the full limit of the division in which he claims a belt, after having recently fought at welterweight and a string of bouts at a 150 lb. catchweight.
Looking at the glass half full, such talks could be considered as progress, since all of this first began as a fantasy matchup that few if any believed would ever take place.
Given the players involved and recent history of big fights being left at the negotiating table (if even making it that far), the skeptical view of it being just talk and nothing more appears to be the greater reality.
The good news for both fighters is that neither one really seem to give a crap. Chavez Jr. just grins whenever asked about Alvarez, including on the subject of his alleged involvement in a street brawl with junior flyweight titlist Ulises ‘Archie’ Solis last month. The rest of his responses were along the lines of “Manfredo today, ask me about Alvarez later,” although he admittedly roots for his countryman since such a fight would be huge as long as they both remain unbeaten.
Alvarez’ placement in HBO’s schedule could be viewed in one of two ways. The insistence from his camp was that he wanted one more fight this year and Thanksgiving weekend was the last remaining slot with December already being full. Even getting him on air required HBO being sold on the idea of a split site doubleheader, as a skeleton crew heads south of the border while everyone else will be in Cincinnati for Adrien Broner’s homecoming bout against Vicente Rodriguez.
The other side of the coin says that his fighting one week after Chavez Jr – who stopped Manfredo in the fifth round last weekend – is hardly an accident, and that HBO will do whatever it can to get them in the ring as long as the network is signing their paychecks.
Whatever the case, Alvarez doesn’t seem to care about anything other than the guy standing in front of him this weekend.
“I’m not worried about Julio, or making a statement,” Alvarez insists when asked of any pressure to match or improve upon Chavez’ performance last weekend. “I’m worried about the Cintron fight only.”
For what it’s worth, Alvarez has every right to be worried, even if Cintron on paper no longer appears to be the same explosive fighter he was during his prime years. The Puerto Rican has hit hard times in the wake of his second knockout loss to Antonio Margarito more than three years ago. A record of just 4-2-1 (1KO) since their rematch includes back-to-back losses to Paul Williams and Carlos Molina, spread out over 14 months.
Cintron (33-4-1, 28KO) admits that going so long between fights only hurt his chances against Molina, who not only scored a huge upset but completely dominated the former welterweight titlist. Determined to remove the bad taste out of his mouth, Cintron returned to the ring a month later to defeat Antwone Smith over ten rounds in their ESPN2-televised bout.
Still, it’s not the struggling version of Cintron that Team Alvarez anticipates showing up this weekend, but the two-fisted bomber who punched his way to title status just a few years ago.
In fact, Alvarez views this weekend’s fight as an upgrade from his last fight, which by his own admission wasn’t his best night in the office.
“I felt good. I didn’t execute my game plan, but I was comfortable,” Alvarez states of his sixth round knockout of Alfonso Gomez this past September. The fight was competitive for five rounds before Alvarez stunned Gomez in the sixth, forcing the stoppage although some claim the referee was a little quick to pull the trigger. “I felt good and I got the job done.”
“As far as Kermit goes, he’s a better fighter. He’s on a higher level than Gomez.”
Some challenge the statement, claiming that Cintron was handpicked purely for name value, but is no longer the fighter he once was. Golden Boy Promotions was quick to shoot down that theory.
“We picked (Cintron) because he’s the next step in Canelo’s development,” explains Eric Gomez, Golden Boy Promotions Vice President and matchmaker. “Kermit Cintron is a legitimate top fighter. He deserves to be on this stage.”
A win would give Alvarez three successful defenses of the 154 lb. belt, all of which will have occurred in an active 2011 campaign. Alvarez began the year with a vacant title win in a virtual shutout of Matthew Hatton – Ricky Hatton’s younger brother - in March. He has since scored stoppages of Ryan Rhodes – like Hatton, a UK fighter - this past June and Gomez two months ago.
Missing from his resume are wins against notable names. The closest he came was 51 weeks ago, scoring a decision win over former 140 lb. titlist Lovemore N’Dou. The fight was every bit as awkward as Cintron’s own points win against N’Dou two years prior, leaving all eyes on Alvarez to see if he can rise to the occasion when stepping up in class.
That – and not a rivalry with Chavez Jr that may or may not turn into an actual fight – is what remains on Alvarez’ mind heading into this weekend’s showdown. Not even fighting for the pride of Mexico in the country’s long standing in-ring rivalry with Puerto Rico means as much.
“Of course (the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry) motivates me. There are great champions from both countries through the years,” Alvarez states before explaining why it’s not top priority. “But I’m motivated for this fight because I’m facing a very good fighter. He’s a very good fighter with a lot of experience. The level of competition is what ultimately motivates me.”
If anyone is bothering to keep score, it can be argued that Alvarez’ rise to stardom has come against a better class of fighters than has been the case in Chavez Jr’s career.
It would be a great discussion point – if Alvarez were up for discussing it, or interested in competing outside the ring until they’re able to do so for real.
“I don’t care about what Julio does in his career. I’m not worried about other things or letting them influence (my performance). I prepare for my fight, and fight whoever they put in front of me. I’m prepared for whoever comes my way.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]