Saul Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. are Great...for Boxing
By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (June 15, 2011) Doghouse Boxing
Saul Alvarez
This Saturday night in Guadalajara, Mexico, Saul Alvarez defends his WBC junior middleweight title against Ryan Rhodes, just a couple of weeks after Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. captured the WBC middleweight title against Sebastian Zbik at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. You hear the usual moaning and groaning from the purists about “paper titles” and the term “fraud” being thrown around in relation to both of these Mexican matinee idols.   

But it says here while nobody knows how good either guy is or how high their ceilings are, they are both extremely good for the business of boxing.  

There, I said it.  

It's the absolute, unadulterated truth.  

Yeah, the hardcore fan can knock them all they want on message boards and forums but the general public- who boxing needs to recapture- obviously isn't listening to them. The HBO audience for Chavez-Zbik was approximately 1.5 million (its largest for “Boxing After Dark” since 2007) on a night opposite the Showtime telecast that aired the “Super Six” semifinal between Carl Froch and Glen Johnson. But while the HBO ratings for “Canelo's” last bout may have been trumped up ( ), he far outdrew Junior on March 5th at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California with over 13,000 in attendance (about double what Chavez Jr. drew on June 4th) to see him face Matthew Hatton. This weekend, Alvarez’s fight at the Arena VFG- on the ranch of the legendary Mexican crooner Vicente “Chente” Fernandez- will have a capacity crowd of 11,650.  

You can have all the skillful guys you want but this industry, like any other form of entertainment, is dependent on those who are bona fide attractions. You can make the argument that neither Alvarez nor Chavez- despite having the prestigious WBC belts around their waists- are in the top tens of their respective divisions (no arguments here) but let's make this clear; this whole belief that somehow multiple titles somehow turn away the casual observer of the sport is perhaps the most overstated and untrue phrase uttered by those who yearn for the supposed good ol' days of one champion in each of eight divisions. In fact, the success at the box-office and the Nielsens of both young Mexican performers show that perhaps fans don't care either way about linear champions or mere beltholders but they will tune in to see well-promoted, marketable performers who are entertaining. As for any confusion having so many so-called “champions” causes, let’s be honest; does Austin Trout holding a version of the WBA 154-pound title really confuse the average fan?  

Many hardcore fans don't even know who Trout is and the guy who watches boxing just once in awhile doesn't give a damn.  

But they will hear of Alvarez and Chavez Jr. eventually, if they keep winning. That's why they're vital to this sport.

"Yup, and it's not just their ability to draw," agreed Larry Merchant of HBO Sports. "Their ability to draw includes their styles as fighters. So it's not just because they're good looking Mexican kids, one who's a son of an iconic Mexican fighter but one that has a look and a story that can't help but help him. But they're fighters and we'll see how good they are. But I think they're a sign, along with maybe [Victor] Ortiz and now Robert Guerrero- who may fight [Marcos] Maidana, which is another damn good fight- of the game re-arming itself with some exciting young fighters."

Some will say that if you have a major belt, like the WBC strap, there is an expectation to face the best. Perhaps, but there seems to be some double-talk as it relates to these supposedly “meaningless” belts. Did you really need to be told that, as of right now, Sergio Martinez is by far and away the premiere middleweight on the planet? Those who represent both Chavez and Alvarez have never stated that they were the best in their divisions. I think the segment of boxing fans who eschew the belts need to make up their minds- are the belts important or not?- because by stating that Chavez Jr. absolutely needs to face “Maravilla” next are only doing so because he has possession of that WBC title.  

In the case of Alvarez, he is now facing a tough out in Rhodes because being a titlist means facing rated contenders. That's the risk Golden Boy Promotions and “Canelo” took in taking the title that was basically gifted to them by Jose Sulaiman. Eventually, both of these guys will have to face somebody they are not expected to overcome, like Oscar De La Hoya did. By the way, the “Golden Boy” won his first major belt by defeating Jimmi Bredahl for the WBO 130-pound title in 1994. Look at De la Hoya’s dossier; as he matured and developed as a boxer (and huge draw), he got in the ring with almost every marquee threat by the end of the century.  

If Martinez is that fine jazz musician who is enjoyed by a small yet loyal base of followers in small, dank clubs, then Chavez Jr. and Alvarez are like a pair of boy bands (think *NSync and the Backstreet Boys of boxing) that plays in huge concert halls in front of large throngs of adoring fans. And it’s because they are marketed on a large scale to a certain demographic. In this instance, instead of teenage girls, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans on the West Coast are the target audience.

  For every Winky Wright, every generation needs an Arturo Gatti or three, fighters who make up for the absence of overall skill and acumen with passion and the ability to create interest in the sport.

Merchant says, "It needs ticket sellers and that's hard to create. There's different arcs to this; who could've imagined that [Floyd] Mayweather, seven, eight years ago would've become a ticket seller? They had to send him out of town because he couldn't sell tickets in Vegas. Did I go to Fresno to see him fight?"

Yes, you did, Larry; back in 2003, when he faced Victoriano Sosa back in 2003.

"So sometimes, it happens later; suddenly Bernard Hopkins has sorta tipped over into an interesting case of a veteran guy who simply because he's persisted over a long time, people are curious about him and he's doing good numbers and then there are young guys who catch fire."

It says here that Alvarez will get all he can handle from Rhodes (who is a very, very live dog) and it figures to be a good fight. Nothing more, nothing less. And isn't that what it's about- being entertained? For all the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over Chavez's close call against Zbik and talk of Martinez being the “real” champ, it was a solid scrap. Most fans in attendance that night got their money’s worth.  

"Yes, it was [entertaining]," said Merchant who, on his night off from his duties at HBO, attended the fight. "It was a good crowd-pleasing fight. I mean, two guys standing toenail to toenail is always going to be good and landing clean shots that you could see from the cheap seats and all of the hoopla and a first fight that saw another promising young fighter, by the way, in Miguel Garcia. I thought it was a little smaller crowd than maybe I expected but with all the surrounding backstories of these guys, it was a good night at the fights.   

"And I think that suddenly, there'll be a few fights for Chavez, winnable fights and then we'll see fights where he faces somebody who is considered an elite fighter and we'll see how he does."  


Don't know if any of you guys saw “Fire and Ice” on HBO, which detailed the classic rivalry between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg but I thought it was fantastic. Believe it or not, as a kid in that era, I was a pretty big tennis fan and even played a little bit (c’mon, I am Asian, after all) and this era of tennis was great. I equate the “Four Horsemen” of boxing- Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran- who really defined that era to the quartet of McEnroe, Borg, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl in tennis.  

Merchant, who covered more than one Wimbledon for HBO back in the day, thinks it’s an apt comparison.  

"I think that in all individual sports, they're enhanced by great rivalries of athletes in their prime. And so, yeah, I think it's a reasonable comparison of Leonard-Hearns, who were similar in age and were great presences in boxing. So yeah, I think it's a reasonable equation to make," he said.  

In both sports, anytime a combination of those four hooked up, it was more than just a fight or a game of tennis. It was an event that transcended their sports.  

Perhaps you can make an argument that the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are superior players but they certainly didn't bring the same amount of personality and interest to the sport like the guys of that era, which also included the likes of Ilie Nastase, Vitas Gerulaitis and Roscoe Tanner, among others. Like in boxing, it's not always about being a superior talent or supremely skilled; you need certain intangibles like a certain persona or the ability to elicit an emotion with the public. Pete Sampras might be the greatest player to have ever held a racket (at least that's what I'm told) but he was a beige spot on a beige wall. He badly needed that foil in Andre Agassi, who was as colorful as his wardrobe.  

My personal favorite was Connors (hey, like me, he had a two-handed backhand!).To me, that guy was like a fighter in many respects. Connors was a guy who may not have had the grace or the natural skill of other players but he was a guy who could overcome that with a certain amount or grit and toughness. What most impressed me about him was that while “Johnny Mac” and Borg peaked in their mid-20s, Connors was like Archie Moore in the sense that he was still an effective and exciting performer at an age when most were long retired.  

His magical run to the semifinals of the 1991 U.S. Open is still the stuff of legend. To be honest, I have no clue who won that tournament that year but I have vivid memories of how Connors electrified Flushing and the rest of the world with his impassioned play. And who can forget this memorable rally?  

I have never, ever heard a tennis crowd erupt like that.   

There were times when Connors turned tennis matches into prizefights and willed his way to victory.

  The day he retired from the courts is about the time I lost interest in tennis as a fan.


  You know what I also miss about the 80s? When pro teams would make really bad, cheesy rap videos. Being a diehard Rams fan (till they bolted to St. Loo), this is a personal favorite: [Editor’s note: It takes about 17 seconds or so to kick off so please be patient]

(C'mon, Eric Dickerson could flow like Rakim; just say it.)

  Of course the Raiders weren't going to go quietly into the night:

  But the one that really got this craze started (and actually got play time on MTV- back when they actually showed music videos) was the Super Bowl Shuffle” by the historic '85 Bears, which I guess makes it the “Rappers Delight” of this genre:


  Along with Peter Manfredo Jr., the names of Nobu Ishida and Giovanni Lorenzo are now being kicked around as possible opponents for Chavez Jr. on Sept. 24th...According to Kathy Duva of Main Events, two fights have been finalized for the Zab Judah-Amir Khan undercard on July 23rd at the Mandalay Bay, Tarvis Simms-Peter Quillin and Joel Julio-Antwone Smith. Honestly, it's too bad neither fight will be broadcast in the States. These are two very good match-ups for being part of the non-televised portion of the show...I also enjoyed “Bobby Fischer Against the World” on HBO. He actually trained in the Catskills in preparation for his showdown with Boris Spassky. Wonder if he ever met Cus D'Amato while he was there?...I'm thoroughly enjoying the fact that “College Football Live” has a segment or two every day on the troubles at Ohio State. It's like their version of the Iran hostage situation on “Nightline”...As a Lakers fan, I can't help but think about the '84 Finals loss to the Celtics and the troubles of Magic Johnson as I saw the Miami Heat meltdown versus the Dallas “Cavericks.” Like the Heat, the Lakersblew games two and four and instead of sweeping the series, they ended up losing. Now, will LeBron James earn his redemption the way Magic did the next season?...Since he hasn't yet, I might as well pile on. The newest Nike campaign for him, based on the way he kept disappearing in the fourth quarters should be “Witness (Protection).” My friend, Joe C., suggested on Twitter(@sportsJC16) that his next shoe come in a big milk carton. I suggest the tagline be “Got Swoosh?”... ... .

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