With its long line of champions and passionate fanbase, few countries can lay claim to being a boxing powerhouse quite like Mexico can. Come May 6th, the boxing world’s attention will once again be fixated on Mexican fighters, as catchweights Saul “Canelo” Álvarez and Julio César Chávez Jr. face off at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
No sport speaks to the intersections of race, class, and nationality quite like boxing. It’s one of the reasons Muhammad Ali was considered the greatest sportsman of his time, and why Manny Pacquiao is a beloved (if often problematic) senator in the Philippines. Boxers represent their communities in unique and visceral ways. They physically impose their will on their opponents. With every bob and weave, the hopes of their people rest on their sculpted shoulders, a whole nation living and dying with every punch.
While Olympic sports and international soccer often work as stand-ins for war, highlighting rivalries between peoples and underscoring nationalist pride, boxing does away with any and all pretensions. It’s the sweet science of hitting and not getting hit, of inflicting sustained pain on your opponent, of winning the war.
The fight between Canelo and Chávez pits the era’s two most famous Mexican fighters against each other on U.S. soil. As a growing legion of xenophobes feel emboldened to spew vitriol and hate through the country, the event feels defiantly Mexican on an American stage.
With ticket prices reaching into the thousands of dollars range, the fight doubles as a testament to the immense spending power of Mexicans and Chicanos. Promoted by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions and sponsored by Tecate, the packed house will be a show of force for one of the communities most affected by the current presidential administration
As Canelo’s manager and trainer Jose “Chepo” Reynoso told a crowd earlier this week, “what will happen on May 6 is an arena filled with thousands of Mexicans who will come together to sing the Mexican national anthem together, and show the U.S. that we are more unified than ever before.”
In terms of the fighters themselves, the pugilists set to face off speak to a class divide, with origins dating back to the colonial era. Canelo hails from Guadalajara, Jalisco, and is considered the people’s champ in most circles. At the age of 26, he has accomplished more than some of the most decorated fighters in recent memory. Canelo’s only loss came against a once-in-a-generation fighter like Floyd Mayweather, and the redheaded fighter is fresh off of knockout victories against an overmatched Liam Smith and an undersized Amir Khan.
Having worked with the same trainers his entire life (Chepo and Eddy Reynoso), Canelo provides the Mexican boxing world a kind of idyllic charm. He is a hard-working, self-made fighter who remained loyal to his childhood trainers. It doesn’t hurt that he fights moving forward and with bad intentions. His most impressive knockouts, against James Kirkland and Khan, are violent yet skillful, showcasing his brawler heart and boxing brain.
Across from him will be Julio César Chávez Jr., a fighter known for his actions outside of the ring nearly as much as his actions inside of the ring. The son of the Mexican boxing legend with whom he shares a name, Jr. was seen as the second coming until issues with drugs and weight casted doubt on his commitment to the sport.
Now, reportedly re-energized by the chance to fight Mexico’s newest favorite son, Chávez seems poised to hold up his end of the bargain during a fight billed by many as the biggest between Mexican fighters in boxing history. As his father states, “I foresee a real tough fight. We have seen the best of Canelo, but we have not seen the best of my son. I firmly believe that with a disciplined training camp, Junior is able to knock out not just Canelo but anyone in his way.”
The build-up to the fight has already exposed this culture clash and the antagonistic relationship between the two men. In possibly the most #macho moment in Despierta America’s recent history, Canelo and Chávez bet their entire fight winnings, with the victor reportedly set to win the entire $45 million purse. Publicity stunt be damned, the growing disdain between the fighters makes for captivating drama. That should continue on Friday, when the final press conference of the initial marketing tour takes place in Los Angeles. Expect fireworks, because each fighter has a lot on the line.
For Canelo, he risks his status as Mexico’s preferred boxer (and a heavy purse) for the chance at glory. For Chávez, he risks falling into a permanent mediocrity should he lose to the only other Mexican boxer that can reach his level of popularity. $45 million is enough of a prize for most men, but when these two Mexican icons step into the Las Vegas ring on Cinco de Mayo weekend, they will fighting for something more important: the love of a people desperately in need of a hero.