LAS VEGAS – Oscar De La Hoya’s fate as a promoter will be determined, in many ways, by a guy whom he doesn’t promote, doesn’t have a relationship with and whom, for the better part of the second half of his career, has been as unreliable as it comes.
De La Hoya’s announcement in January that his star fighter, Canelo Alvarez, would take on the mercurial Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on Cinco de Mayo weekend was panned by many critics for a variety of reasons.
Alvarez and De La Hoya had been putting off a fight with Gennady Golovkin because they insisted Alvarez wasn’t a middleweight (160-pound limit), only to announce the Chavez fight at a catchweight of 164.5 pounds. On top of that, Chavez is a massive guy who comes in easily 20 or 25 pounds heavier on fight night than Golovkin regularly does.
In addition, Chavez lacks discipline and had been fighting at light heavyweight because he simply didn’t put in the effort to make middleweight. Who can ever forget the scene on HBO’s “24/7” prior to Chavez’s 2012 title fight with Sergio Martinez, when Roach was standing alone in the gym, waiting for Chavez to arrive?
That was one of the many reasons fans and critics reacted negatively when De La Hoya announced the fight.
I wasn’t among those critics, though I’ve been highly critical of De La Hoya’s position relative to a potential Alvarez-Golovkin fight since late 2015.
It’s been clear for a couple of years that Alvarez is the only moneymaker De La Hoya has on his Golden Boy Promotions roster, and De La Hoya has gone to great lengths to protect him. This, despite the fact that Alvarez is an elite talent and doesn’t need Golden Boy or anyone else to protect him.
De La Hoya had Alvarez fight Amir Khan, who had primarily been a junior welterweight in his career, last Cinco de Mayo. Khan never had a chance in the bout, posed no threat and just about everyone knew it.
After the fight, De La Hoya feigned interest in an Alvarez-Golovkin fight, and shouted at the news conference for Tom Loeffler, Golovkin’s promoter, to be ready for his phone call the next day. A handful of days later, Alvarez surrendered his title rather than agree to fight Golovkin.
That decision led to the disaster of a matchup on Mexican Independence Day Weekend, annually one of the biggest boxing weekends of the year, between Alvarez and the little-known Liam Smith. Smith had even less of a chance of winning than Khan.
And then, in January, De La Hoya announced the Alvarez-Chavez fight, which will be held on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, and many critics shredded the decision.
I thought it was a stroke of genius, though it all depends on Chavez. And that’s where De La Hoya’s fate is inextricably tied to the fate of his longtime rival’s son. This is a big fight. It’s likely going to sell a million or more on pay-per-view. T-Mobile is sold out, and the energy in the arena will be palpable.
De La Hoya, like many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans his age, grew up a fan of Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., the legendary champion. Chavez Sr. is one of the 25 greatest boxers of all-time and was known for his determination, steely resolve and brutal body attacks.
De La Hoya fought Chavez Sr. twice as “El Gran Campeon” was in the twilight of his career, and De La Hoya won both.
Alvarez is a massive star in Mexico and is the successor to Chavez Sr. and De La Hoya is the idol of the Mexican people. He pulls the kind of TV ratings in Mexico that NFL playoff games pull in the U.S.
The fan base once had that fervent passion for Chavez Jr. – and some still do – but it’s waned as he’s missed weight regularly and hasn’t displayed the toughness, the nastiness and the hard edge that defined his father.
Make no mistake, though: Chavez Jr. could, and can still, fight. When he’s motivated, in shape and on his game, he’s a tough out, even for the best. The problem has been, though, that Chavez’s career has been filled with more missteps than successes.
He’s 50-2-1 and once held the WBC middleweight belt, but he’s been coddled and given every break imaginable because of his last name.
He’sreportedly been working hard in training and on a conference call on Monday, Chavez Jr. told reporters he felt he could make not just the contracted weight of 164.5, but also 160.
Pictures of his body that his manager, Sean Gibbons, has released show a ripped abdomen, the sign of a guy who has taken the fight seriously.
De La Hoya needs that, because in order to sell the fight, fans must be convinced that Chavez Jr. is taking the bout seriously. If the fans perceive that he’s going through the motions, it could badly impact the pay-per-view.
So De La Hoya wants him to be in shape and to appear eager at Friday’s weigh-in.
But there is a double-edged sword there. Chavez Jr. is much bigger than Alvarez. He’s 6-foot-1 and has a four-inch height advantage and a three-inch reach advantage.
He could also have a functional 10-pound weight advantage in the ring after both rehydrate following the weigh-in.
If the Chavez Jr. that shows up on Saturday is in shape, committed and determined to win, it’s anybody’s fight. He’s that talented, but he’s rarely fought at that level.
Alvarez is the epitome of a professional and will be ready to go. He deserves to be the favorite, even if Chavez Jr. is in the best shape of his life, because he’s the overall better fighter.
The difference between them, though, when they’re both at their peaks, is minimal. And a peak Alvarez vs. a peak Chavez Jr. is a toss-up.
If Chavez Jr. pulls it off, it will all but kill the Golovkin fight that would have paid Alvarez a hefty eight-figure purse.
There will be a rematch in that event that would do massive business, but it would be Chavez Jr. who could dictate the terms. All those who left the bandwagon in disgust would quickly hop back on.
Despite his courage and bravery as a fighter, De La Hoya the promoter has been about minimizing risk. He talks repeatedly about the best vs. the best, but then he makes no-hope fights like Alvarez-Khan and Alvarez-Smith.
The Alvarez-Chavez Jr. bout was a stroke of genius because it’s ignited the long-simmering passions of the fighters’ large fan bases and is going to make Saturday’s event a financial hit.
But if Chavez Jr. is too good and too motivated, it could spell disaster for De La Hoya.
The one thing you can guarantee on Saturday is this: De La Hoya will have a lump in his throat from the minute the first bell rings until it ends and Michael Buffer reads the decision.
His best-case scenario would be a result similar to last week’s exceptional heavyweight title fight between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko: A great fight in which the momentum swings back-and-forth before Alvarez eventually takes it.
If it goes any other way, De La Hoya’s longtime rival will finally have one up on him.
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