LAS VEGAS – Boxing is a great and noble sport which has long been plagued by problems, not the least of which is frequently horrible promoting and promoters who ignore the wishes of their customers.
When done well, though, as was the case on April 29 in London when more than 90,000 enthusiastic fans squeezed into Wembley Stadium to cheer heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua on to a pulsating 11th-round stoppage of ex-champion Wladimir Klitschko, it can be breathtakingly good.
The good news, though, is that things should get significantly better.
Joshua-Klitschko was just one of the many excellent matches put on so far in 2017 – Keith Thurman-Danny Garcia, Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Jacobs and Shawn Porter-Andre Berto also come to mind – and the trend continued on Saturday after Canelo Alvarez blew out a largely disinterested Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. before a T-Mobile Arena-record crowd of 20,510.
After Alvarez’s unanimous decision victory, in which he swept all 12 rounds on all three judges’ cards, the announcement that boxing fans wanted to hear for more than a year was dramatically made in the arena.
Alvarez will fight Golovkin for the IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight belts in September, as Alvarez promoter Oscar De La Hoya finally fulfilled the promise he made in 2015.
“Boxing was in a hiatus, but with these fights tonight, fights coming in the future, boxing is back, bigger and better than ever,” De La Hoya said. “You have ups and downs in any sports, basketball, all of them. Boxing has had its ups and downs, but it’s a roller-coaster sport.”
It’s the kind of match that has the potential to uplift the sport. Joshua and Klitschko captured the world’s imagination with an edge-of-the-seat battle in which the young champion and the aging ex-king poured their hearts out in search of victory.
Alvarez-Golovkin figures to promise more of the same.
Hopefully, those promoters who far too often make shows filled with mismatches, and who keep their stars away from the best opposition for as long as possible in order to milk them before taking a risk, catch on to what is happening.
Give the customers what they want and they’ll respond in a big-time way.
Saturday’s bout was a microcosm of what boxing at its best can be. Alvarez and Chavez Jr. are long-time rivals. Chavez’s father, Julio Sr., is the patron saint of boxing in Mexico and one of its most revered figures.
Alvarez has largely assumed that mantle, as Chavez Jr. turned many of his countrymen off by acting like the rich kid he grew up as, and rarely produced at a level his talent suggests he could. He became so unreliable at making weight that promoters put a $1 million-per-pound penalty clause into his contract for Saturday’s fight with Alvarez.
He made the weight easily, coming in a half-pound under the limit on Friday at 164, but he gave a feeble effort, and said he was drained.
His legendary father was urging him to fight, animatedly jumping out of his seat and shadowboxing several times But it was to no avail, as Chavez didn’t perform in an effort that typifies his desultory career.
“I wanted to box, but he went to the ropes and I just needed to throw more punches,” Chavez Jr. said. “I would’ve attacked more but I would’ve been countered by his punches. [Trainer] Nacho [Beristain] told me to do that, but the strategy didn’t work. The speed and the distance was the key.
“I didn’t feel that much power because I felt dwindled. I couldn’t throw as many punches as I wanted. My father kept telling me to throw more punches from the ringside.”
The crowd, in town to cap the Cinco de Mayo Weekend celebration with a fight between the two Mexican icons, was loud and passionate from start to finish.
Alvarez did what a pro does: He varied his attack, used his left as well as his right and went upstairs as well as to the body. He didn’t have much opposition, given that Chavez seemed not to care much, but the always professional Alvarez seemed to take a step ahead and was better than he was in either of his 2016 bouts, wins over Amir Khan and Liam Smith.
Finally, after nearly two years of begging for it, the fight that can define each man’s career is at hand.
Golovkin-Alvarez – or is it Alvarez-Golovkin – has the potential to turn both of them from stars into icons.
“I expect the fight to be explosive,” Alvarez said.
Their styles nearly guarantee that, which is why it was so painful to watch both men going through opponents who weren’t close to their equals without fighting each other lately.
But the match figures to guarantee 2017 will be a banner year for the sport. It’s one of the top sports in many countries in the world but nowhere near that in the U.S. But these kinds of fights are the type that made many of us boxing fans in the first place.
Those who grew up in the 70s can’t forget the three Ali-Frazier matches. The Hagler-Hearns, Duran-Leonard and Leonard-Hagler bouts made the ’80s one of the sport’s finest decades.
Tyson-Holyfield I, Riddick Bowe-Holyfield I were among the great matches of the 90s.
Those bouts made fans for life, and there will be those whose first major fight will be Golovkin-Alvarez, and they’ll talk about it for years to come.
The fight is being dubbed, “Bombs Away,” which is extremely appropriate.
There was another choice that would have worked, and it came to mind Saturday when the announcement that the fight was made.