Mexico is to boxing what Brazil or Italy are to football. Mexican boxers have punched above their weight in making their immense contribution to the folklore of the sport. They espouse a style that combines technical proficiency, with incessant ferocity- the type of boxing that delights the purists and casuals alike. Some of boxing’s most famous rivalries feature Mexican protagonists- Barrera Morales, Pacquiao Marquez, Chavez Taylor/Whittaker. Drama and technique are not mutually exclusive, and Mexicans are without equal in demonstrating this.
Last Saturday’s Cinqo de Mayo Clash between Canelo and Chavez Junior was billed as this generation’s Barrera Morales. The battle was not for a belt or a title, but for the legacy of Chavez Senior, to carry the torch of Mexican boxing for the rest of the world. Neither fighter could have been unaware of what was at stake, and what was expected of them. In one word, War. War is synonymous with Mexican style, and the genuine mutual dislike seemed a guarantee of maximum belligerence.
What transpired however was a monotonous, uncontested beat-down. It resembled the gladiatorial contests in which the Emperor Commodus once participated against adversaries equipped solely with a wooden sword. It was as if someone had told Chavez he daren’t lay a glove on his rival. He was the walking, crouching embodiment of lethargy.
Whether it was indifference to the devotion of fans and the responsibility of upholding the revered Chavez name, or the suffocating burden thereof, no one can say. What was clearly evident though was a total failure to rise to the occasion. Chavez himself attributed the abysmal nature of his performance to weight problems of a different sort. He bemoaned the rigours of having to adhere to an unnaturally low weight. This is not without credibility- it was clear to even the casual observer that he was pale and devoid of vigour. However, regardless of accuracy, he agreed to the weight stipulation. This was a shrewd move on the part of Canelo’s team. Oscar de la Hoya knows from personal experience how debilitating it can be for a fighter to drop to weights divisions he has long since vacated.
Yet psychological and physical shortcomings don’t fully account for the woefulness of the performance. An almost total lack of strategic intelligence and technical acumen were as much to blame. Despite being the taller man, Chavez failed to throw an authoritative jab or straight right. As was picked up by British commentators, he adopted a wide stance and leant forward, surrendering the considerable height and reach advantage he possessed and should have made to count. He was being out jabbed by the smaller man. Canelo advanced unchecked without even having to move his head. To an extent this was expected, as Chavez has always preferred to operate in close. Yet it would have seemed sensible to make an exception for this occasion and use his attributes to his best advantage. But apparently not.
Yet to be outclassed is not an unpardonable offence. It’s common enough that a fighter finds himself in the ring with an opponent who is his superior in every department. But as Nacho Beristain had said in the lead up to the fight, the best fighter doesn’t always prevail. Indomitable will and perseverance can trump talent. One punch can change the course of a fight. But there was no resilience in Chavez, no desire like his own father had demonstrated in… against Meldrick Taylor, and indeed like he himself had demonstrated against Sergio Martinez in the final round of their fight in….Even after having conceded the first three quarters of the fight in supine fashion to Canelo, there was still the faint spectre of hope that Chavez would stiffen the sinews and conjure up the blood for one final onslaught. Such hopes were in vain. He surrendered without a shot being fired.
Yet despite all this Canelo deserves his due. Cynical matchmaking aside, he gave an excellent demonstration of his talents. Chavez’s abject failure should not be attributed solely to his own deficiencies. Canelo was throwing punches in bunches, and from different angles all night. Jabs, left hooks, uppercuts, straight right hands- his attack had fluidity sharpness and poise. Chavez’s meek surrender was reminiscent of that of Alfredo Angulo, a normally ferocious man who had the fight beaten out of him by the young red head. Like Angulo, whatever stubbornness and ambition Chavez may have possessed, was sapped by the sharp, stinging punches of Canelo. Add to this a tight defence and improved stamina, and you have a flawless performance.
The announcement of the judge’s scores at the end of the fight was the ultimate mere formality. Michael Buffer could have been forgiven for making an early exit to beat the traffic. Chavez remained in his corner, his back turned as the result was declared. It is hard to think of a decision that was ever attended with less suspense than this. Intrat Gennady Golovkin to provide the evening’s only element of drama. His choreographed entrance had more than a hint of WWE about it. Immaculately coiffured and rather dapper with his double breasted jacked and handkerchief, he contentedly smiled and said gallant words about his rival and his latest performance. His words though a little laconic were well chosen: “this is a different story between us. This will be real Mexican style and big drama show’. In his pithy way Golovkin encapsulated what this fight is bound to be, a cross over classic and the real battle for the legacy of Chavez.