LAS VEGAS (AP) — Boxing is on a hot streak.
Last week, 90,000 fans packed Wembley Stadium in London for a heavyweight thriller. On Saturday, Mexican rivals Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. square off in front of what’s expected to be the largest indoor crowd for a bout in Las Vegas.
The sport appears to be on the upswing two years after the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao blockbuster fight ended with boos and jeers and has been blamed on ensuing disappointing pay-per-view numbers.
“That mega fight really hurt boxing, especially the big pay-per-view fights. It really hurt it,” said Alvarez, who is a heavy favorite Saturday. “But I think if you have a Mexican fighter in the ring — especially two Mexican fighters — you’re guaranteed fireworks.”
The long-anticipated Mayweather-Pacquiao fight in May 2015 produced a record 4.6 million pay-per-view buys worth about $400 million. Then the fight was a dud.
Mayweather took a unanimous decision to stay unbeaten, but was criticized for a defensive strategy that produced few fireworks. It was later revealed that Pacquiao, who struggled to land punches, was fighting with an undisclosed shoulder injury.
No pay-per-view fight since has had more than 1 million buys in the U.S. as the sport sagged and the UFC gained ground. But boxing has benefited from several good fights this year, including last week when Anthony Joshua stopped Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round of what was billed as the biggest heavyweight fight in British history.
Saturday’s bout is being considered one of the biggest involving Mexican fighters, and it comes on the Cinco de Mayo holiday weekend and amid political tensions. A commercial promoting the fight depicts Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) and Chavez (50-2-1, 32 KOs) bursting through a border wall like the one proposed by President Donald Trump.
“This is an important fight, an important moment,” said Chavez, who is guaranteed $3 million for the bout. “It can be a big boost to my career if I can win this fight.”
Chavez, the son of the Mexican boxing icon Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., is trying to revitalize a career derailed by failed drug tests, weight issues and poor training. He cleared his first hurdle at Friday’s festive weigh-in when he came in at 164 pounds, under the 164 1/2-pound catchweight.
Chavez faced a $1 million-per-pound penalty.
“I’m very happy that he made weight because that means he worked hard,” Alvarez said. “And that guarantees that we can give the fans a great fight.”
Alvarez, who has never fought above 155 pounds, also weighed 164. He’s guaranteed $5 million.
“He’s a good fighter, but I’ve been taking care of my conditioning and training,” Chavez said. “I think I bring more to the table than he does.”
There have been plenty of barbs traded since the fight was announced. Alvarez, who grew up in poverty and whose lone loss came to Mayweather, said Chavez has been pampered and has “embarrassed the sport with his lack of discipline.”
Chavez has countered that Alvarez has been scared to fight bigger boxers. Alvarez had to surrender his WBC middleweight belt when he declined to agree to a fight with Gennady Golovkin.
That fight could finally happen in September, if the 26-year-old Alvarez can solve the unpredictable Chavez, a former middleweight champ. The 31-year-old is working under renowned trainer Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain for the first time and is insisting he’s prepared and motivated.
“Nacho really pushed Julio. I saw him running and getting in shape. I just loved it,” said Chavez Sr., who has been critical of his son in the past.
A crowd of about 20,000 is expected at the year-old T-Mobile Arena. Numerous closed-circuit venues have been added along the Strip, and HBO is hoping for over 1 million pay-per-view buys.
Now the hope is for a second entertaining big fight in as many weeks.
“The person who loses is going to lose a lot,” Chavez said. “Both of us have a lot of pressure. This is an important rivalry.”