LAS VEGAS – As Saul “Canelo” Álvarez was called to the stage Wednesday for the final press conference before a fight that has captivated his native Mexico, his opponent was slumped in a chair and staring at his phone.
Julio César Chávez Jr. later kept yawning, fueling critics that claim the son of one of the greatest boxers remains unengaged and unmotivated.
Chavez insists this time is different. Five years after testing positive for marijuana after a loss and following numerous instances of struggling to make weight, the 31-year-old former middleweight champion knows the significance of Saturday’s bout with his rival countryman on Cinco de Mayo weekend.
“Yes,” Chávez Jr. said through a translator, “this is an opportunity to show people.”
Wearing a white tracksuit and sporting large, square sunglasses, Chávez Jr. (50-2-1, 32 KOs) said he weighed 168 pounds. He needs to get to 164 1/2 by Friday to reach the catchweight limit for the pay-per-view bout at sold-out T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip.
His new strength and conditioning coach, Memo Heredia Hernández, insists that won’t be a problem. His new trainer, the renowned Ignacio “Nacho” Beristáin, said Chávez Jr. “trained hard” at altitude in the mountains near Mexico City.
His biggest critic, though, might be his six-time world champion father who once had a 90-fight unbeaten streak. When asked what he has wanted from his son, Julio César Chávez Sr. paused, then chuckled.
“I asked him to be in shape, the best shape he can, because I know about his capacity and what he can do,” he said.
The elder Chávez Sr. then expressed satisfaction in watching his son get fit for what could be quite a bout if Chávez Jr. is at his best. Álvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) knocked out little-known Liam Smith in September for the 154-pound title, but has never fought above 155 pounds.
The 5-foot-9 Álvarez, whose lone loss was to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013, will give up four inches in height and three inches in reach Saturday.
“The person who loses is going to lose a lot,” said Chávez Jr., who has won two straight bouts. “Both of us have a lot of pressure.”
The soft-spoken, 27-year-old Álvarez dislikes Chávez Jr.. He’s criticized Chávez Jr.’s past transgressions and clearly believes he’s a better fit to be the face of boxing in his home country.
“A lot of people are used to me being quiet and just focusing on the fight,” said Álvarez, sporting a thin red beard. “But this is a bit personal. That’s the difference.”
Chávez has returned the barbs, needling Álvarez about “avoiding the Russian.” In a feud with the WBC, Álvarez vacated the middleweight belt after promoter Oscar De La Hoya declined to agree to a matchup with Gennady Golovkin. That fight could happen in September, but Álvarez has no interest in having the WBC involved.
The WBC created a championship belt for this fight made by a Huichol artist. Álvarez refused to fight for the belt even though he knew he would receive criticism since the Huichol are indigenous Mexicans.
“Everybody has their own choice and he decided he didn’t want to fight for the belt,” Chávez Jr. said. “But I don’t think he did it the right way because people misinterpreted what he’s done.”
Alvarez declined another invitation Wednesday to further attack Chávez Jr., who has also been disciplined for taking a banned diuretic amid weight issues that left him fighting at light heavyweight.
But Álvarez had praise for Chávez Jr.’s father. He smiled when asked if he wished he could fight the elder Chávez instead.
“Imagine that?” Álvarez said. “It would be a great honor. But it’s different times and different generations.”