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Why Canelo Alvarez won’t surpass Julio Cesar Chavez as Mexico’s best all-time fighter

canelo alvarez
Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Cesar Chavez is known as the greatest Mexican boxer of all time and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. But Saul “Canelo” Alvarez of Guadalajara is entering the conversation and could pad his credentials with a victory over Jermell Charlo of Houston on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Charlo, the undisputed junior middleweight champion, is moving up two weight classes to challenge Alvarez for his 168-pound undisputed super middleweight title at T-Mobile Arena. PPV.Com is live streaming the bout.

A victory over the highly-regarded Charlo would be the 60th win for the 33-year-old Alvarez against two losses and two draws and add another former champion to his list of conquests.

“It means a lot to be here,” Alvarez said upon his arrival in Las Vegas. “I feel the love and support from my people. I feel proud to represent my country.”

Chavez, who retired in 2005, is the recognized GOAT of Mexican boxing. A three-division champion he began fighting in 1980 and was 89-0-1 before losing a split decision to Frankie Randall in 1994. He finished his career 107-6-2 with 86 knockouts. He holds the record for most successful title defenses (27, shared with Omar Narvaez), most title fight victories at 31, and has the second most title defenses won by knockout at 21.

Canelo Alvarez is only boxer in GOAT discussion with Chavez

canelo alvarez
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera have added to Mexico’s rich boxing legacy. But Alvarez is the only one in the conversation with Chavez.

During his 18-year career as a pro, Alvarez has won titles in four weight classes, beating 13 previously undefeated fighters and 18 world champions.

His long list of victims includes top champions of this era like Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, Gennady Golovkin (twice), Sergey Kovalev, Daniel Jacobs, Shane Mosley, Austin Trout, and Caleb Plant. Alvarez’s global popularity also has benefited from the advent of social media and the per-per-view boom.

Mauricio Sulaiman, the president of the World Boxing Council headquartered in Mexico City, said it’s difficult to compare the legacies of Chavez and Alvarez. “Boxing and sports are all about eras,” Sulaiman told Sportsnaut. “Chavez’s era was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Canelo’s era has been for the last decade. It’s difficult to compare the two icons. Canelo is certainly at the top of the list. He’s had a tremendous career, but he’s still building his legacy.”

It’s fair to say Alvarez is the most popular Mexican fighter ever and certainly the richest. He became a pay-per-view attraction at age 23 when he lost a majority decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in September of 2013. In the 10 years since Alvarez signed a $365 million contract with DAZN that led to $30 million a fight.

“Canelo has a huge fan base in the U.S.,” Mark Boccardi, senior vice president of programming and marketing for iNDEMAND & PPV.Com, told Sportsnaut.  “It almost doesn’t matter who he fights because you know you’re going to do a really strong pay-per-view number. He has that kind of following. And when he goes against another A-level opponent that’s when you have the opportunity to create these mega events of which he has had many over the last decade.”

‘This fight is ground-breaking for Canelo …’

Critics have accused Alvarez of fighting boxers past their prime while avoiding others. But Charlo (35-1-1, 19 KOs) is a hungry undisputed 33-year-old champion, who is a relentless warrior in the ring. His tenacity and strength will test Alvarez.

“This fight is ground-breaking for Canelo to establish his popularity in North America and the world because he’s going against a popular North American fighter,” Sulaiman said. “Big fights are not only about ability and greatness, but the fighters need to be marketable.”

Alvarez is now comfortable doing interviews in English, allowing him to connect with American English-speaking fans.  “If you want to be a megastar in the U.S. on pay-per-view you have to be able to speak the language and sell the fight to a U.S. audience,” Boccardi said.

American boxers fight for themselves and their families. Mexicans fight for their country. There’s a difference. “Boxing is important in Mexico and always will be,” Sulaiman said. “To have Canelo be the leader of the sport is a source of national pride.”

If Chavez is still the greatest Mexican fighter of all time, Alvarez is Mexico’s greatest right now.

George Willis is a columnist for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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