There is a disconcerting truth about so-called “superfights.” Sometimes, they’re just not that super. And when they aren’t, boxing takes a hit because expectations going in were so very high, perhaps even unrealistically so. Should excitement-hungry fans get their hopes way up and then receive ground chuck instead of filet mignon, there is a sense of deflation that is worse than even standard-grade disappointment.
The good news: Last weekend’s heavyweight showdown between emerging superstar Anthony Joshua and long-entrenched standout Wladimir Klitschko not only lived up to the hype, it exceeded it. There were four knockdowns, three registered by Joshua (19-0, 19 KOs), the IBF and now WBA titlist who stopped Klitschko (64-5, 54 KOs) in 11 rounds to the delight of 90,000 going-bonkers spectators in London’s Wembley Stadium and a global television audience. There were a couple of momentum shifts straight out of WWE or the Arturo Gatti playbook, and the bout as a whole will surely spur renewed interest in the big-boy division.
Joshua-Klitschko just might have been the most entertaining high-visibility heavyweight bout since Lennox Lewis, who won a unanimous decision, outslugged Evander Holyfield in their unification rematch on Nov. 13, 1999, at Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Arena. For sheer anticipation, it likely was the biggest thing to come along since Lewis bombed out Mike Tyson in eight rounds on June 8, 2002, in Memphis, Tenn., but by then Tyson was a spent cartridge and even Lewis, at 36, was not all that he had been.
As such a tough act to follow, Joshua-Klitschko puts the bull’s-eye not only on any heavyweight bouts that can be scheduled in the foreseeable future, but squarely on the backs of Mexican headliners Canelo Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (50-2-1, 32 KOs), who swap punches for 12 rounds or less in a catch weight bout (164½ pounds) Saturday night in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. There will, of course, be a sellout crowd of 18,000-plus in the house and substantial viewership for the HBO Pay Per View telecast.
While much is on the line in that one – national pride, for one thing, and even more fervor for the much-discussed pairing of Alvarez and WBA/WBC/IBF/IBO middleweight ruler Gennady Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs), for another, should Canelo win – there is also additional pressure on both men to match or surpass the slam-bam excitement of what took place just a week earlier across the pond.
For Alvarez, the need to shine is even greater than that possibly felt by Chavez Jr., whose dedication to training often has been lacking, and who at times has exuded a sense of privilege, as the son of a legendary father, which has been off-putting to many of his countrymen who worshipped his dad. At 31, Chavez Jr. still has a chunk of his prime in which to excel if he truly wants it, but even if he knocks Alvarez colder than a dead mackerel on ice, it can’t and won’t elevate him to the same exalted status of Chavez Sr.
As a professional journalist, it is my place to report objectively, not to inject personal opinions into stories about particular fights or fighters. But just as it should have been obvious that a Joshua victory over the 41-year-old Klitschko would be beneficial to boxing as a whole, so, too, should it be clear that the greater good is served if Canelo comes away with an exclamation-point sort of triumph on Saturday, preferably after being put to the kind of acid test Joshua received from Klitschko. Not only does a successful night for Alvarez keep the presumptive superfight with Golovkin in play – arguably the most compelling pairing that can be made, maybe even more than Golovkin-Andre Ward or Joshua-Deontay Wilder – but it would further strengthen his credentials as the sport’s top drawing card, Joshua’s rocket-like ascension notwithstanding. And what boxing needs now, as it always has, are larger-than-life figures with charisma as well as skill. Think not? Try to imagine the history of the fight game had there never been a Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya or others with their rare gift of drawing attention like lint to Velcro.
Unlike Joshua-Klitschko, in which the prefight and postfight comments from each fighter about the other were almost exclusively complimentary, Alvarez-Chavez Jr. has more than a tinge of mutual resentment, if not on the crudely nasty level of, say, Adrien Broner against anybody. Alvarez prides himself on being the kid from the wrong side of the tracks who made it the hard way. It’s a familiar tale, and one that applied to Chavez Sr., but not so much to his son.
“Look, my fans know I started from nothing, from zero,” said Alvarez, who turned pro at 15 without fanfare. “I have worked my way up with a lot of sweat and sacrifices. (Chavez Jr.) has his fans as well, but I think a lot of his fans are more his father’s fans. He has had a lot of ups and downs in his career. It hasn’t been a real disciplined career. He’s not a good role model for young children, for young fighters.”
Nor does Alvarez limit his pointed criticisms to Chavez the younger. Noting that “JCC Superstar” did not come out for the ninth round of his Sept. 18, 1998, rematch with De La Hoya – the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, whose premier attraction is Alvarez – Canelo said, with a hint of derision when asked if he can make Chavez Jr. also run up the white flag, “Everything’s possible in boxing. As the great Bernard Hopkins once said, `Once a quitter, always a quitter.’”
Chavez Jr. isn’t quite sure where Alvarez’s bubbling anger toward him comes from, but he is right about one thing: words are cheap, unless you can back them up in the ring.
“There’s a real, true rivalry,” he said. “I don’t know specifically why he doesn’t like me or why this animosity exists. Maybe because I’m the son of Julio Cesar Chavez, I don’t know. I am the son of a legend, but all my accomplishments come from my work. I’m the one who wins these fights.”
Fights of this magnitude almost never happen on back-to-back weekends, but it’s sort of like the overtime rule in college football. It’s preferable to get the ball second, because you know what the other team did. Joshua-Klitschko scored a touchdown; now it’s up to Alvarez-Chavez Jr. to follow suit, if it can.
The closest recent parallel to what happened last week, and hopefully will this week, came with another pair of much-anticipated bouts that took place in New York City in March. Keith Thurman’s split-decision over Danny Garcia in their welterweight unification bout on March 4 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was a good fight, as was unified middleweight champ Golovkin’s unanimous decision over Daniel Jacobs on March 18 at Madison Square Garden. (OK, so those fights were two weekends apart, not back-to-back. Close enough.) But the NYC events probably fall into the category of good-to-very-good, not in the bin reserved for indisputable greatness. For clashes of this magnitude, the participants have to understand their responsibility to achieve at the highest possible level. Here’s hoping they rise to the occasion.
What’s in a name?
Perhaps it escaped most people’s attention, but there was a guy named Mike Tyson who was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the sixth round of this past weekend’s NFL draft, the 187th pick overall. This Tyson, 23, is a 6-foot-2, 201-pound free safety who played for the University of Cincinnati.
Since he was born in July 1993, not quite six years after that other Mike Tyson unified the heavyweight title, it might be presumed that he was named after the fighter. Not so, the football player said.
“People will be, like, `Well, you can’t fight like Mike Tyson,’” the new Seahawk, who has never boxed, told Tom Groeschen of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “r they say, `You’re going to bite my ear off.’ They say stuff like that, joking around.”
So why this Tyson’s parents name him Mike?
“It was my dad’s name and his dad’s name,” he said. “We all have different middle names, so we’re not juniors or the second or the third.”
Not surprisingly, Michael Jamont’e Tyson – that’s the football player’s full name – has a 2-year-old son named Michael Jai Tyson. Everybody in the family calls the toddler, natch, Mike.
Also, for what it’s worth, “Iron” Mike Tyson isn’t even the first fighter to bear that name. There was a heavyweight from Davenport, Iowa, Michael Tyson, who is now 58, seven years older than the two-time former world champion. The Iowa Tyson had a pro record of 0-7, with five of the losses by knockout.
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