While millions argue in bars, gyms, and street corners throughout the North American continent about who wins the battle of Mexico’s heart, the little known common denominator is a tiny town in Southern California.
Both of Mexico’s young warriors Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez have strong bonds to a small rural Riverside community known as Mira Loma. Their ties to that area go back more than 20 years.
As Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) and Chavez (50-2-1, 32 KOs) prepare for battle on Saturday May 6, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas before thousands there and millions around the world, those living in Mira Loma will be watching with mixed sentiments.
Chavez spent many years in the town along with his brother Omar (Chavez) as youngsters. When their mother divorced Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. she moved from Culiacan, Mexico to Mira Loma in Southern California. Both boys attended school in Riverside, California. Julio attended a school named Ramona High School.
Alvarez’s connection is different. His trainer/manager Jose “Chepo” Reynoso has a brother named Daniel Reynoso who has lived in Mira Loma for decades. Daniel Reynoso’s son is boxer Jose “El Nino” Reynoso.
The Reynosos lived next door to boxing trainer Willy Silva.
From the late 1990s to 2006 Silva had a homemade gym he constructed where hundreds of youths came to learn boxing at no charge. Each day after school the gym that looked like a metallic plane hangar would be filled to capacity with youngsters hitting the bags and jumping rope.
One day a pair of youngsters walked into the gym and began working out among the others. It was the Chavez brothers.
Mira Loma 2001
Both Chavez boys would hang out in the gym among the others and go through the drills on a daily basis. When I first met them Julio was about 15 years old and Omar perhaps 11 years old. The older brother was more focused on learning correctly and the other liked to joke around poking fun.
It was a special place to meet and someone was always dropping in. Silva had an “open door policy” that allowed anyone to arrive without invitation. In those days the gym’s resident pro was Carlos “El Elegante” Bojorquez a hard-hitting super welterweight who would go on to get a win over Pernell Whitaker.
Once in a while fighters like Shibata Flores, “Canonero” Quiroz and even “El Feroz” Fernando Vargas stopped by the metallic gym in the middle of the neighborhood.
One of the youngsters at the Mira Loma gym who would later turn pro was Jose “El Nino” Reynoso, the nephew of Mexico’s famed trainer Jose “Chepo” Reynoso. The nephew put on gloves one day to spar with the pale and bony teenager Julio Chavez Jr.
“I used to see him every day. I once even sparred with him,” said current boxer Jose “El Nino” Reynoso. “He was still green and nothing too special. I just knew he was the son of the legend.”
Afterwards they all got in a truck and drove the Chavez brothers to their home where they ate tortas prepared by mama Chavez.
“They were delicious,” said Reynoso.
Silva, the owner of the gym, said the Chavez brothers would stay until late at night talking and joking with the boxers and parents of the neighborhood. Those were special and memorable nights.
When Julio Chavez Jr. decided to give a try at boxing it was Silva who took him to his first amateur tournament.
“He lost but you knew he was going to get much better,” said Silva who was also training Bojorquez at that time.
Chavez would fight maybe one or more amateur fights with others but with another trainer. Then, at age 17, he would make his pro debut in Culiacan, Mexico and win. People in Mira Loma cheered the win by Chavez.
When Chavez was making his pro debut his rival Canelo Alvarez was 13 years old and already making a name in Mexico as a red head freckled-face youngster from Guadalajara, who was surprisingly strong. His trainer was Jose “Chepo” Reynoso who made a career of shaping champion boxers.
Many boxers had streamed in and out of Reynoso’s gym including the Alvarez brothers Ricardo, Ramon and Rigoberto. But when Canelo walked into the gym and put hands on the other youngsters it was clear to the trainer Reynoso the red head was different.
“He was the best boxer I had ever seen,” said Reynoso who has trained numerous world champions like Oscar Larios and Javier Jauregui.
Whenever Reynoso’s world champions fought in the U.S. they would stay at Mira Loma where they would live and train two weeks prior to their fight dates.
“Chepo used to bring his fighters like Javier “Chatito” Jauregui and Oscar “Cholulo” Larios to me and I would take care of them when they had big fights,” said Silva adding that they would stay at his home for two weeks before their fights. Both were world champions.
Every time one of Reynoso’s champions would arrive in Mira Loma dozens and dozens of interested onlookers would gather.
“Chepo had a meat business to take care of in Guadalajara,” said Silva explaining the reason for taking care of Reynoso’s champions. “He did not want to leave the business too long so he would send them to me. They would live here and train here until Chepo arrived before their fights.”
When Canelo Alvarez came along it was a different story. Silva’s gym was forced to shut down due to complaints by the neighbors and other factors. The doors were closed and it was torn down around 2006.
In Canelo Alvarez, Reynoso knew he had someone who would go further than any of his previous world champions. On October 2008, Alvarez arrived in Morongo Casino in Riverside County to showcase his fighter in a match promoted by Golden Boy Promotions. It would be their first look and for those in attendance to see Canelo.
That night I remember “Chepo” Reynoso spotting me and introducing me to his young protégé. We shook hands and they handed me a t-shirt with a picture of Canelo emblazoned on the brown colored shirt.
“He’s going to be famous,” said Reynoso while handing the t-shirt to me.
The fight between Alvarez and Larry Mosley was not easy. The American style used by Mosley, an experienced veteran, was something not seen by the youngster who was 18 years old at the time. But Alvarez powered through Mosley’s slips and counters with pure aggressiveness to remain undefeated. But it did prove to both Reynoso and Golden Boy Promotions that the redhead needed more work especially against the American style.
As a pro Chavez gained momentum quickly. The first time he stepped in a prize ring it was as a 130 pound super featherweight. That was in September 2003. Chavez continued to grow very quickly in height, weight and experience.
I first saw Chavez fight as a pro in February 2004 when he fought on the undercard of Erik Morales versus Jesus Chavez. That night, in Las Vegas, the son of Mexico’s greatest boxer fought and defeated Oisin Fagan by decision in a lightweight contest.
Each time Chavez fought he seemed to get bigger and stronger. One blaring element of his father that he carried with him at all times was his tempered steel chin that could absorb the best blows from opponents.
In 2009, when Tijuana was in the midst of drug wars and beheadings on the streets of the border city, the eldest son of Julio Cesar Chavez fought in a bull ring in the Tijuana Beach. Few media members would cross the border that night. But it was a pivotal moment for Chavez Jr. as he battled his way through the very strong Argentine fighter Luciano Cuello to win the WBC Latino super welterweight title.
The victory over Cuello was the night fans in Mexico and in Mira Loma realized Chavez could indeed win a world title. As we arrived back at our hotel in downtown Tijuana jeeps driving along with submachine guns roamed the streets at night. Few Americans attended the fight, but those that did, witnessed the graduation of Chavez as a title contender.
When Chavez won the WBC middleweight title the journey seemed complete. Wins over Peter Manfredo Jr., Marco Antonio Rubio and Andy Lee confirmed his talent. But problems arose in training and with the Nevada Commission over banned substances. That sent Chavez in a downward spiral. Even his near win over Sergio Martinez could not change the dark cloud hanging over Chavez.
Many were saddened by the events. None questioned his talent, only his discipline.
Meanwhile, Alvarez was rocketing upwards, especially after winning the WBC super welterweight title in 2011. By 2013 Alvarez had defended the title six times including an impressive win over Austin Trout. Many felt he would not pass Trout but he surprised skeptics with the win.
One who sparred Alvarez was Mira Loma’s Jose “El Nino” Reynoso, a southpaw called upon because Trout fights in the southpaw stance. Trainer Silva accompanied Reynoso in Big Bear, California.
“Yes I sparred Canelo and he was too strong for me,” said Reynoso whose uncles Eddy and Jose “Chepo” Reynoso train and manage Alvarez. “He was the strongest fighter I ever sparred.”
Canelo’s next fight was against Floyd Mayweather and despite questions by many about his greenness Alvarez felt confident he would be the one to beat the Las Vegas fighter. Of course he lost, but he gained respect and a lot of money. Also, he became a boxing star that night.
For the next four years Chavez and Canelo traded insults and challenges though clearly one fighter was moving upward and the other downward.
When rumors on social media arose about the possibility of a showdown it was done in a quiet way. But it lingered on Twitter and Instagram like cigar smoke in a Las Vegas casino.
I called Eric Gomez to ask about one of the Golden Boy events in Los Angeles and on a whim asked if there was a chance for a Chavez-Canelo fight. This was in early February. He said he had just spoken to Chavez by phone and it looked like something could be done for the right price. He asked me not to reveal this. I abided.
I guess the right price was met.
People in the neighborhood of Mira Loma are ambivalent about whom to cheer and support. On one side is the Reynoso family who lives there and trains Canelo. On the other side is Chavez who actually lived there and still has family residing in the area.
Still, you can bet all will be watching on HBO pay-per-view if not attending the fight.
“That’s a tough one mi hijo,” said Silva when asked who he thinks will win. “Canelo is a tough son of a bitch but so is Chavez. But I have to go with Canelo.”
Mira Loma will be patiently waiting to cheer whoever wins.
Photo credit: Tom Hogan / GBP
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