‘I Don't Think Canelo Deserves Those Dates’

LAS VEGAS – For the better part of two decades, three men have served as main-event fixtures on boxing’s highest-profile Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day weekend fight cards.

They shared rings, and they shared a bond: The obligation to wage battle on those thrilling Saturday nights against the most deserving and qualified opponent.

Oscar De La Hoya first inherited the mantle by stopping Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. in their 1998 rematch on Mexican Independence Day weekend.

The wildly popular De La Hoya fight cards fueled the sport until Cinco de Mayo 2007, when Floyd Mayweather Jr. edged De La Hoya by split decision and wound up participating in the four most lucrative prizefights of all time.

Mayweather defeated a daring 23-year-old Canelo Alvarez on Mexican Independence Day weekend in 2013.

And then, following Mayweather’s record-setting 2015 Cinco de Mayo triumph over Manny Pacquiao that eclipsed $600 million from 4.6 million pay-per-view buys and a sellout live gate, Alvarez announced he was ready to control the prized dates.

On Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the now-33-year-old Alvarez (60-2-2, 39 KOs) headlines the Cinco de Mayo card again by defending his reign as undisputed super-middleweight champion.

It’s his 14th Mexican holiday card as a headliner.

Only this time, Alvarez has rankled a legion of fans and critics by selecting unbeaten countryman and former 154-pound champion Jaime Munguia (43-0, 34 KOs) over unbeaten former super-middleweight champion David Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs).

Alvarez potentially may double down on the Benavidez diss. Despite the Phoenix fighter’s three-year wait as the top-ranked WBC title challenger -- he was elevated to mandatory challenger in November -- Alvarez may instead turn to his WBA mandatory, New York’s Edgar Berlanga, for the September date.

“At this point, these are just exhibition fights,” Benavidez’s father and trainer, Jose Benavidez Sr., told BoxingScene. “I don’t think (Alvarez) deserves those dates until he’s fighting the people he’s supposed to be fighting – the fighters that the fans want.

“The Canelo era today is a circus, as he’s fighting the fighters only he wants. If everything goes well, I’m pretty sure he’s going to fight Berlanga. Who’s Berlanga? And who’s he fought?”

Alvarez has been in the sport long enough to know he’ll never make rivals and fans happy in his opponent selection, so he played up what he sees as the Munguia bout’s chief merits at Tuesday’s grand arrival at the MGM Grand lobby.

“It’s a very significant fight, a historic one [with] two Mexicans fighting for four belts for the first time,” Alvarez said. “That’s what I’m always looking for: to leave my mark and put my country up high.”

Alvarez took it a step further, predicting his four-fight knockout drought will end with a knockout of Munguia before the end of the eighth round, which whipped the arrival’s fans into a frenzy as the weekend beckons.

Among the crowd was Mayweather’s longtime promotional company president Leonard Ellerbe, who was thrilled to hear the “Canelo train” would keep running after predicting Alvarez by knockout before the sixth.

“[Munguia] is the perfect guy for Canelo,” Ellerbe said. “He’s aggressive, comes forward, and Canelo is precise, needing just that one clean shot.”

Said Alvarez: “Winning by knockout is always wonderful,” later elaborating to BoxingScene, “Yes, of course I’ll do it Saturday.”

Frankly, something sensational like that is needed as a formidable group of others clamor for the celebrated May and September dates.

Among them are the 27-year-old Benavidez and June 15 Amazon Prime pay-per-view headliner Gervonta “Tank” Davis, along with Alvarez’s former stablemate, Ryan Garcia, 25, who’s coming off both a stunning upset of lightweight champion Devin Haney and a second strong pay-per-view performance within a year.

Asked how much longer he foresees himself owning the dates, Alvarez told BoxingScene, “‘I don’t know, my friend. I feel good. I feel at my best. I’ve never felt like this in my life.” 

And his trainer, Eddy Reynoso, added, “In the end, he’s the face of boxing. He’s the one that people want to see fight. So as long as he’s active and as long as he wants to be out there showcasing events like this, he wants all of Mexico to see them.”

Whether there’s Canelo-fatigue will be known better by the pay-per-view buys, but the elder Benavidez suggests, “I don’t think tickets are selling well and I don’t think he’s going to do the numbers like he thinks.

“This is just Munguia’s second fight at 168 [pounds], but in Canelo’s imagination, he brings a lot to the table. But I guarantee if he makes that fight with David, that will be his biggest payday in boxing. So why not do it? Why fight these exhibitions and do only what he wants to do?

“I don’t think that’s fair for other fighters. I don’t think it’s fair for the business. I don’t think it’s fair what they’re allowing him to do. … He’s holding the belts hostage.”

When asked about David Benavidez by grand-arrivals’ on-stage host Cynthia Conte, Alvarez replied, “Why don’t we just enjoy this fight? Jaime Munguia deserves respect. It’s going to be a great fight. I don’t care if Munguia’s younger. With Canelo, in the end, it’s different.”

Alvarez admitted he noticed a sign in the crowd carried by a man he said has trailed him for years.

The poster board was headlined by a large photo of a sculpted, scowling Benavidez and the Spanish phrase, “Fear Doesn’t Ride a Donkey,” which best translates to, “You’re running scared” while making reference to Alvarez’s demand for a $200 million purse to fight Benavidez.

“I believe Canelo wants to maximize what he earns without taking the risk of losing,” Benavidez promoter Sampson Lewkowicz told BoxingScene. “He wants to retire with two losses, and I believe he’ll retire next May after meeting the IBF mandatory. These aren’t even challengers. He’s making fun of all of us.

“I give him credit for being a good businessman. He’ll be in the Hall of Fame like nothing happened.”

Yet, there’s also a line of thinking that Alvarez is doing something similar to what Mayweather did to Pacquiao, waiting him out to make the fight bigger.

Alvarez may indeed meet Berlanga to keep himself busy in the late summer while Benavidez, who meets former light-heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk June 15, could decide afterward to flee his mandatory position at super-middleweight to instead land a bout with the June 1 winner of the undisputed light-heavyweight championship, Artur Beterbiev or his Russian countryman Dmitrii Bivol.

That could then set up an even more immense showdown between undisputed 168–pound champion Alvarez and undisputed light-heavyweight champion Benavidez.

“I don’t know that it will be next, but I think [Alvarez and Benavidez] will happen,” Ellerbe said.

Is Alvarez wise to consider what Mayweather did with Pacquiao to heighten the tension and maximize the value of their fight?

“It’s about doing whatever he wants to do. He’s the guy. He’s in control of his own career, the guy calling all the shots,” Ellerbe said. “And it’s made all the more interesting because I anticipate a highlight knockout Saturday night.”

If that vision is fulfilled, it will occur with Benavidez and his father watching inside the arena Saturday night, resting on an evening that might have been theirs, but still remains the exclusive domain of Alvarez.

“I don’t need to prove anything to anybody,” Alvarez said. “I just need to prove to myself that I’m the best.”