Oscar De La Hoya’s reverential status with Mexican fight fans might have been tarnished for good had it not been for the ultimate ace he had safely tucked up his sleeve.
His Cinco De Mayo fiasco between Saul Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr had just concluded to a chorus of derision when he made his big play, beckoning Gennady Golovkin to the ring for the announcement of a September 16 super fight against his man Canelo.
The mood changed instantaneously as attention switched from the fight nobody had wanted to see, to the fight everybody wants to see.
De La Hoya and all those involved in Saturday night’s promotion had been talking up this Mexican feud for weeks, using a tangible animosity between Alvarez and Chavez to give it the big sell.
But the powerful narrative couldn’t mask the harsh reality of this mismatch once the first bell had sounded and Canelo tore into his opponent like a spiteful child setting about a bargain basement piñata.
The gulf in class was reflected by the 120-108 whitewash on the cards, and Michael Buffer’s postfight proclamations were accompanied by audible venting from a crowd of almost 20,000 who had shelled out big bucks to watch a show which had peaked two hours earlier with Lucas Matthysse’s knockout of Emmanuel Taylor.
But then came the drama, a stirring video teaser on the big screens and Triple G’s entrance to the strains of ‘Seven Nation Army’. It was pure theatre and jeers turned into cheers as those in attendance quickly forgot about the epic swindle they had just witnessed.
Indeed, what did it say about how De Le Hoya viewed the Chavez fight that the Golovkin deal was signed in advance, and the Kazakh was positioned yards away ready for the WWE-style ring rush?
In fact, Saturday night’s event boiled down to little more than a lavish commercial for September’s middleweight showdown, with the humiliated Chavez ushered out of view to leave the tantalising sight of Canelo and Golovkin standing nose to nose for the first time.
“GGG, you are next my friend. The fight is done,” said Alvarez, playing to the crowd. “I’ve never feared anyone, since I was 16 fighting as a professional. I’m happy to give the fans another great fight.” Golovkin, 35, the unified WBA, WBC and IBF 160lb champion, replied: “In September, it will be a different style. A big drama show. I’m ready. Canelo looked very good tonight, and 100 per cent is the biggest challenge of my career.”
A venue is yet to be confirmed with De La Hoya touting all sorts of exotic possibilities. The likelihood, however, is that the lure of Las Vegas will bring the action back to the T-Mobile Arena, or the potential of a monster gate will see it land at the 80,000-seater AT&T Stadium in Texas.
De La Hoya said: “I’ve already had several calls from people interested in staging this fight. I have a missed called from Dubai. I have a missed call from the UK where Anthony Joshua and Klitschko just sold out 90,000 people. There’s interest from all over the world.”
First of all, Canelo had a score to settle. Class is often rooted at the heart of Mexican rivalries and this was no different.
Erik Morales relished using Marco Antonio Barrera’s privileged upbringing as an extra reason to froth at the mouth heading into battle and, likewise, Canelo made no secret that his dislike of Chavez was amplified by the nepotism his rival was afforded by his celebrated bloodline.
Chavez’s career has unravelled in the past five years but this seemed like his chance to right the wrongs, a 36-minute shortcut to respectability. A night when one authentic ‘Mexican’ performance could permanently alter perceptions.
As it transpired, he delivered the absolute antithesis. Canelo immediately seized the centre of the ring and punished Chavez with his jab. Soon came the right hands, the uppercuts, the nasty left hooks to the body.
Canelo could not miss and the combinations got flashier and more hurtful. As early as the third round it was evident Chavez wanted none of it.
Canelo looked magnificent, but in contrast to the pre-fight hyperbole, this wasn’t a defining night for his career. That comes in September.