Much has been made the last couple of weeks -- good and bad -- about the value of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, the son of arguably the greatest of all the Mexican boxing champions.
Chavez is popular. His TV ratings for his HBO debut against a largely-unknown opponent proved that if nothing else ever has, and plenty has said that the now 25-year-old Chavez is a star. But as far as his future in terms of abilities? That's a little less clear.
Sure, Chavez will draw the crowds, live and on TV. He'll do so even after he inevitably loses, likely to someone he "shouldn't" be losing against.
The other super-hyped young Mexican fighter out there is, of course, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. Chances are you're familiar with him -- while Chavez was spending his time semi-hidden on Top Rank pay-per-views that only a specific audience bought with any regularity, Alvarez was continuing to cut his teeth with more aggressive backing from Golden Boy Promotions and HBO.
Last May, Alvarez made his major American TV debut as the main co-feature on the Mayweather vs Mosley pay-per-view. Still just 19 years old, he survived an early wobbling from Jose Miguel Cotto to come back and stop the Puerto Rican veteran in the ninth round, stealing the show that night. I did a handful of radio interviews after the Mayweather vs Mosley show, and every time, though we were meant to discuss Mayweather and what was next for him, the hosts asked first, "What about this Alvarez kid?"
At 19, the red-haired Mexican was turning heads when the focus was supposed to be on Money Mayweather.
After beating Luciano Cuello in far more impressive fashion than Chavez had, Alvarez was back on HBO PPV in the main support slot on the Mosley vs Mora show. This was seen by far less people, but the win was arguably more impressive. He took his time and dissected and old and worn out Carlos Baldomir, but this was still a 20-year-old kid ripping apart the former legit welterweight champion, and a man who hadn't, until Alvarez knocked him out in six, been stopped in 16 years.
In December, Alvarez was given a "special treatment" spot, headlining on HBO Latino against Lovemore N'dou. This was a rare courtesy extended to any fighter, to fight on an HBO network that isn't just HBO -- sure, it was a lesser audience, but they made room for him somewhere. And in March, he headlined his first true HBO show, when he defeated Matthew Hatton on Boxing After Dark.
He has done all of this at his age because in the ring, where Chavez falls short in the eyes of most, Alvarez continues to build a resume that gets a bit more impressive each time out. And on Saturday, a month before his 21st birthday, he faces his toughest test: Ryan Rhodes.
The 34-year-old Rhodes is a crafty southpaw, who himself was once a young star on the rise. In 1996, he won the British junior middleweight title just a few weeks after his own 21st birthday. But the following few years would be unkind. When he stepped up to middleweight to challenge titlist Otis Grant in December 1997, he lost a competitive decision despite having hometown advantage in Sheffield. And when he fought Jason Matthews in 1999 for an interim belt at 160, he was knocked out in two. Lee Blundell stopped him in three in 2002, and it was thought, by most, to be all but over for the former "Spice Boy."
And then in 2008, at the ripe old age of 31, he made his comeback start to count, knocking out Gary Woolcombe to reclaim the British junior middleweight title, nearly 12 years after he'd first won it. A year and a half later, he stopped Jamie Moore in a memorable Fight of the Year contender to win the European championship.
Now he's 34, with a bit of inactivity upon him. And while the focus for many has been on the fact that Alvarez has never faced anyone quite so good as Rhodes is on paper, there's another question: When's the last time Rhodes faced anyone quite so good as Alvarez, and has he ever beaten anyone truly as good as "Canelo" already is?
Alvarez will be the favorite heading into this fight, and as good as Rhodes is, I think "Canelo" has earned that status. It's not so much that he's beaten the men he has thus far -- you can make valid claims that none of them were that good of a win, really. But it's the way he's done it. He has largely obliterated guys who are good, solid pros. The wins over N'dou and Hatton, who both took Alvarez deep and offered different looks that could have frustrated a lesser prospect, have shown us that "Canelo" isn't all seek-and-destroy. There's a boxer's brain in there, too, one that accepts that some nights it's not going to be a knockout.
While the masses will have their time to revel in the "glory" of Junior Chavez, and while Chavez will always be at least a noteworthy attraction, those who know will tell you: Yes, both have good PR people and promoters who get them the right fights, and both will be pushed to the moon in many of the same ways.
But Alvarez has the talent, and the cream will always rise to the top. There's simply a gulf between them where, at the end of the day, it truly counts, and that's in the ring, between the bells. Alvarez has it there, and he's also a charismatic fighter with star quality. So far, Chavez just has a name, and the would-be rivalry between the two doesn't really amount to much of a debate. Alvarez is, simply put, better than Chavez, and I don't see that as likely to change any time soon.