Secure the right venue on the right date and the opponent becomes almost irrelevant.
Oscar De La Hoya he knew this.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. he knew this.
and now Canelo Alvarez He knows.
After a two-year absence imposed by the pandemic, boxing is back in Las Vegas on the Cinco de Mayo weekend.
On Saturday, the quaint desert metropolis welcomes one of its most established sporting traditions when Álvarez conducts a show at the T-Mobile Arena.
“I am happy to be here to represent my country on an important date,” Álvarez told reporters in Spanish earlier this week.
Who is Alvarez fighting?
Who is Dmitry Bivol?
The event will be as much a festival as it will be a sporting competition. Mexican flags will fly across the Strip in the hours leading up to the fight. Street vendors will sell unlicensed merchandise. The scent of marijuana will be everywhere.
Across the country, especially in places densely populated by Mexican Americans and Mexican Americans, families and groups of friends will gather for beer and carne asada in the afternoon, and more beer and pay-per-view broadcast of Álvarez’s fight at night.
Which is not an accident.
The modern incarnation of Cinco de Mayo was a creation of beer companies in the late 1980s. The move worked. Americans bought more beer at Cinco de Mayo than on Super Bowl Sunday or St. Patrick’s Day in 2013, according to Nielsen.
If anything, boxing is adaptable, its survival in times of waning popularity a tribute to taking advantage of any opportunity that presents itself. In September 2002, on Mexico’s Independence Day weekend, De La Hoya stopped Fernando Vargas. De La Hoya’s next fight was scheduled for September 2003, a rematch against Shane Mosley. De La Hoya did not want to be inactive for 12 months between fights. The solution: A tune-up against Mexican punching bag Yori Boy Campas over the Cinco de Mayo weekend, which allowed De La Hoya to tap into this false patriotism to sell the mismatch.
With Latinos making up a growing percentage of the boxing audience, Cinco de Mayo has become one of the two milestones on the sporting calendar, along with Mexico’s Independence Day.
What’s more American than sanctioned violence and alcohol during a rigged vacation in a fictional city?
The weekend also staged a series of matches whose outcomes were never in question: De La Hoya vs Ricardo Mayorga, Mayweather vs Robert Guerrero, Álvarez vs Julio César Chávez Jr.
Those fights also attracted crowds.
Álvarez’s fight against Chávez has been sold as a Mexican civil war, the new star against the son of the most emblematic athlete in the country’s history. When asked what was at stake in the showdown, Chávez initially offered pride in words before telling the truth: “You date them.”
In other words, the right to fight on future Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day weekends.
That right had previously been passed from De La Hoya to Mayweather, who ingeniously commercialized himself by amplifying traits deplored by many Mexican and Mexican Americans: loud, brash and defensive-prone. Cinco de Mayo parties turned into hate parties when Mayweather fought.
The day is now for Álvarez, whose fight against Bivol will be his seventh as a main event fighter at the Cinco de Mayo weekend. Of the seven fights, only two were staged outside of Las Vegas, including Billy Joe Saunders’ hiatus last year in Dallas. Álvarez’s last Cinco de Mayo bout in Las Vegas was in 2019, a decisive win over Daniel Jacobs.
In Bivol, Álvarez will face a fundamentally solid but robotic opponent. Bivol is relatively untried but stands 6 feet tall and will have a 4½ inch height advantage over Álvarez. Bivol is a natural 175 lbs, while Álvarez is more comfortable at 168 lbs. The superior size of the Kyrgyzstan-born Russian fighter should help him survive the later rounds.
The uninspiring choice of Álvarez’s opponent reflects the landscape of the sport. Virtually every potential opponent is unknown to the general public, except for Gennady Golovkin, who is expected to fight in September. Golovkin is 40 and looked very much his age in his last fight.
This is probably why Alvarez floated the idea to face Oleksandr Usyk, who holds a share of the heavyweight championship. This is probably also why Álvarez and promoter Eddie Hearn have talked about taking their show on tour and fighting in countries like Mexico, Japan and England.
With no notable opponent in his weight class or close by, Álvarez needs something to sell his fights.
Except Cinco de Mayo.
The weekend sells itself.