To be described as Mexican in style or temperament is generally accepted as a compliment in boxing, as the term has become synonymous with courage.
Of course, the cousin of bravery is stupidity, which is why the adjective could also be dispensed as an insult, such as when foul-mouthed mixed martial artist Conor McGregor boasted after his novelty boxing match with technical virtuoso Floyd Mayweather. “I turned him into a Mexican tonight!,” McGregor said. “He fought like a Mexican!”
Compared to the buildup to their initial encounter last year, there is considerably more tension between the camps of Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin ahead of their Sept. 15 middleweight championship fight in Las Vegas.
If the primary source of the increased animosity was a positive drug test by Alvarez that forced the cancellation of a previously scheduled rematch May 5, a close second would be the claims by Golovkin’s Mexico-born trainer that his fighter’s Mexican opponent didn’t fight like a real Mexican.
“Mexican style against Mexican stall,” is how Abel Sanchez described the 12-round draw last year, when Alvarez moved and counterpunched to diffuse the attack of the hard-punching Golovkin.
It’s silly. It’s borderline ridiculous. It’s also undeniably a part of boxing, in which a significant percentage of promotions incorporate subliminal forms of race-baiting.
And so here they are, Sanchez euphemistically calling Alvarez a coward and Alvarez saying the veteran trainer is attempting to trick him doing something stupid the next time he shares a ring with Golovkin.
Sanchez is winning the war of perception. As close as the fight last year was in reality — I scored the fight for Alvarez — the majority of viewers thought Golovkin won, their opinion almost certainly guided by the sight of Golovkin advancing and Alvarez retreating. In their eyes, the Kazakh was more Mexican than the Mexican.
Alvarez was still bothered by this last week, when he opened his San Diego camp to a small group of journalists.
“The Mexican style isn’t like that,” Alvarez said in Spanish. “I don’t know where they get that, about how the Mexican style is to go forward and to punch and get punched. That’s not the Mexican style.”
Alvarez offered examples of past Mexican champions who were considered master technicians, including Ricardo Lopez, Gilberto Roman and Salvador Sanchez.
Alvarez’s trainer, Eddy Reynoso, pointed to how Mexico’s quintessential seek-and-destroy fighter, Julio Cesar Chavez, was an adept counterpuncher. Reynoso mocked Sanchez for saying he teaches his fighters the Mexican style of boxing.
“Look, to start with, this man doesn’t have a Mexican school,” Reynoso said in Spanish. “He doesn’t even have a school.”
Reynoso accused Sanchez of using the stereotype of the blood-and-guts warrior from Mexico as an alibi for his inability to teach the finer points of the sport.
“We see Abel’s fighters, every time they come out of a fight, they look as if they’ve been run over by a trailer,” Reynoso said.
Sanchez fired back Thursday, when Golovkin staged a watered-down media day at his Big Bear compound.
“I’ve had 18 world champions,” Sanchez said.
He poked fun of Reynoso’s claim to fame, which is that Reynoso and his father started training Alvarez when he was 13.
“They can start telling me they raised him from a child and they got him the womb,” Sanchez said. “That doesn’t matter. What matters is if you can turn a fighter around at a certain point and make him a champion. If you can do that, that means you’re a polisher. That means you know what the hell you’re doing.”
Sanchez clarified by what he meant when he said Alvarez didn’t fight like a Mexican.
“He fought 40-some fights in a particular style and, all of a sudden, he changes it to be more of a boxer that’s running away,” Sanchez said. “I think that what he promised the fans before that fight, and what he’s promising the fans before this fight, is completely different than how he fought the fight. At least try to knock the man out. Don’t throw punches in desperation. I think that if he tries to knock Golovkin out, they’re going to be within each other’s range and somebody’s going to hit somebody. Maybe he does have the power to knock Golovkin out. I don’t know. But he has to try.”
Sanchez pointed to how graceful former champion Juan Manuel Marquez tried to stop his opponents.
“In doing so, sometimes he got knocked down,” Sanchez said. “That’s not what Canelo did.”
Asked if he expected Alvarez to fight more offensively than he did last year, Sanchez replied, “Honestly, I’m not. The onus is on him because the fans are ripping him as it is right now, on social media. If he does it again, the fans are going to continue ripping him. If he’s willing to put up with, that’s OK. There’s nothing we can do about that.”
Alvarez was convinced Sanchez was trying to convince him to stand and trade with the stone-fisted Golovkin.
“Obviously,” Alvarez said. “All of the opponents that he’s knocked out have stayed on the ropes or in front of him. That’s what he wants, to have a bag right there to knock out.”
Pantomiming a wide punch, Reynoso said of Golovkin, “He throws his punches like this. He doesn’t know how to throw them. He doesn’t know how to stop them. He takes all of the punches that are thrown at him. He doesn’t know how to counterpunch. He doesn’t know how to feint. It’s the worst form of stupidity, what they presume the Mexican school to be.
“To say that young man has a Mexican style is an insult to the Mexican boxer.”
Relayed Alvarez’s and Reynoso’s words, Golovkin countered through an interpreter, “If you hear what they say, I would appear not to be a boxer at all. What is interesting is, why didn’t they win the fight the first time?”
Mexico has been transformed over the years by its cultural interchanges with the United States. So have their people, including Alvarez.
Alvarez recalled the only defeat of his career, which was to the elusive Mayweather in 2013. In the immediate aftermath of the fight, Alvarez said he complained about Mayweather the way Golovkin is complaining about him now.
“Later, I learned that against a high-level opponent, you have to adapt to whatever style and show that you’re superior in whatever style,” Alvarez said. “That’s the truth.”