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A Culture Clash : There’s No Division in Mexico, Where Everyone Is Rooting for JC

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The posters plastered throughout Mexico plugging Julio Cesar Chavez’s monumental title defense Friday make it clear there’s more at stake than his belt when he squares off with Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas.

Here, it’s a matter of national pride.

“Fight Number 100 of Julio Cesar Chavez: Now is the moment to support our champion by attending the live transmission of Maximum Glory,” scream the marquees at dozens of bars, restaurants, bullfight arenas, amusement parks and even salsa dance clubs in the Mexican capital.

Tens of thousands of seats are still available here to watch the live satellite feed of the fight. But promoters say nearly every one will be filled come Friday night.

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The reason: In a nation that has so few world champions in any sport, Julio Cesar Chavez--or “JC” as he’s known here--has become a national treasure.

De La Hoya, his American opponent, is of Mexican heritage but grew up in Los Angeles.

“Of course, they’re both great fighters. But here there’s a great difference between them,” said Javier Catano, director of Yuppie’s Sports Cafe, one of nearly 50 Mexico City locations showing the fight live.

“Cesar Chavez is one of our own. He is Mexican; he is Mexico. He’s a national hero, and I would guess everyone here will be cheering for him on Friday night.”

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But here, as in the United States, the fight is also about money--big money.

For the first time in more than a decade, promoters are not offering the fight as a pay-for-view cable event--neither in the United States nor here. But unlike in Southern California, where promoters have placed the event in theaters and arenas, Mexico’s entrepreneurs have gotten creative.

Televisa--the privately owned television giant that is the fight’s sole promoter in Mexico--is charging top dollar for broadcast rights to bar and restaurant owners, who are offering package deals that include drinks and dinner. Reino Aventura, the capital’s premier amusement park, is selling 6,000 tickets at about $10 for only the fight or $15 for a package that includes unlimited rides.

“We’ve had a really good response--there’s lots of enthusiasm,” said Alejandro Azcue, the park’s commercial director. “After all, Chavez is Mexican, this is his 100th fight, and people say he’s going to retire after this fight.

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“People who may not have watched his other fights are going to see this one. . . . We expect families and the younger generation to buy their tickets today or even the day of the fight.”

And at Mexico City’s Dance Salon La Maraka, you can get salsa and merengue with the jabs and crosses. They’re selling 1,800 tickets for about $20, which includes the bout broadcast on five large television screens and a dance cover for bands that will appear after the fight.

Nationwide, ticket prices in Mexico range from about $3 for the cheap seats in large sports arenas like Mexico City’s Cuatro Caminos Bull Ring, which seats 20,000, to the $50 open-bar-and-dinner package at Yuppie’s.

Behind the hype, Televisa officials are being typically tight-lipped about the fight’s finances. They said only that more than 400 establishments nationwide have paid to show it and that, given Chavez’s enormous popularity here, everyone stands to profit.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

De La Hoya vs. Chavez

“I think the 1988-89-90 Julio Cesar Chavez was totally unbeatable, but I believe the ’96 Julio can be had. And if anybody has what it takes to get him, It’s Oscar.”

Comedian Paul Rodriguez

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