Cinco de Mayo will always be a holiday celebrated more in the United States than Mexico.
It is often referred to by confused Americans as Mexico’s Fourth of July, but Mexican Independence Day actually falls on Sept. 16. Día de la Independencia is the country’s most important national holiday. To most of Mexico, May 5 is just another date on the calendar and an excuse for Americans to drink Tecate and eat tamales.
The first weekend in May, however, has become somewhat of a holiday in the Latino community over the past 15 years. But it has nothing to do with the Mexican victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It has become the equivalent of Super Bowl Sunday on boxing’s calendar and an annual reason for thousands to descend on Las Vegas for a weekend highlighted by a big prize fight.
Julio Cesar Chavez began the trend in 1993 when he fought Terrence Ali during Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas and returned one year later to face Frankie Randall. While the fights were successful, they would be the only two Cinco de Mayo weekend fights Chavez would have. It wasn’t until Oscar De La Hoya fought Yori Boy Campas on May 3, 2003, that the Cinco de Mayo weekend became an annual boxing tradition.
Every Cinco de Mayo weekend since has featured a big-time fight, usually held in Vegas. Four of the first six years featured De La Hoya. When he retired, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao took over, and Canelo Alvarez, who faces Daniel Jacobs on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, has continued the tradition most recently.
“We still have to owe it all to Chavez,” De La Hoya said. “He was the first one who brought all the fans together in one city, Las Vegas, and made an event out of it. His fights were events. My fights became events, then Floyd and now Canelo. Cinco de Mayo is not really celebrated in Mexico. It’s only really celebrated in … Puebla, but boxing and Chavez made it a holiday. People are now accustomed to traveling to Las Vegas and having a good time that weekend. I’ve always said it’s an excuse to have fun and drink. Chavez did it first and I just wanted to build on that.”
The annual tradition was in jeopardy last year, when the much-anticipated rematch between Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin was called off 2½ weeks before it was scheduled to take place on May 5 when Alvarez was suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission for doping violations. Golovkin’s promoter Tom Loeffler scrambled to make sure the tradition didn’t stop.
“It was very important for Gennady to fight on Cinco de Mayo,” Loeffler said. “That’s the most difficult promotion I’ve ever done. We had Jaime Mungia [from Mexico] all lined up but he wasn’t approved by the Nevada Athletic Commission for the fight. He would have been perfect for Cinco de Mayo, and that fight would have stayed on HBO pay-per-view and at the MGM in Las Vegas. A lot of people blame me because I told fans not to cancel their trips to Vegas because I knew we were going to announce the fight with Mungia, but when the commission didn’t approve that fight, we had to scramble to see who we could fight on May 5. We finally settled on Vanes Martirosyan at StubHub Center in Carson.”
Outside of the Golovkin-Martirosyan fight last year and De La Hoya’s fight against Steve Forbes in 2008, which were both held in Carson, Cinco de Mayo weekend is one that sports fans — especially in Las Vegas — circle on their calendars, along with the first round of the NCAA tournament and the Super Bowl. That Saturday is one of the busiest days of the year on The Strip, with casinos and sportsbooks throwing Kentucky Derby watch parties and showing NBA and NHL playoff games before the big fight that night.
“It’s the perfect date on the sports calendar,” said Eric Gomez, the president of Golden Boy Promotions. “There’s no football, the Final Four and college basketball is done, baseball just started and it’s the playoffs in the NBA and NHL but it’s the second round. It’s perfectly centered where it doesn’t interfere with anything else. It doesn’t interfere with the World Series, Stanley Cup, NBA Finals, Super Bowl or anything else. It’s a weekend for boxing.”
The highest-grossing boxing pay-per-views over the past 15 years have taken place during Cinco de Mayo weekend or Mexican Independence Day weekend. It’s another trend that began with Chavez, grew with De La Hoya, was taken over by Mayweather and now belongs to Alvarez.
Not counting Mayweather’s fight against Conor McGregor, which was more of a circus than a boxing match, Mayweather's last 10 fights and 11 of his last 12 were held on Cinco de Mayo weekend or Mexican Independence Day weekend. De La Hoya said Alvarez will continue fighting on both holidays, but others aren't so sure the tradition will continue now that boxing is no longer dependent on pay-per-view and holding big fights in Las Vegas.