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Canelo Alvarez continues tradition of Mexican fighters at Madison Square Garden

Canelo Alvarez continues tradition of Mexican fighters at Madison Square Garden
Canelo Alvarez poses for photos with his two championship belts at Madison Square Garden. (Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Canelo Alvarez doesn’t need to look far to understand the significance of his Saturday placement in the main event of a boxing card at Madison Square Garden.

Following a legacy preceded him by his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, along with Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., the late Salvador Sanchez and unbeaten light-flyweight Ricardo “Finito” Lopez, Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 knockouts) now arrives to fight at the famed venue.

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He seeks to become the ninth three-division world champion in Mexican history when he meets World Boxing Assn. secondary super-middleweight champion Rocky Fielding of England.

“The truth is, it’s the dream we’ve always been looking for, to fight in this arena,” Alvarez said Thursday. “I feel proud. It’s because of this that we trained so hard. Because of this, we did everything we did to get here. I’m happy, and it fills me with pride. I’m grateful.”

Alvarez said those words while seated next to his trainer, Eddy Reynoso.

Reynoso fully understands the struggles of the past Mexican boxing greats who’ve repeatedly engaged in the types of impassioned slugfests in raucous Mexico and Southern California venues without the same fanfare, building the sport’s most fervent boxing audience even though most never reached a global stage like this.

Reynoso’s late father-in-law, Efren “Alacran” Torres, stood as world flyweight champion in 1969, but he lost the title so quickly, less than four months later in Bangkok, Thailand, that the Ring Magazine didn’t have sufficient time to present him the weight class’ lineal belt.

Torres’ thrilling style made for a rousing 1964 bout at Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium against Japan’s Hiroyuki Ebihara. The occupants of the sold-out venue were so furious when the judges turned in a split-decision triumph for Ebihara that they rioted, one fan in the balcony section throwing a mustard bottle that shattered and cut a man down below.

“There were more police and firefighters than I’d ever seen,” veteran boxing publicist Bill Caplan said. “It proved the dedication of the Mexican fight fans to their heroes. If they think their man gets the short end, they’ll let the world know about it.”

At an October ceremony in downtown Los Angeles, Alvarez was awarded his Ring Magazine lineal middleweight belt for defeating former champion Gennady Golovkin by majority decision in September. Also that night, Ring officials gave Reynoso the flyweight belt Torres had never received.

Reynoso later handed it off to his wife, Fabiola, causing her to weep before later placing it securely in her father’s former home.

“[Torres] had spoken to me often about his fights, and Saul [Alvarez] liked his style … I’m a student of the game, so I’ve also seen videos and read many other stories about so many fights, and I know how hard it is to win one of these,” Reynoso said while cradling the belt.

“It almost brings tears to my eyes because I know fighters like this are still remembered by our people as champions. I’m proud of him, and I’m proud of Saul, too, for winning his belt.”

That lineage has propelled Mexican fighters to Garden main events, but more infrequently than one would think. Heavyweight Manuel Ramos was knocked out by Joe Frazier in 1968.

In 1982, young featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez defended his WBC belt in a glorious bout that ended in a 15th-round technical-knockout triumph over Azumah Nelson. Shortly after, Sanchez died in a car crash in Mexico.

Chavez successfully defended his WBC super-featherweight title by unanimous decision over Juan Laporte in 1986.

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“Just the way I saw Chavez fight at the Garden, I’m sure Canelo saw me fight at the Garden,” De La Hoya said of stopping Jesse James Leija for a world lightweight belt exactly 23 years ago since Saturday night. “This is inspiring. It pushes others. It’s a continuation … of seeing Muhammad Ali fight here, and reaching this place yourself. It’s a huge deal.”

Alvarez called it “a landmark of my career,” and his assistant trainer and Reynoso’s 65-year-old father, Chepo, basked in the moment of honing Alvarez from his small Mexican province to this bout after also cornering so many others who only dreamed of such an occasion.

“I’m very happy, but I’m not surprised,” Chepo Reynoso said. “Getting to this summit didn’t happen from one day to the other. The results came only after working minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. We worked hard. Saul worked hard.

“The real fans who know boxing know he’s triumphing just by going to the cathedral of boxing at Madison Square Garden. The importance for me now is to have him come here and conquer."

BOXING

Main event: Rocky Fielding (27-1, 15 KOs) vs. Canelo Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KOs) for Fielding’s World Boxing Assn. secondary super-middleweight belt

When: Saturday, livestream bouts begin at 5 p.m. Pacific

Where: Madison Square Garden

Television: DAZN streaming service, free one-month trial, $9.99 monthly fee follows

Undercard: David Lemieux (40-4, 34 KOs) vs. Tureano Johnson (20-2, 14 KOs), middleweights; Sadam Ali (26-2, 14 KOs) vs. Mauricio Herrera (24-7, seven KOs), welterweights; Vergil Ortiz (11-0, 11 KOs) vs. Omar Tienda (19-5, 12 KOs), super-lightweights; Tevin Farmer (27-4-1, six KOs) vs. Francisco Fonseca (22-1-1, 16 KOs), for Farmer’s IBF super-featherweight belt; Katie Taylor (11-0, five KOs) vs. Eva Wahlstrom (22-0-1, three KOs), for Taylor’s IBF/WBA female lightweight belts; Ryan Garcia (16-0, 13 KOs) vs. Braulio Rodriguez (19-3, 17 KOs), lightweights

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