The heart of Mexico and the borough of Brooklyn have generated a long line of boxing talent, leading the sport to a Cinco de Mayo battle that pits the best of each region in pursuit of middleweight supremacy.
“Fighting on these important dates gives me a lot of pride and honor to represent my country and people,” said Canelo Alvarez, a three-division champion from Guadalajara. “It’s a lot of responsibility, but I feel at home here, because a lot of my countrymen come here to support me. To see how they celebrate these dates is very motivating.”
The presence of Alvarez (51-1-2, 35 knockouts), the World Boxing Assn. and World Boxing Council middleweight champion, is expected to turn T-Mobile Arena into a sea of red, green and white on Saturday night.
It’s an atmosphere International Boxing Federation middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs (35-2, 29 KOs) will counter by entering with the late Notorious B.I.G. or another Brooklyn artist booming on his headphones.
“Something for me that represents the struggle of my people and the culture truly motivates,” Jacobs said. “Canelo is fighting for his people. He comes [to the ring] to Mexican music and the pride that he feels from that — that’s what I get, because the struggle is similar.”
Brooklyn has given boxing heavyweight champions Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe and Michael Moorer. Jacobs attended the homecoming parade for former unified welterweight champion Zab Judah, and has dreamed of his own celebration.
In the opposite corner stands the most successful Mexican fighter since the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez.
Alvarez, 28, has risen from the confines of his humble Mexican gym as the youngest of eight sons to stand as the strongest draw in the sport.
He struck a 10-fight, $365-million deal with new streaming service DAZN last year that was the richest contract given to a North American athlete, and he’s repeated his intention to meet any man near his weight professing to be better than him.
“I’ve spent many years giving my fans the best fights possible and I’ll continue to do it,” Alvarez said. “We know [Jacobs] has ability. He has one of the most complicated, complete styles in boxing. We can adjust to whatever he can bring. Every fighter I’ve fought has given me experience and made me what I am today.
“How do you see me in this era? It’s not [an answer] you say in words. You put in the hard work in the gym, and it comes true in the ring. It is my era.”
After delivering the first loss to long-reigning middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin by majority decision in September and adding a super-middleweight belt in December, Alvarez confronts a fellow champion who fought Golovkin to a narrow loss by decision two years ago. Jacobs, though, is nearly a 4-to-1 underdog.
“Knowing Canelo, and seeing him in camp, he’s more than ready for anything that Jacobs brings,” Alvarez promoter Oscar De La Hoya said.
The case for a Jacobs victory is hitched to his combination of impressive power, a size and reach advantage and the ability to effectively shift to a left-handed stance that confounded Golovkin.
Jacobs, who excessively re-hydrated before the Golovkin bout, weighed in at the 160-pound limit Friday and must be no more than 10 pounds heavier at 8 a.m. Saturday to avoid a financial penalty.
“He’s a bigger fighter. That’s never bothered me. I’m a fighter who has a lot of abilities and experience and knows how to adapt,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez also has effectively mixed up styles, shifting to an aggressive approach in the Golovkin rematch that won over the judges
“I’m a fighter who has versatile styles. I can use distance or fight in short distance,” Alvarez said. “It’s come from the years of what [trainers] Eddy and Chepo [Reynoso] have taught me. We’ll see how everything unfolds.”
Steve Weisfeld, Glenn Feldman and Dave Moretti — the same judges who awarded Alvarez victory over Golovkin by the narrowest of margins — are back for this bout.
Asked if he’s concerned how Alvarez’s importance in the sport and his fan support in the arena will influence the judges, Jacobs vowed “My best will be enough.”
“What I’ve learned from the Golovkin fight is to perhaps come forward a little more, or at least stand my ground and be sharp,” he said. “ don’t need to be who I’m not to sway the judges. We have fine judges. I think I’ll get a fair shake. It’s just up to me to get in the ring and prove my destiny.”
Driven “to have one of the best comeback stories in boxing,” Jacobs has returned from a paralyzing battle against a cancerous tumor on his spine less than a decade ago. De La Hoya understands boxing matches sometimes are determined not by well-studied skills or styles, but by heart.
“I keep thinking of how Jacobs overcame cancer … his will pushes him to win, and he especially wants to win this one,” De La Hoya said.
That burning cause has crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to be matched against Alvarez’s unbending pursuit to stand as the greatest of his generation and thrill the sport’s strongest supporters.
“I know Canelo has a heart of steel, true grit,” Jacobs said, adding, “Where I came from in Brownsville, you have to act as if you’re hungry, like you haven’t had success. I never had anything handed to me. I keep those things in my mind to keep me driven.