Who are Mexican fans rooting for in the Canelo vs. Chavez fight? Well, it’s complicated.

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. reacts to a question during a news conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. reacts to a question during a news conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

Whatever his shortcomings, Canelo Alvarez is Mexico’s top fighter at this moment. He takes his work seriously. He has consistently improved. While he has received criticism for delaying a showdown with Gennady Golovkin, he has a history of taking risks, evidenced by matchups with the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr., Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout.

Opposite him Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena will be Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who has flunked drug tests, failed to control his weight, and owes his standing in the sport almost entirely to his famous father.

So Alvarez is the overwhelming favorite not only at the sports book, but also in the hearts of fans, right?


Not at all.

It’s impossible to figure out exactly how many fans are behind each fighter, but it appears as if Mexican and Mexican American fans are close to evenly divided in their support.

This is largely because of the admiration for Chavez Jr.’s father, who is Mexico’s most decorated fighter. If Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. isn’t the country’s most admired sports figure, he’s a close second behind soccer player Hugo Sanchez.

As a fighter, Chavez Sr. embodied the virtues Mexicans see in their culture. He was courageous. He was resilient. He was relentless. If he had to take two punches to deliver one, he would. His style represented a belief that he could absorb more punishment than his opponent.

In his most famous victory, Chavez Sr. stopped lightning-quick Meldrick Taylor with two seconds remaining in a fight he trailed on the scorecards. Referee Richard Steele’s call remains controversial to this day – except in Mexico, where the technical knockout was viewed as symbol of Chavez Sr.’s determination and elevated the fighter into near-sainthood.

Chavez Jr. inherited his father’s name, as well as many of his fans. Alvarez knows he will never win over many of them, regardless of what he does Saturday night.

“His fans will always be his fans,” Alvarez said in Spanish.

Chavez Jr. has rarely taken advantage of his height – he stands 6 feet 1 – relying instead on a granite chin and a wicked left hook he delivers to opponents’ midsections. He doesn’t have his father’s ring IQ. He doesn’t have his father’s footwork or his father’s varied attack. But it’s close enough to observers desperate to relive Chavez Sr.’s glorious reign as champion.

Moving forward can be perilous for a boxer who doesn’t possess Chavez Sr.’s skill or intelligence. However, boxers can decide who they will and won’t fight. Promoter Top Rank kept him clear of rivals who could expose his glaring weaknesses – that is, until the company cashed in its investment on him by pairing him against Sergio Martinez in a pay-per-view event.

Chavez Jr. lost for the first time in his career to Martinez. He lost a lopsided decision, but dropped Martinez in the final round. Martinez was 37 years old and appeared to have tired. Chavez Jr. fans saw something else: A glimpse of his father’s 12th-round assault on Taylor.

But many of those fans who will be cheering on Saturday for Chavez will be doing so in large part to oppose Alvarez.

There is a widespread perception in Mexico that Alvarez was a creation of Televisa, the most-watched television station in the Spanish-speaking world. The home of beautiful soap-opera stars, Televisa played an active role in building the Alvarez brand while he was still in the early stages of his career and was still taking on underwhelming opponents.

Alvarez’s failure to meet the power-punching Golovkin has also resulted in another backlash, this one perhaps more pronounced on this side of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Of course, if fans view Alvarez as a manufactured and protected star, Chavez Jr. would be an odd choice for them to back.

Twitter: @dylanohernandez