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Thursday, July 25, 2013
Matchup: Chavez vs. Alvarez

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN

It's the ultimate boxing "what if?" Who would win if, in a parallel universe, Fighter A from the 1950s or '60s fought Fighter B from the 1990s or 2000s? The hypothetical matchup under consideration here is a twist on an actual modern-day megafight that, unfortunately, doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon. If we can't get Canelo Alvarez versus Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in a battle of Mexico's two most popular young fighters, we can instead have some fun with this pure fantasy pairing: Canelo against Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., the most beloved -- and probably the best -- Mexican warrior to lace on gloves.

Weight is an issue here, unfortunately, as the prime of "J.C. Superstar" came at 130-140 pounds, and Alvarez is currently a junior middleweight. Complicating things further, we haven't necessarily seen Canelo's prime yet. But here are the stipulations for the matchup: It's current Canelo against 140-pound Chavez circa 1990, meeting at a catchweight of 150 pounds. So as not to spoil the fun, we're assuming Alvarez can make 150 without killing himself and Chavez can use modern training and dieting techniques to put a few more productive pounds on his frame.

Below we provide scouting reports for both men, and our panel of ESPN.com experts pick a winner in this classic matchup.

SCOUTING REPORTS

Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.

Chavez created a new prototype for intelligent pressure fighting, using exceptional instincts for spacing and cutting off the ring, a legendary chin and a relentless offensive attack to make it through his first 90 fights -- yes, 90 -- undefeated. His best weapon was the classic left hook to the liver, but if that punch didn't get the opponent out of there, it lowered the arms enough to make the head an easy target. Aggressive style produced 86 knockouts among 107 wins, both extraordinary marks for the modern age, no matter how many "Tijuana taxi cab drivers" were among his early victims. Perhaps the most amazing stat: Chavez wasn't knocked down until his 91st fight, at age 31.

Canelo Alvarez

Although much of Canelo's marketability stems from his handsome face and the shrieking women who suddenly care about boxing because of it, there's a genuine tough guy lurking beneath the red hair and freckles. He can slug and hook to the body in accordance with the Mexican stereotype but also can box effectively at distance, using good reflexes, instincts and the occasional concussive right hand to make up for a slight deficiency in hand speed. Also is a better defensive fighter than some give him credit for. Without that ability to slip punches, he wouldn't have been able to put together his own Chavez Lite unbeaten streak, having made it through his first 43 fights without tasting defeat.

ANALYSIS

Power: Chavez was a tremendous puncher for a little guy but not in comparison to a full-fledged junior middleweight with enough pop to blast out former world champ Carlos Baldomir with a single punch, as Canelo did in his first statement fight. Advantage: Alvarez

Speed: If the bigger man has an automatic edge in power, the smaller man has a similar leg up in speed. Although Alvarez seems to be improving in his ability to deliver shots quickly, he would be hard-pressed to beat Chavez to the punch. Even old, out-of-shape welterweight Chavez might have had faster hands than Alvarez does. Advantage: Chavez

Defense: This is the toughest call on the board. Alvarez rolls with punches well and often eludes big shots by the slimmest of margins. Did you notice how unmarked he was at the end of the Austin Trout fight? That was no accident. But neither was Chavez's incredible record of staying on his feet. To an extent, his offense was his best defense, but his ability to block, parry and smother punches was better than many fans give him credit for. Advantage: Chavez

Chin: To be fair to Alvarez, he's had only one shaky moment so far in his career in terms of punch resistance, against Jose Miguel Cotto in a near-disastrous first round that he weathered. So his chin might just be made of sturdy material. But Chavez's chin was nearly indestructible. Not too many fighters in history win the chin comparison against "The Lion of Culiacan." Advantage: Chavez

Ring IQ: This is closer than some might think, as Alvarez has displayed some real versatility, changing his game to suit the opponent. But prime Chavez was a true master of angles, distance and pace, and unless your name was Pernell Whitaker, you weren't likely to outmaneuver him. Advantage: Chavez

EXPERTS' PICKS

Dan Rafael: Chavez decision

Chavez is widely considered the greatest Mexican fighter. He won world titles in three divisions, including unifying belts at junior lightweight and junior welterweight. He faced numerous top opponents, engaged in many exciting fights and was a relentless body puncher. He started his career 87-0 and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Alvarez, Mexico's most popular active fighter, has established himself as a top junior middleweight champion, but at this point he can only dream of Chavez's accomplishments.

Although Chavez didn't have success fighting above 140, his experience, toughness and relentlessness would trump Alvarez's youth and size. Alvarez isn't busy enough to deal with Chavez, who would set a brutal pace and eat him up going to the body. If Alvarez seemed gassed late in his April coming-of-age fight against Austin Trout, just imagine if Chavez was in there with his foot on the gas. Alvarez might have some early success picking his shots, but by the end he'd be looking for cover, protecting the body and leaving his head open.

Kieran Mulvaney: Chavez decision

The problem with this matchup is that we don't yet know how good Alvarez will be. Is he already in his prime, or is he still adding refinements and improvements to his game? I reckon the latter, but we can't say how high his ceiling will be. We do know, however, how good Chavez was in his pomp, and for all the uncertainties about the accuracy of his record and the legitimacy of some of his early victims, the man could fight.

The kind of opponents who gave him fits were men such as Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker, who possessed faster hands and slicker skills than Alvarez. Canelo's habit of being conservative, but accurate and punishing, with his punches would work against him in a fight with Chavez, who would be a comparative whirlwind of punches, increasing the pressure as the fight evolved, attacking Canelo's body, wearing him down and never letting him in the fight. Alvarez stays on his feet but loses a wide decision.

Nigel Collins: Chavez decision

Whether intentionally or subliminally, several generations of Mexican fighters have patterned themselves after Chavez, with varying degrees of success. None, however, has come close to duplicating the original. Even so, Canelo's style shares enough similarities with Chavez's that parallels can be drawn.

Both employ relentless pressure and a grinding attack -- featuring that left hook to the liver -- and both know how to finish an opponent when the time is right. They also are better boxers than one might think at first glance, adeptly cutting off the ring and picking off incoming blows with gloves and arms, and avoiding others with subtle shifts and upper-body movement.

Alvarez has a sturdy chin and Chavez isn't a one-punch knockout artist, so I don't see Canelo getting starched. Even so, Chavez would prove just a little better in every department: He's a tad faster and smarter and has a bit more snap on his punches. Canelo never stops trying, but after 12 absorbing rounds, Chavez prevails by a unanimous decision, winning eight rounds to four.

Eric Raskin: Chavez knockout

I'm less of a believer than most in the importance of being bigger and stronger. Better trumps bigger most of the time. Giving away a few pounds didn't hurt Manny Pacquiao against lesser, slower welterweights and junior middleweights, and it won't hurt Chavez here.

There are some stylistic similarities between Chavez and Canelo, and it's possible that either one could take control of the fight with a perfectly placed body shot at any time. But the prime Chavez was so relentless, such a machine, whereas Alvarez showed, even in his career-best win against Austin Trout, that he can be inconsistent from round to round and that he sometimes can give ground in an unproductive way. Chavez's combination of skill and tenacity assures that he'll take advantage if and when Alvarez shows weakness, so I like the Hall of Famer to wear down the rising star and take him out in about eight or nine rounds.

Brian Campbell: Chavez decision

It's somewhat unfair to mythically match a promising young fighter such as Alvarez with a Hall of Fame predator like Chavez. Canelo has the potential to be a star for the next decade, regardless of what happens in his fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. But from the little we do know, could we possibly expect him to be competitive at barely 23 years old against the greatest Mexican fighter in history?

My answer is a firm yes. Alvarez would be a physical factor, with advantages in power, size and reach against his straight-ahead opponent. And just as he showed in his victory over Trout -- when he proved able to patiently slip punches and counter with heavy fire in return -- Canelo has more up his sleeves than originally thought. Yes, to paraphrase Mayweather, "This ain't Trout." But Canelo appears to have the intangibles necessary to avoid suffocating amid Chavez's signature pressure. That doesn't mean JCC's advances would prove unsuccessful, however. With a gas tank that dwarfs the stamina Alvarez has shown (not to mention that of just about any other fighter), Chavez would leave a mark with his relentless body work and slowly wear Alvarez down. Despite having his moments, Canelo would face defeat for the first time in a competitive unanimous decision loss.

Salvador Rodriguez: Chavez decision

Given what we've seen so far from Canelo, and even taking into account that he likely hasn't yet shown us his best -- or hasn't had the chance to grow into all that he could become, at least -- I still like Chavez in this matchup.

The great stamina of Chavez, who would be prepared to go 15 rounds, would allow him to steadily pressure for 12 rounds and eventually suffocate Canelo. Another important factor is Chavez's chin. It was tested by so many challengers and always proved sturdy, while Canelo sometimes gets hit big and seemingly has been fazed at times. I'd still expect Canelo to end the fight on his feet, but the win would go to Chavez.

It will be interesting to see what Alvarez shows us over time, though. Maybe if we revisit this debate a few years from now, he'll change some minds.

Got a beef with one of our experts, or maybe you have your own ideas for a classic matchup? Comment below or use #ESPNClassicMatchup in social media settings, and we may feature your feedback.