Thursday, May 18, 2017

Canelo vs. Chavez at the Cinema

By Kevin Beane

I'm not a big boxing guy. I'm trying to learn more and "get into it" more, but that's a long road. Along that road, however, I heard that the PPV match between Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. held on May 6th was a battle for "the very soul of Mexico."

I live in Dallas, Texas, where Hispanics make up about half of the population, the vast majority of whom are Mexican in descent. So the battle for the soul of Mexico, if it was being marketed accurately, would be no small thing. Indeed, they were showing the fight in some local movie theaters.

I have never seen a sporting event in a movie theater before, and that got the pundit and the anthropologist in me curious. Would it be a packed-house, or do people not care as much about the fight as I was guessing? Would they be quiet, because it's a theater, or loud, because it's a boxing match? What is it like watching a sporting event on a theater screen? I wanted to find out.

When I got to the theater, there was a line a mile long waiting to get into a specific theater. Great, I thought, I get here a half hour early, bought my ticket online, and still we're going to be packed in like sardines.

After I stood in line for some time, I noticed a couple of women in line in traditional Indian garb. I don't wish to make the presumptuous or even racist claim that I can "tell" Indians from Hispanics, but I was getting a distinctly Indian vibe somehow, and a ticket-tearer across the way was taking tickets and letting people into the bowels that lead to the different theaters. I decided to go to him and risk losing my spot in what could be the incorrect line.

A rare good choice on my part. I don't know what line I had gotten myself in, but it wasn't the line for the fight, and I was one of the first people in the theater showing the fight.

At first, it was quite dead. I thought that, unlike the movies, people might stroll in late knowing the first hour or two would be prelims. I was right: it was 95% full by the time Chavez/Alvarez started.

I will say here that as a sensory experience, watching sports on a movie theater screen was not as majestic as I had hoped. It was nice, nothing against the theater, but I find that the difference between watching a match on your friend's big screen and a movie theater's really big screen is negligible.

I tried to do a little background research on the fight. Chavez is the son and the namesake of a celebrated boxer you have assuredly heard of. After being raised outside of the limelight, he decided to follow in his father's footsteps. Even though he's only 31, this was his 55th professional fight, and he boasted a record of 50-2 with a draw and a no-contest.

I was given to understand that Chavez was the sentimental favorite, for reasons we don't normally ascribe to silver spooners. He had had a history of difficulties making weight for fights (although he did for this one) and publicly ate indulgent foods after these fights were over. Relatable, to be sure. He also got in serious trouble with boxing brass in 2012, including suspensions and heavy fines, for testing positive for drugs. Not performance enhancers, but weed.

Alvarez is more of an Ivan Drago to Chavez's Rocky Balboa, although describing him that way makes him sound unlikeable, which he is not. He's 26 and the only loss of his career came to Floyd Mayweather. He has a reputation of doing everything the right way; he's no flawed hero like Chavez. Unlike Chavez, he comes from blue-collar roots in Jalisco. "Canelo" is masculine-Spanish for Cinnamon. Translation: he's a ginger.

Canelo started off as a 12-1 favorite, but that slipped to 3-1 after Chavez made weight. It should've stayed at 12-1. Chavez can pride himself on not getting KO'd, but that's about it. Canelo won every round on every judge's scorecard.

As for the crowd? That was a bit more surprising to me. The answer to the loud-because-boxing or quite-because-theater question ended up being somewhere in between, but more towards the latter. Imagine the din you hear before the lights go down in the theater, increase it by about 10%, and that's about where it was. I was not expecting that.

Surprise No. 2: I was given to expect a lot of enthusiasm for Chavez, but my theater had a decidedly pro-Canelo tilt instead.

Surprise No. 3: The crowd skewed much younger than I expected, as most attendees appeared to be in their teens or twenties. Respectful kids, these. They weren't here to party or goof off, but to watch the fight. When I moved over one seat to accommodate a large group, several members of the party thanked me individually.

I keep hearing that boxing is dying, replaced forevermore by UFC and gone forever are the days of Louis and Ali when boxing challenged baseball and football for America's sports heart. Maybe that's true, but maybe only for non-Hispanic America. Granted, anecdotes are not data, but my anecdote indicated a thriving interest in boxing in the Hispanic community, and given how young the crowd was, that thriving should only grow.

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