Despite some recent setbacks, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. has found his way into a high-profile boxing matchup. Getty

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. enters his Saturday fight with Canelo Alvarez as an understandably heavy underdog, but the 31-year-old hasn't looked like the same fighter that posted uneven results in the past five years. Chavez, a former WBC middleweight champion, appears ready to silence his detractors after years of underachievement with a new attitude and perhaps a smarter gameplan ahead of the biggest fight of his life.

Most indications still point to a one-sided bout, as oddsmakers list Alvarez as a -600 favorite compared to Chavez at +450. Alvarez is deservedly regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world with six consecutive wins following his loss by majority decision to boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, while Chavez has lost two of his last six fights and has faced mostly forgettable opponents since 2013.

And there is no mistaking Chavez’s past missteps in recent years ahead of this high-stakes bout. Chavez was fined $900,000 by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 2013 for testing positive for marijuana after losing in September 2012 to Sergio Martinez, easily Chavez’s most accomplished opponent. He has also battled weight issues and his work ethic has been questioned, particularly after failing to adequately prepare for a light heavyweight bout with relative-unknown Andrzeg Fonfara that included the first knockdown of his career and ended in a TKO loss.

Has Chavez overcome those setbacks and matured as a boxer? How seriously will he take a superstar boxer like Alvarez on Saturday in Las Vegas, with a frenzied Mexican crowd filling T-Mobile Arena?

After so much talk about unfulfilled potential, Chavez seems more ready to turn over a new leaf than ever before. From pictures and video clips, he appears to be in the best shape of his life in preparation for a fight at a 164.5-pound catch-weight, and after dominating German Dominik Britsch at 169 pounds in October.

But in the last five years, Chavez, a scion of Mexican boxing royalty, has fallen off the boxing map after fights against little-known boxers. A win over Alvarez on Cinco de Mayo weekend would effectively mean stepping out of his father's shadow and he undoubtedly knows it. When he makes his way to the ring Saturday, most of the cheers will be for his father's accomplishments rather than his own.

Nevertheless, they will be cheering for “el hijo de la leyenda”—which translates to “the son of the legend"—a highly skilled boxer who has excelled at multiple weight classes. It shouldn’t be overlooked that Chavez has knocked out 32 of his opponents and has just two losses over 13 years.

Chavez is also somewhat of an underrated pugilist with fast hands and an excellent chin. He certainly showed glimpses of greatness in a spirited Round 12 against Martinez, when he dropped the Argentine with a left hook after losing nearly all of the earlier rounds. He will need that type of determination in what will be the biggest fight of his professional life.

Chavez will be fighting under the watchful eye of one of the best trainers in the business. Ignacio "Nacho" Beristain has shown cautious optimism amid tactical changes against a polished and hard-hitting boxer like Alvarez.

“We are working to improve his defense a little bit,” Beristain said. “We are working to give him the discipline that he needs to succeed in this fight.”

Defense seems to be the crucial ingredient for a victory over Alvarez. Chavez has often left himself vulnerable to power punches and Alvarez doesn't need many openings to unleash a right hook that could put Chavez on the mat.

There is also plenty of incentive for Chavez to put on the fight of his life. He can assume the mantle of favored Mexican boxer with an upset victory. Defeating Alvarez is an enormous achievement for any boxer, but Mexican honor is also on the line.

“The one who has the most determination in the fight will win, not the best fighter. The one who has more determination, because there’s a rivalry between the two of them,” said Beristain.

Motivation, defense and rivalry talk aside, there are other things working in Chavez’s favor. He is listed at 6-foot-1, compared to Alvarez at 5-foot-9, and Alvarez hasn’t fought against anyone that tall since Carlos Herrera in 2009. Chavez can also perhaps surprise an overconfident Alvarez, who might be looking ahead to a future megafight with Gennady Golovkin.

Chavez, who is not scared to brawl, also has the ability to turn the crowd in his favor if he shows the right aggression. Whichever boxer takes command with bigger punches could potentially sway a divided arena. This carries some importance because judges and referees can sometimes be influenced by a partisan crowd, which has been the case for both Chavez and Alvarez since they mostly fight in front of Mexican spectators.

It will be interesting to see if Chavez fights smarter than he has in recent years. He often drops his hands low and doesn’t seem to cut off the ring as well as he should. Chavez has admitted that middle and late rounds are his best, but if he falls behind against Alvarez—who proved his stamina against Miguel Cotto— it can spell doom.

Beristain probably wants Chavez to avoid trading power punches in the early rounds, instead pushing for Chavez to strategically pick his punches from a more defensive posture and trying to out-point Alvarez by methodically moving around the ring.

While movement is important, so is the jab. With Alvarez possibly thrown off a bit from his rise in weight class, Chavez can frustrate a sometimes-impatient Alvarez by a barrage of jabs combined with plenty of movement. Trainer Freddie Roach, who was in Chavez’s corner against Martinez, pushed for Cotto to move his head more after he landed jabs against Alvarez. Chavez can take a page out of Roach’s playbook instead of leaving himself open to an Alvarez power punch as Amir Khan foolishly did in a knockout loss in May 2016.

Cotto had a three-inch reach disadvantage against Alvarez, but Chavez goes into this fight with a three-inch advantage. Should Chavez keep the fight close with jabs and defense, he can possibly spend the final few rounds measuring up for power punches that can stun Alvarez, which nearly worked against Martinez.

An upset against Alvarez still feels like a longshot, but Chavez may prove to be a worthy adversary. When pushed to the limit against a top boxer like Martinez, he rose to the challenge.

"I was 20 seconds away from knocking him out. I started way too late," Chavez said after the Martinez fight. "I didn't really get started until the eighth round."

He will need to get started a lot earlier against Alvarez. There is little room for error Saturday and Chavez surely knows it. If he doesn’t, this fight could end early and it will be yet another case of expectations unfulfilled.