by David P. Greisman
The kid is no longer just “The Kid,” not anymore, not now that he has gone from six-round pay-per-view curiosities to 12-round main event world title defenses, not now that he has aged from a pubescent teenage junior welterweight into a physically filled out 25-year-old middleweight, and not now that he has facial hair, millions of dollars and a drunken-driving arrest.
Now the kid belongs as more than a mere curiosity. Now he is a boxer, like his father was, even if he can never be what his namesake became.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was once a kid who was less a prodigy and more a product of careful matchmaking, years of cautious development that substituted for his lack of an amateur pedigree. Now he stands in with the capable and the competent, standing triumphant not just by his nature but also his nurture. He trains under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, works alongside other world-class fighters and turns to conditioning coach Alex Ariza.
There should be no more kid gloves for Chavez Jr.
Not anymore. Not now that he has moved past the lower-tiered fighters and on to the lower-ranked of the upper class, facing undefeated contenders and underrated former world-title challengers. Now, with his win this past Saturday over Marco Antonio Rubio, Chavez Jr. must decide whether he will be known as the kid of Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., or the man who fought to be seen as something other than the son of a famed father.
Moments after defeating Rubio, Chavez Jr. named the three opponents he wants next: Sergio Martinez, Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto. Another middleweight, Andy Lee, was named later as a possibility.
The obvious choice, of course, is Martinez. He is the top fighter in the division, the lineal champion, and the only fighter of those first three names on an upward trajectory in his career. A win over Martinez would do more for Chavez’s career than a victory over any of the other fighters.
The obvious choice is not always the right one.
It’d be the right fight for Martinez, an easy win over a less accomplished, less able foe. Chavez would come in with a tremendous advantage in size, but that’d only widen the disadvantageous disparity in speed against the faster, flashier champion.
Martinez would pick Chavez apart, “The Man” against “The Kid,” taking back a sanctioning body belt that Martinez feels was unjustly stripped from him. He has been waiting to fight Chavez for nearly as long as Rubio had waited.
It’d be the wrong fight for Chavez Jr. For all of his growth, his ascent has only brought him up to the realm of credibility among the numerous titleholders, not among the echelons inhabited by the few true champions. There is little joy in seeing a fight in which the result is inevitable. There is little reason to take a fight you know you’re going to lose — even if you’ve got something to prove.
That doesn’t mean Chavez should still be protected. No, he shouldn’t be served up to Martinez for a loss and less money. Nor should he have Antonio Margarito served up to him for a win and a bigger payday.
Margarito is dangerously close to becoming the designated opponent, a dangerous position considering his condition. Never one to shy away from taking punishment in order to deliver punches, Margarito has suffered additional damage while losing three out of his last four. The second of those three defeats, a 12-round drubbing against Manny Pacquiao, left Margarito with a broken orbital bone and enough eye damage that he needed multiple surgeries to repair it.
Even those procedures left questions about his vision prior to his rematch this past December against Miguel Cotto. Cotto targeted that eye, brought out swelling from around it, and scored a medical, technical knockout.
Margarito, at 5-foot-11, is only a couple of inches shorter than Chavez Jr. He’s been shown in the past, however, to be an undersized junior middleweight, most notably in 2004 against the naturally bigger Daniel Santos. Margarito would seem even smaller and even slower at middleweight, particularly against Chavez Jr., who drained down to 160 for this past fight and rehydrated all the way up to 181 pounds.
Cotto, at 5-foot-7, is likely at his upper limit at 154 pounds. But with his May 5 pay-per-view bout against Floyd Mayweather Jr., he’s not likely to be available for Chavez’s next bout, anyway.
One name not on the list is Saul Alvarez, who is Golden Boy Promotions’ own Mexican superstar. Though both Golden Boy and Top Rank executives sounded open in the past to an Alvarez-Chavez showdown, that’s a doubtful proposition, at least for as long as the promoters can get nearly as much reward for far less risk.
That leaves Andy Lee.
That’s a good fight.
Lee has won 10 straight since his shocking stoppage loss in 2008 against Brian Vera. That streak has put him back into consideration in the middleweight division, back into contention as he waits for a title shot. HBO has put him on before and has shown interest in having him on air again. He can be in fan-friendly fights, and he also displayed a new dedication to boxing this past October, winning a rematch over Vera.
Lee is listed at 6-foot-2, is a natural middleweight and is 27 years old. He matches up well with Chavez, physically and stylistically.
Chavez’s promoter, Bob Arum, has already spoken with HBO about a fight between Chavez and Lee, and the network seemed to welcome the idea, according to a report by BoxingScene’s own Rick Reeno.
The lone major obstacle is Sergio Martinez’s mandated shot at Chavez.
Martinez and Lee share the same promoter in Lou DiBella, though, which could make it easier for that hurdle to be cleared, for Lee to fight Chavez and for Martinez to get another big fight and then a bout against the winner.
Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. was 43-0 when he fought for his first world title. Chavez Jr. was 42-0-1. Chavez Sr. went on to greatness, a standard against which it’d be unfair to hold his son.
Chavez Jr. is good — good enough that “The Kid” description can be dropped, good enough that the kid gloves can come off, good enough that he can stand in with and stand triumphant over other good fighters.
He will never be as great as Chavez Sr. He likely will never even be as great as “The Man” in his division, Sergio Martinez. He must decide, then, how good is good enough.
The list of world titleholders is long and far from illustrious. What is done after winning a belt means much more. Who Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. faces from here, and who he beats, will decide what matters most: the name he was given by his Hall of Fame father, or the names on his record for the wins he earned himself.
The 10 Count
1. Some of you might be looking forward to the pay-per-view on May 5 between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto.
Not me. I’m looking forward to the “24/7” or “Fight Camp 360” episodes beforehand, assuming HBO or Showtime wins the rights to distribute the pay-per-view.
Can’t you picture it already? Mayweather and Cotto will try to out-do each other in each episode, Cotto with his bromance with Brian Perez, Mayweather with his bromance with 50 Cent.
As for the fight itself? We’ve seen it already back in 2005 — back when it was Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Arturo Gatti.
2. Andre Berto’s injury to his left bicep has either postponed or canceled a much-anticipated rematch with Victor Ortiz in what might have been the highlight of a packed February for boxing.
The injury happened Jan. 30. It was officially announced on Jan. 31. And Floyd Mayweather Jr. was scheduled to name his next opponent on Feb. 1.
Admit it: In this conspiracy-laden world of boxing, there was at least one moment you considered the possibility that Mayweather was going to announce a rematch against Victor Ortiz.
3. I’m not sure how much is attributable to the change in leadership at HBO Sports and how much was in the works already, but this year’s first boxing broadcast on the network brought some experimentation and innovation, to mixed results.
Before “World Championship Boxing” even went on the air, HBO put together an enjoyable 15-minute program titled “2 Days: Portrait of a Fighter,” which gave a good look at Brandon Rios as he struggled with weight the day before his Dec. 3 bout against John Murray, then followed him through his stoppage win over Murray. The cameras caught Rios more than a month later, those interviews providing additional perspective.
The next episode of “2 Days” will be on Feb. 25, focusing on James Kirkland.
During the broadcast, HBO showed footage of its pre-fight meeting with Nonito Donaire, giving the kind of perspective that had previously only come via commentators recalling what the boxers said.
Later, the producers had Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Emanuel Steward “lay out,” going silent so that the viewer could listen in on the instructions Donaire was receiving from his trainer, Robert Garcia. This was an addition that didn’t make up for the subtraction — and the split-screen, with cameras on both the fight and the trainer, was a distraction.
Last, HBO did something it rarely does — it showed a ring card girl. No complaints about that, of course.
4. One of the hardest things for a boxer to overcome is something over which he has no control — expectations.
And so while Nonito Donaire looked very good in out-pointing Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., capturing a vacant world title belt in his debut in the 122-pound division, there were some who wanted more from him.
Much of that must be due to the attention given to Donaire following his highlight-reel knockout of Fernando Montiel just a year ago. That stunning showing left people disappointed during his dreary 12-round decision in October over an entirely defensive Omar Narvaez, and similarly so on Saturday because his bout against an offensively hesitant Vazquez Jr. also went the distance.
Fighters can only look so good when their foes will not engage — recall Manny Pacquiao against Shane Mosley or Sergio Martinez against Darren Barker. One fighter providing most of the offense will not make an easy fight if the other fighter is largely seeking to survive, and it is not necessarily incumbent on a Donaire or a Pacquiao or a Martinez to put himself in danger by opening up even further against an opponent who can take advantage of that opportunity.
We do expect to see more out of our superstar fighters, though, to see them adjust and find a way to win — an exciting way, at that. That’s likely why Donaire seemed to be showing off in the ring at times, showing off his speed and power, his fast combinations and his unorthodox single shots.
The split decision verdict was wrong — it was a clear, decisive win for Donaire over Vazquez Jr., one much more impressive than his unanimous decision victory over Narvaez. Donaire got the victory with an injured or broken left hand, and he showed that he still carried much of his speed and a degree of his power at this higher weight.
He made this viewer, at least, want to see him again.
It might seem a backward step to some that Donaire has gone from headlining two HBO cards in 2011 to fighting on an undercard at the beginning of 2012. But stardom doesn’t come from intermittent appearances. Rather, it comes from repeat impressions.
Familiarity comes first. Fame comes next.
5. Dec. 16, 2005: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., 23-0, fights to a six-round draw with an 8-1 fighter named Carlos Molina.
Feb. 18, 2006: Chavez Jr. and Molina have an immediate rematch. This time, Chavez Jr. takes a six-round majority decision.
Feb. 4, 2012: Chavez Jr., 44-0-1, headlines an HBO card.
March 24, 2012: Molina, 19-4-2, will be featured against James Kirkland on an HBO undercard.
How many imagined, six years ago, that not only would both Chavez Jr. and Molina be in big HBO fights years later — but that they’d deserve it, too?
6. Boxers Behaving Badly: As referenced above, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was arrested less than two weeks before his fight and cited with driving under the influence of alcohol, according to RingTV.com scribe Lem Satterfield and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s online records.
Chavez Jr., 25, was arrested at 4:38 a.m. and released less than six hours later. He is due back in court on March 16.
7. How long until a sanctioning body tries to cash in on the unfortunate combination of boxers and booze?
The World Boxing Association could even introduce a new title, making Kelly Pavlik and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. the No. 1 and No. 2 contenders for the WB-A.A. title.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Gabriel Rosado has pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer last July in an Atlantic City casino, though the conviction could ultimately be expunged from his criminal record, according to the Press of Atlantic City.
Rosado, 26, had been charged with aggravated assault on a police officer who was trying to escort him from the casino just hours after the junior middleweight had won a fight in the very same building.
However, he is entering a pretrial intervention program, the newspaper said, and if and when he completes the program, the charge will be cleared. If he doesn’t complete the program, though, he could end up behind bars.
Rosado is 19-5, his last fight coming in January, a fifth-round stoppage of Jesus Soto Karass.
9. Mike Tyson is entering the WWE Hall of Fame’s celebrity wing, largely on the strength of his heated appearance alongside Shawn Michaels and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin during the company’s “Attitude Era.”
Somehow, in the 14 years since then, not only has the WWE gone “PG” — Mike Tyson has, too.
10. R.I.P. Angelo Dundee, 1921 to 2012; Goody Petronelli, 1923 to 2012; Wayne Kelly, 1948-2012; Jeff Fraza, 1977-2012; and Karlo Maquinto, 1990-2012.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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