By Jake Donovan
When you’re successful at something for long enough, you eventually get by on your name alone. It doesn’t matter if you’re as good as you once were. Once your name rings out, the coasting often follows immediately thereafter – and lasts for as long as you can milk it.
Today’s game features an entirely different breed of fighters and fight personalities. The reward needs to be revealed long before most are willing to put in the work. Not helping matters is the greedy intentions of more than a few in the sport, looking to turn a quick buck by using familiar names to help sell a bill.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was never going to be as great as his legendary fighting father – few in the history of the sport can ever claim to be, after all. But the second-generation prizefighter certainly had the opportunity to hold court and at least make a name for himself.
Instead, he became the poster child for the marketing bust that has proven to be the exploitation of Generation Never. Whatever talent he possessed was buried under a lazy work ethic and a promotional and marketing team that was too busy counting gate receipts and pay-per-view sales to concern themselves with whether or not he’d amount to anything as a fighter.
All of that is now about to change.
Judging by his recent actions, it’s clear that the oldest of the fighting Chavez children is ready to live beyond his name and prove to himself – and eventually everyone else - that he can actually fight. Now guided by four-time Trainer of the Year Freddie Roach, Chavez Jr. (41-0-1, 30KO) has put in the work as he prepares for his showdown with John Duddy at the Alamodome in San Antonio this weekend (Saturday, Top Rank PPV 9PM ET/PT)
The only reported downside to the Roach-Chavez Jr. union was that not enough time was spent together for a relatively significant fight. But while Roach would’ve preferred more than a month to train the young Mexican or at least a softer touch for their first fight together, the time frame has undoubtedly served as the most strenuous of Chavez Jr’s young career.
For far too long in his career, little was expected in the way of achievement. Wins fights against made-to-order opposition, enjoy the cushy time slots and eventually carry a pay-per-view series on your own. The box office totals suggest mission accomplished for Chavez and company, though perhaps at the greater cost of alienating nearly the entire industry.
Never could anyone have imagined the day where a Chavez would be booed by a predominately Mexican crowd, never mind in their home country. Yet such has become commonplace for young Julio in recent years. While he still draws crowds, it’s hardly lost on his countrymen that far too much of his career has been spent screwing the pooch.
It was bad enough that fans on this side of the border grew tired of his occupying airtime on the televised undercards of premium pay-per-view events featuring the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Erik Morales, Miguel Cotto and other prominent Top Rank stars of recent years. But when you’re booed by the very fans who continue to worship the very ground your legendary fighter walks on, you know your career has taken a turn for the worse.
There seemed to be a point where Chavez Jr was ready to be taken seriously. His December ’07 knockout win over former amateur standout Rey Sanchez was – and still remains – the most significant achievement in his young career. In rallying back to stop Sanchez in six rounds in his own backyard of Albuquerque, Chavez Jr. proved that he can win on a level beyond the club circuit and also that he could secure victory in the face of adversity.
Waiting in the wings was a potential HBO date, as the sport’s biggest power broker was prepared to showcase him on their Boxing After Dark circuit. Promoter Bob Arum went on record to speak of what to expect in 2008 and beyond, which at the time was to include fights against ex-champs while attempting to build towards a major title shot.
Then came the returns – upwards of 90,000 units sold for an independently distributed pay-per-view telecast, a clear sign that Chavez Jr. was enough of a draw to where Arum wasn’t about to allow any network to dictate the level of competition his fighter had to face.
What followed soon thereafter was a slew of lateral moves (at best), with the Sanchez fight marking the last time Chavez Jr. fought at or close to the welterweight limit. Each of his seven fights since then have taken place at junior middleweight and beyond, with last year’s 10-round stinker versus Troy Rowland marking his debut as a full-fledged middleweight.
It was the final straw as far as many boxing fans were concerned; time to permanently write him off as nothing more than a sideshow attraction. Even worse than his weighing in at a career-heavy 160 was the fact that he struggled to make the weight – and that he wound up getting popped afterwards for taking a banned diuretic substance during what passed as training in his world.
The record books still read Chavez Jr. W10 Rowland, but the failed drug test earned him a six-month suspension. It was enough time to reevaluate whether or not he actually wanted to be a prizefighter.
Showing up at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood (CA) provided the answer to that question.
It was a given that if he were to survive a training camp with Roach, it meant working harder than ever before in his life. What few refused to believe was that he could actually turn the trick, but six weeks later and even well before the opening bell for this weekend’s main event, the skeptics have already been proven wrong.
Even Roach himself wasn’t entirely certain what to expect when first tabbed to handle corner duties.
"There really was an over/under line - two weeks – on how long it would take Julio to make it in our gym,” Roach commented during a media session in San Antonio on Tuesday. “The 'over' won easy. None of the things people warned me about him were true. He came in and worked hard.”
With fight night rapidly approaching, Chavez Jr continues to work hard. Normally hiding from the media and much of the public at this point during fight week, the 24-year old was found – get this – running early Tuesday morning. Scheduled or not, he was genuinely enthusiastic to put in the work, so much that he had to remind his coach that they were still on the clock.
“He loves to run and this morning he was the one who woke me up and said 'Coach, time to get up and run,’” Roach said of Tuesday’s session. “He is such a great person to know.”
Thanks to the work put in over the past six weeks, Chavez Jr. knows that along with his sunny disposition there also exists a great work ethic, something he was unsure would ever come out after having been pampered for much of his career – and his life in general.
“At first I thought to myself, ‘Could I really hack it with Freddie Roach? Could I make it’,” Chavez Jr. openly admits. “I did and I am a better fighter for it. He has taught me so much in our time together.
“I am excited, motivated and in great condition. I am going to show everyone Saturday what being in great condition really means.”
With a win on Saturday, he will be in position to challenge for an alphabet title, either at 154 or 160. There’s no question that such a ranking and the events leading up to this weekend came about thanks to who he is – and who he’s related to.
But with names like Sergio Martinez, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito waiting on the other side of possible title shots, who he knows will eventually have to give way to what he knows – and more importantly, what he’s willing to do.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at [email protected] .