By Jake Donovan, photos by Nina Mariah Donovan
Don’t believe that belts matter? Tell that to any current alphabet title claimant today.
Sure, it’s widely recognized that Sergio Martinez is the true lineal middleweight champion of the world. But don’t tell Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. that his belt doesn’t matter.
If so, his newfound love for the sport could suddenly waver.
The biggest surprise during the press tour hyping up this weekend’s title defense against Peter Manfredo Jr. is the fact that Chavez Jr (43-0-1-1NC, 30KO) has long ago been in proper fighting shape. The bout marks the first defense of the title he acquired in a hard-fought decision win over Sebastian Zbik this past June, and has no plans to relinquish that status any time soon.
“I believe that with the responsibility of being a world champion that I have to get better,” Chavez Jr. says, as he prepares for his defense against Manfredo at Reliant Arena in Houston, with HBO to televise their main event. “With each fight I believe I’m doing that. I want to be world champion for a very long time.”
It took nearly eight years for the 25-year old Chavez Jr to grow from learn-as-you-earn newcomer to the sport, to middleweight titlist. There was a long stretch in his career where many believed he’d never advance beyond the side show level, but that began to change dating back to his 12-round war with John Duddy a year ago.
The fight marked the first time that the second-generation prizefighter hooked up with world class trainer Freddie Roach and his all-star team. The results have shown with each passing fight, but this camp in particular caught the eye of the man in charge of fine tuning his body.
“That he entered this camp already in shape showed me that he’s taking things seriously,” noted Alex Ariza, the strength and conditioning coach perhaps more famous for his work with pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao. “He’s always told us that becoming a champion would make him take the sport far more seriously. I’m very proud of him.”
The routine for past Chavez Jr. camps have normally centered around trimming excess flab and praying like hell that the scale doesn’t go beyond fight weight once it’s time for the official weigh-in. Training just to make weight detracts from the ability to get into true fighting shape, though that wasn’t an issue this time around.
“You’re 10 steps ahead of the game,” Ariza notes of the fact that Chavez Jr. already entered camp ahead of schedule. “Now we get to focus on the real stuff. You get to have shorter, smarter and more intense training camps so you’re not killing yourself.”
Still, making weight and showing off a finely chiseled physique is only good for the cameras. Once the bell rings, you still have to fight. That is where Chavez Jr. continues to battle extra hard in convincing people that his career is to be taken seriously and not just as some freak show.
Of course, he readily recognizes the shadows that will forever hover over him. However, he believes it’s time that critics see him for his own capabilities, and not the legacy to which he’s unfairly expected to measure up.
“I believe that I’ve added credibility to my career with my championship,” Chavez Jr. states, while acknowledging the incredible career of his Hall-of-Fame father Julio Sr, who remains in his corner in a constructive and positive manner. “I’m always going to be his son, but little by little I’m forging my own career.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]