By Jake Donovan
The best reply for a fighter to navigate around questionable physique is to claim that he trained for a fight and not a body building contest.
That argument might work for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., if any portion of his career managed to fly under the radar.
The son of the Hall of Fame-enshrined former three division champ returns to the ring this weekend, marking his first fight in more than a year. The extended absence comes in part to testing positive for marijuana following last year’s decision loss to Sergio Martinez, aided by three more weeks due to a cut suffered during sparring last month.
By Wednesday afternoon, the boxing world will have a clearer indication of what Chavez Jr. will weigh for Saturday’s showdown with Bryan Vera. The bout takes place at the Stub Hub Center in Carson, CA and airs live on HBO. All of this, assuming that his weight is in a reasonable enough range to where Vera will still consider going through with the fight, a scenario contingent on the fighters’ promoters hammering out a deal in time to salvage Saturday’s headliner.
“I’ve spoken to my good friend Artie Pellulo, who is Vera’s promoter. Artie and I will have breakfast (Wednesday morning) to discuss,” said Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum of the circumstances surrounding this weekend’s bout, which for the moment lacks a confirmed weight limit.
That Chavez Jr. is able to jump on a scale on Wednesday afternoon to determine how much he will be allowed to weight for Saturday further fuels claims of his sense of entitlement given his familiar bloodlines. Money talks and the truth is that Vera stands to make far more this weekend than for any other opportunity that presently exists in and near the middleweight limit.
Money will most likely have to talk in order for Saturday’s bout to happen, despite Arum remaining mum on the issue and insisting there’s nothing to see here.
The truth, however, is that Saturday marks the
first next chance Chavez Jr. will have to prove that he does in fact take the game seriously. His previous chance was in training camp for this fight, yet another opportunity squandered, or so it appears, even after moving up in weight for this fight.
Naturally, the second generation former champion is slighted by such perception.
“It wasn’t easy for me to make 160, yet I made weight and won a world title there,” Chavez Jr. points out what he insists are his honest intentions to carve out a respectable career. “I made weight and made several title defenses at 160. I came within one more punch of knocking out the best middleweight in the world (Martinez) at 160.
“You can't say I didn't train for those fights. I showed the world what I am capable of doing. I don't think people realize the sacrifices I was making to get (down) to 160.”
There is credence to the claim that Chavez Jr. is particularly large by today’s middleweight standards. The 28-year old is now 10 years into his pro career as of Monday, entering the pay ranks at a ripe 18 years of age and with minimal amateur experience.
His handlers were less concerned at the time about his development than they were about on which division to set their sights. Chavez Jr. gave 140 a try during his first couple of years as a pro, until it was evident that he absolutely had to campaign as a welterweight.
That lasted for about a year as he slowly transitioned into a 154 lb. fighter. A breakout win – stopping Rey Sanchez in six rounds in Dec. ’07 – was the final indication he’d seen his last days at welterweight, slowly climbing up the scales as he grew into a full-blown middleweight. It wasn’t until after serving a suspension for traces of a banned diuretic in his system following his Nov. ’09 clash with Troy Rowland were serious measures taken to make the push from sideshow to contender.
Beginning with his June ’10 win over John Duddy, every fight taken was wrapped with title implications. Wins over Duddy and Billy Lyell assured Chavez Jr. a shot at a middleweight title, proving his worth as a pro with a brave showing against legitimate Top 10 middleweight Sebastian Zbik. The bout marked his first appearance on HBO, which was followed by wins over Peter Manfredo Jr, Marco Antonio Rubio and Andy Lee also coming on the network, all to the tune of high ratings.
The favorable numbers were aided by his built-in popularity long before appearing on the largest pay-cable network in the industry. Still, the expanded audience tuned in not just because of his familiar last name, but that with each win came a bigger step towards career legitimacy.
Even in defeat – his only loss as a pro, thus far – Chavez Jr. showed heart, patience and traces of ability to overcome adversity. The lineal middleweight championship nearly changed hands in the final minute of a fight in which Chavez Jr. had lost every preceding round to that point. Martinez showed bravery beyond belief in recovering from the bout’s lone knockdown to turn the tide back in his favor and cling on to his title. However, a follow-up disputed win over Martin Murray left the aged champion battered and injured, as he remains on the shelf until next spring.
Chavez Jr. has perhaps another year or so to realistically build towards creating demand for a rematch with Martinez. It’s one of a small handful of fights he’d consider dropping back down in weight, as for now it’s believed by his team that super middleweight is his new home.
“I just felt it was time to move up to 168. We want to do the best we can to move towards that weight. I felt 160 wasn't good for my health,” Chavez Jr. says. “I feel like (making) 168 is better for my health. The only way I'm returning to 160 is for a Sergio Martinez rematch or if the fight is so big that it's worth moving back down in weight.”
Naturally, the career course comes with the full support of his handlers.
“It's very difficult to start at the young age this man did and nail down a weight class,” Arum points out. “Now he's matured and is a big, big kid. There are light heavyweights who look smaller than he does. We have to question whether we kept him at 160 for too long.
“When you struggle to make weight, you deplete yourself. Julio is a big man. For him to get down to 160 - he might still do it, but it will be a tremendous sacrifice for his health. I'm not a doctor, I'm not a nutritionist. But I've been around the sport a long time and that is what I see.”
Fans who’ve been around the game long enough will most likely snicker and dismiss such claims as damage control, that the latest weight issues are just Chavez Jr. taking his usual casual approach to the sport. The only way to convince the masses otherwise from here on out, is to fight his way out of the hole he has once again dug for himself.
“It's an important fight,” Chavez Jr. realizes of this weekend. “I'm coming off of a loss but have been working real hard. I'm looking forward to returning to the ring and reclaiming my place in the sport prior to the Sergio Martinez fight.”
And from there, setting his sights on making history for the country he forever proudly represents.
“I'm looking to win a title at 168, something no other Mexican has done before,” Chavez Jr. foresees. “From there, maybe move up to 175 and win a title there. All I'm concerned about for now is what I do on Saturday and from there worry about the future. I'm very interested in getting Martinez. I will get to 160 to get that fight.”
In order for that to happen, all parties involved are once again forced to play weight and see in getting Chavez Jr. into the ring this weekend.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox