By Jake Donovan
The way Marco Antonio Rubio confidently worked the room during Tuesday's media workout at former 130 lb. champion Jesse James Leija’s Champion Fit Gym in San Antonio, you’d be hard-pressed to believe that he has a concern in the world.
Dressed in all-black workout gear, the 31-year old offered a shadow boxing session in the ring before performing training rituals that often brought about applause among the crowd on hand.
It’s no secret that most media members these days are little more than boxing fans with greater access. No matter your role in the sport, it’s easy to root for the battle tested veteran leading into this weekend’s showdown with middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Strengthening his own cause is the fact that Chavez Jr. didn’t appear, the second time in as many weeks he has skipped out on a media workout session.
The frequent missed appearances began speculation of his struggling to get down to the 160 lb. limit, which was confirmed at Friday's weigh-in, as Chavez Jr. stripped down to his bare ass in order to make weight. The turn of events is in stark contrast to his conditioning for his 6th round knockout of Peter Manfredo last November in Houston.
Whether or not there is any validity to those claims, Rubio - who clocked in at a trim and ready 159 for Saturday's title fight - remains locked in for what he views as the defining moment of his lengthy career.
“This is a great opportunity for me,” Rubio acknowledges in stating the obvious. “To be in for a world title and double the opportunity to fight the son of the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez Sr, it’s now or never for me.”
Rubio (53-5-1, 46KO) is certainly making the most of his recent run if he truly believes it to be the last. A ring veteran of nearly 12 years, he enters this weekend riding a 10-fight win streak, his longest in more than seven years. All but one of his wins over that stretch have come inside the distance, with none bigger than his career-resurrecting upset stoppage of David Lemieux last April.
The bout was designed as a showcase slot for Lemieux, who was being groomed for the very title shot Rubio receives this weekend. The then-unbeaten Canadian was given lofty accolades heading into their ESPN2-televised bout, but Rubio rallied back from an earlier deficit to drop and stop his heavily favored foe in seven rounds in scoring the biggest of his five wins (all by knockout) in 2011.
With the win, Rubio became the top contender for a vacated title that would be won by Chavez two months later in a narrow points win over Sebastian Zbik on HBO.
There was much debate over who exactly was next in line following the June vacant title fight. Some said Rubio’s mandatory status placed him at the top of the queue, while lineal champion Sergio Martinez was promised by the sanctioning body of a crack at the winner in exchange of making the title available in the first place.
It took a little longer than expected for Rubio to finally make his way to next in line, but never expressed concern over what he firmly believed was his destiny to be in position to become champion.
“Beating Lemieux helped bring thousands of Mexican fans to believe in me,” Rubio says of last April’s win. “It got me to #1 in the WBC and I knew sooner or later I would get my shot at the title.”
There was a point in Rubio’s career where it appeared doubtful whether or not he’d make it back to the title picture and whether or not each opportunity would be his last.
Virtually all of his first four years as a pro had taken place in Mexico prior to stepping up in class against Kofi Jantuah in September ‘04. Many in the states were getting their first look at Rubio in a supporting bout to Bernard Hopkins’ knockout win over Oscar de la Hoya in Las Vegas.
The look was barely a glimpse, as Rubio was drilled barely 30 seconds into their title eliminator.
Two years later, Rubio managed to climb within one win away from a title shot, but came up short in an eliminator versus Kassim Ouma, once again on an undercard featuring Oscar de la Hoya in the headliner. He finally got over the hump in Oct. ’08, outpointing Enrique Ornelas to be put in position for a crack at lineal middleweight king Kelly Pavlik, who was in the main event getting embarrassed by an aged Hopkins in their catchweight bout.
Pavlik rebounded well enough to remind Rubio that he wasn’t quite world title material, battering the game veteran before stopping him in nine rounds.
That fight – his lone crack at a world title prior to this weekend – was the last time Rubio lost inside the ring. He has every intention of making sure the win streak remains intact beyond Saturday, against an opponent he respects (sort of), but doesn’t believed earned his place on the title stage.
“I believe (Chavez) got lucky in getting that belt,” says Rubio, though not of the manner in which he won it, but how he arrived at that point. “Usually you have to work a lot to get the opportunity. In his case, he had the advantage of being the son of the legendary Chavez Sr.
“As a fighter, he is strong and athletic, throws a good shot to the liver and likes to mix it up in the middle of the ring just like I do. He gained experience in being in world title fights, He got the opportunity and has taken advantage, looking better in every fight.”
The same can be said of Rubio, who has looked worlds better since coming up way short against Pavlik nearly three years ago. If there is any criticism to be had, it’s that he struggled against Lemieux before mounting a comeback midway through the fight.
There’s also the issue of his last bout, in which he failed to make the contracted weight against Matt Vanda. Rubio wound up coming in heavy and paying a portion of his purse to his opponent and to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, but made Vanda pay in pain as he dished out a beating en route to a fifth round stoppage.
Despite the dilemma at the scales, Rubio insists there is no such concern for this fight. His fit and trim physique as showcased during Tuesday’s workout backs up such claims, though reassurance is always the greatest comfort.
“My last fight, I didn’t struggle like it was reported,” Rubio insists. “I just had the Chavez (fight) ready to go so I wasn’t going to risk in washing me down one or two pounds. My team suggested I just stay on the weight I was at, so I did.
“At this point I’m not struggling to make 160 lbs. In fact, I’ve never been this strong and fast. I’m eating all day with an excellent nutritionist and am right on target. This has been an excellent camp.”
All that’s left is for Rubio to deliver an excellent performance. By his own “now or never” admission, a loss here could spell the end of his days as a contender.
Perhaps that’s why a loss is the furthest thing from his mind.
“I won’t lose; there is no way,” Rubio insists. “I’ll knock Julio out in seven rounds, and will bring very good things to my life, to my family, to my kids. This is what I fight for. This fight is my life.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]