By Jake Donovan
The show is titled “Welcome To The Future”, but you can’t help but begin to reminisce about the past, give the combatants on the February 4 HBO show at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. puts his unbeaten record – and perhaps his alphabet middleweight belt – on the line against veteran contender Marco Antonio Rubio in the main event. The co-feature showcases Nonito Donaire Jr’s debut in the 122 lb. division, looking to claim hardware in a fourth weight class when he faces Wilfredo Vazquez Jr in a vacant title fight.
Of the three juniors on the televised portion of the show, Donaire is the only one whose father wasn’t a pro fighter. It’s just as well as he is also the only one among them who has no real ties to the location, this being his first fight in Texas and in a new weight class.
For the Chavez and Vazquez families, far greater history exists.
Tuesday’s press conference at the very venue that hosts next month’s show officially marked the second time in the span of less than three months that Chavez Jr (44-0-1, 31KO) touched down in Texas. The 25-year old Mexican is coming off of a fifth round knockout of Peter Manfredo Jr last November in Houston, where he had also made his U.S. debut early in his pro career.
Though his true home away from his Mexico home is currently his training headquarters in Hollywood, it’s clear that there is a special connection between Chavez Jr and the Lone Star State.
“I was here in Texas for my last fight (with Manfredo Jr.) and I love fighting here,” stated Chavez, who will make his 11th ring appearance in a Texas venue once his fight with Rubio officially hits the books. Only his home country has hosted more of his pro fights to date, with the February headliner marking his third time playing the Alamodome.
The home to the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs has hosted just eight fight cards in its 18-year history. A fighter named Julio Cesar Chavez has appeared on half of those shows. The past three have featured Chavez Jr, including a12-round slugfest with John Duddy which served as a headliner in 2010.
However, it was the very first boxing event hosted in the venue that comes to mind for most boxing fans at its mention. To this day, such mentions hardly conjure up favorable images.
Just four months after its doors opened in May ’93, the Alamodome played host to the biggest non-heavyweight fight that could be made at the time. Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and Pernell Whitaker were universally regarded as the top two fighters in the sport, with most experts placing then-unbeaten Chavez at the top of the list.
Their Sept. ’93 pound-for-pound showdown saw Chavez’ attempt to become the first fighter in Mexico’s rich boxing history to capture a world title in four separate weight classes. He entered the bout as the reigning lineal super lightweight king, having also won belts at lightweight and super featherweight amidst a career that stood at 87-0 at the time.
Whitaker didn’t boast quite as impressive of a record from a numbers perspective, but his credentials were right there with his Mexican rival. The lone loss on his resume – a horribly scored split decision against Jose Luis Ramirez - was emphatically avenged, as Whitaker reigned as undisputed lightweight king before moving on to title wins at super lightweight and welterweight, where their fight took place.
At the end of their 12-round affair, the paid crowd of more than 58,000 reacted as if they had been given their money’s worth.
Then came the decision – and the post-fight discussion that rarely if ever ends on a pleasant note.
To call it a debate would suggest that there were two sides of the argument. Few if anyone that watched the fight – live or in review – saw anything less than a convincing win for Whitaker in what should’ve served as the first loss in Chavez’ historic career. That moment would come three fights later, suffering the first knockdown of his career boot in dropping a split decision to Frankie Randall.
The Alamodome went four years before hosting another boxing event, while Chavez himself would only appear in one more fight anywhere in Texas, a 1999 tune-up win against Verdell Smith.
Chavez Jr’s two fights in the very same venue haven’t even begun to scratch the surface in erasing the memory of what took place more than 18 years ago. Perhaps nothing ever will, and that his fans will have to come to grips with the fact that the second-generation fighter at least always delivers on the action front.
His first fight in the Alamodome ended in early knockout in supporting capacity on a show headlined by Manny Pacquiao. Three years later, Chavez Jr. served as the headliner, going to war with John Duddy in a 12-round middleweight bout that meant little in the grand scheme of things, but further proved his place in the sport as a ratings magnet.
February’s showdown with Rubio figures to be every bit as entertaining and perhaps even more competitive, in spite of Chavez Jr opening as a 5-1 favorite. What the night won’t be is historic, not even in the event of an upset.
That part will have to come in the co-feature, where Vazquez Jr can once again follow in his fighting father’s footsteps.
Wilfredo Vazquez Sr. was a three-division titlist who had truly come up the hard way in his 21-year career. Losing the very first fight of his career, the Puerto Rican had suffered three losses before winning his first championship – one which came on his second title try at bantamweight.
He would go on to lose three more times before beginning what would serve as a lengthy title reign at super bantamweight, scoring a third-round knockout over Raul Perez nearly 20 years ago.
His title reign was coming up on its three-year anniversary when he was summoned to defend against pound-for-pound entrant Orlando Canizales, a record-breaking bantamweight titlist who was rising up in weight in search of a second world title.
HBO was on hand to televise the event live from the Freeman Coliseum, where Vazquez came in as a 34-year old titlist and a 10-1 underdog. On paper, he was a sacrificial lamb for Texas-bred Canizales and the televised date – and payday- was to serve as his unofficial severance package in exchange for handing over the title.
Instead, Vazquez did what he had always managed to do throughout his career – overcome the odds.
The fight wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing and in paled in comparison to the free-swinging slugfest in the evening’s co-feature between Alejandro Gonzalez and then-unbeaten Kevin Kelley. But winning seven or more rounds in a 12-round fight add up the same no matter how exciting or dull.
Rather than ushering in a new era, Vazquez instead left San Antonio with his ninth successful title defense, figuratively and literally upsetting the odds. Oddly enough, his reign came to an end in his very next fight in his birth town of Bayamon, Puerto Rico against then-unknown Antonio Cermeno.
Adding to his legacy was his come-from-behind knockout win over Eloy Rojas one year later to earn the lineal featherweight crown, further proof that at his best – or on that night, his most resilient – Vazquez was capable of overcoming any obstacle.
That brings us to the point in the career of his 27-year old son Wilfredo Jr. The second-generation Boricua banger is less than a year separated from the lone loss of his career, dropping a heartbreaker to faded Jorge Arce in a humbling 12th round knockout last May.
The irony in the stoppage is that not only did it come against Vazquez Jr’s will, but that it was triggered by the actions of his father, who serves as his head trainer. Vazquez Sr jumped on the ring apron the moment he saw his son in trouble along the ropes.
With the loss came an end to Vazquez Jr’s super bantamweight title reign, which strangely enough began in the same arena where his father’s had ended nearly 15 years prior.
That he was able to capture a title at all speaks volumes of his ability to handle uncomfortable situations. Vazquez Jr turned pro in late 2006, basically in a learn-as-you-earn capacity as he boasts virtually no amateur experience.
Just over three years later, he was seen pummeling highly touted Marvin Sonsona in four rounds to begin a title reign that saw two successful defenses follow before running into Arce.
It could’ve been much easier – as well as easily forgiven – for Vazquez Jr to simply go into hiding and pad his resume with a few soft touches before returning to the title picture. His first fight following the Arce debacle suggested such a path, as he was fed badly faded Roberto Leyva as a late replacement. Vazquez did as expected, getting rid of the former titlist-turned-journeyman in three rounds.
Rather than remain on that level or slowly work his way back towards the top, Vazquez decided to take a now-or-never approach to the sport. The hope was to secure a rematch with Arce, but those plans changed after his conqueror elected to instead pursue the record books, dumping his 122 lb. belt to chase one at bantamweight.
The vacancy created the opportunity for the 27-year old Puerto Rican to pursue his old belt, collecting HBO-level money as he squares off against Donaire, rising up in weight after a successful run at bantamweight that saw him catapult near the top of the pound-for-pound rankings.
If the odds hold true, then history stands little to no chance of repeating itself in either of the two televised bouts at the Alamodome next month.
But that won’t ever change the fact that Chavez Jr and Vazquez Jr. carry with them a significant portion of boxing history each time they step into the ring. It’s even more so the case when it comes in moments like this, when they directly follow in the footsteps of their famous fighting fathers.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]