By Thomas Gerbasi
Choose your cliché for the sport of boxing. Do you like the Red Light District of Sports, or how about the Boulevard of Broken Dreams? They’re both apt, but maybe the most fitting is the Land of Second Chances.
Or in the case of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the third, fourth, fifth or sixth chance.
This Saturday, Chavez travels to San Juan de los Lagos, Mexico for a light heavyweight bout against Colombian Evert Bravo. Those were not typos. Chavez is back in the ring for the first time since a listless loss to “Canelo” Alvarez in May 2017, and he’s doing it at 175 pounds.
It’s almost humorous, if not for the fact that the recent deaths of Maxim Dadashev and Hugo Santillan have been a sobering reminder that nothing about this sport is a laughing matter once the bell rings.
But at 33, here we are, discussing the latest comeback from a fighter with enough talent to have more to show for his career than he currently does. There are 50 wins, a world middleweight title and big fights against the likes of Alvarez and Sergio Martinez. Nothing to scoff at, but the negatives have always outweighed the positives.
The battles with the scale. The apparent unwillingness to train with the dedication necessary to be great and more than just a beltholder. The mental check outs in those big fights outside of the 12th round against Martinez. And perhaps Chavez’ biggest shortcoming is that he isn’t his father.
Everything else, JCC Jr. had in his control. The final part, there was nothing to be done. Most would say that living up to a Hall of Famer’s legacy is a burden no one would want to shoulder, but it’s also why we’re still talking about him and why he’s still getting chances.
And it’s been going on for years.
There was a gift decision over Brian Vera in their first bout in 2013. Another listless effort in a stoppage loss to Andrzej Fonfara in 2015, yet wins over Marcos Reyes and Dominik Britsch somehow earned him an Alvarez fight.
Some guy named Julio Cesar Smith wouldn’t be getting such opportunities, yet Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is here, two years after getting shut out on the sport’s biggest stage.
To his credit, he’s never shied away from the reality that his last name has made a career for him.
“He told me ‘It’s never gonna change,’” said ace publicist Ricardo Jimenez during a 2012 interview. Jimenez worked with Chavez Jr. for years when he was with Top Rank and saw the side of JCC Jr. we didn’t get to. “He said, ‘I’m gonna be criticized, but I also know it opens a lot of doors for me, and the opportunities for me are greater than a guy named Smith, Torres, Garcia, or whatever, so I have to take advantage every step of the way.’”
He did, and he still is. And in a game as tough as this one is, why not get whatever you can whatever way you can? If a fighter makes money in this game, it’s because someone is willing to pay him and someone is willing to pay to see him. Six thousand people may show up in Mexico on Saturday to watch a light heavyweight version of a former middleweight champion with a famous last name fight someone who is 1-3 in his last four starts. Those three losses took a combined four rounds, and the win was over a fighter with a reported 0-1 record.
In other words, if Chavez Jr. is 25 percent of what he once was, he wins and wins big on Saturday. Then, as reported by ESPN’s Dan Rafael, Chavez Jr. may be in the running for a November bout against another former middleweight champion, Danny Jacobs.
Again, no typo, and again, it’s another big opportunity for a 33-year-old who may not have earned it.
But this is boxing, and once a name sells, it will seemingly sell forever. But ultimately, all such things come to an end. Sometimes, fighters like Jean Pascal use their seemingly final opportunities to come up big like he did last Saturday against Marcus Browne. On the same card, Curtis Stevens was stopped in three rounds by Wale Omotoso, and in the main event, Chris Arreola got a result somewhere in the middle as he engaged in an exciting 12-round war with Adam Kownacki.
Where will Chavez end? He’s still young, he has the talent, and he will get his chance to shine. Does he want it, though? Is it all about the paychecks, or does he want to leave a different legacy?
Only Chavez knows the answer to those questions, yet he knows that whatever path he chooses, we’ll still be watching every step of the way.